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PFF Grades: Which players are responsible for Rams’ wildcard loss to Lions?

Puka Nacua led the offense, but the defense struggled across the board.

Los Angeles Rams v New York Giants Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The dust is settling on the Los Angeles Rams’ wildcard loss to the Detroit Lions.

The Rams will spend the coming days asking the hard questions and wondering what went wrong. One of the first things to come in mind from Sunday night’s game will be their shortcomings in the red zone on offense, where LA settled for field goals on all three possessions. The defense also struggled to slow down the high-flying Detroit offense led by quarterback Jared Goff.

Let’s take a look at the individual grading from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Which individuals should shoulder the blame for the postseason loss?

Top five grades on offense:

1 - Puka Nacua, WR: 92.6

Nacua stole the show yet again and set another rookie record for most receiving yards in a playoff game. He finished with nine receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown score, with his most impressive play being a 50-yard longball from Matthew Stafford.

The future is bright for the young receiver heading into 2024 where he figures to be a focal point of the Los Angeles offense.

2 - Tutu Atwell, WR: 91.0

Atwell has been relegated to WR#4 after the emergence of Demarcus Robinson and he played only eight offensive snaps in this game. Still, the speedster was able to make his presence felt and caught a 38-yard touchdown pass on a tight-window throw from Stafford. Maybe the Rams should have involved Atwell in this game more?

3 - Matthew Stafford, QB: 88.5

LA’s franchise QB completed 25 of 36 passes (69%) for 367 yards and two touchdowns against his former team. PFF credited Stafford with four big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays.

It’s the plays that Stafford didn’t make in this game that loom large in a loss, as he missed Cooper Kupp for a potential 50-yard completion down the sideline and again in the end zone. How much of LA’s struggles in the red zone should Stafford shoulder?

4 - Davis Allen, TE: 79.7

Tyler Higbee played 38 snaps before suffered what early indications suggest is a major knee injury. Rookie Davis Allen replaced the veteran tight end and caught two passes for 28 yards with a long of 22.

5 - Ronnie Rivers, RB: 76.7

Kyren Williams also faced injury adversity of his own with a big shot to the head and neck area and then suffering a hand injury that required significant padding. Ronnie Rivers took over as the running back for the majority of the second half and found some success as a runner and receiver. He rushed three times for nine yards (long of seven) and caught three passes for 35 yards (long of 17). We haven’t seen much of Rivers this season as he was injured around the same time as Williams early in the year, though he impressed against the Lions as well as the last game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Other notes on offense:

We know Higbee suffered what seems like a serious injury, so this is not intended to throw salt on the wound; however, the veteran TE was LA’s lowest-graded player on offense. This may help explain some of the Rams’ red zone troubles. If Higbee is set to miss the start of the 2024 season, where do the Rams go at TE from here?

Top five grades on defense:

1 - Jason Taylor, DB: 79.3

It’s worth mentioning that rookie DB Jason Taylor played on three snaps on defense in this game—all in pass coverage. With Jordan Fuller ruled out pregame due to an ankle injury, it was always possible that the rookie safety would be thrust into postseason action.

2 - John Johnson, DB: 71.6

After accounting for Taylor’s relatively low snap count, Johnson was effectively LA’s highest graded defender at just over a 70 grade (above average). This shows how the unit struggled across the board, and little was done to slow down Detroit. The Lions scored touchdowns on their opening three possessions.

3 - Desjuan Johnson, DT: 70.8

The rookie defensive tackle played only three snaps and did not record a statistic.

4 - Byron Young, OLB: 66.7

Young had a single pressure as a pass rusher. He earned a solid mark in run defense at 66.7 and he did a good job keeping contain on the Lions speedster running back Jahmyr Gibbs.

5 - Aaron Donald, DE: 66.2

Donald had three total pressures, which is good for second on the team behind Ernest Jones and Michael Hoecht. Ultimately the Rams were not able to pressure Jared Goff often enough in this game and he was able to sit in the pocket and pick the defense apart. Donald also had three run stops.

Other notes on defense:

Michael Hoecht was mistakenly utilized in coverage by Raheem Morris, and the Lions offense was able to take advantage often. Hoecht was the lowest-graded player on defense with a overall mark of 31.5 but had a coverage grade of 26.6. He allowed receptions on all six of his targets for a total of 64 yards, a touchdown, and a passer rating of 150.7.

Ernest Jones also struggled against Detroit when he wasn’t rushing from the interior. He earned a pass rushing grade of 91.1 and tied with Hoecht for a team-leading four total pressures. However, he struggled in coverage as well and earned a grade in that facet of 29.6. He allowed receptions on both of his targets for 22 yards. His struggles in coverage against a potent Lions offense is something I warned Rams fans about earlier this week.