The Los Angeles Rams ended their season on the road in the Wild Card round of the playoffs with a 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions. It’s always hard to see a season come to an end, especially with as many missed opportunities as the Rams had. However, it’s also hard not to be excited for the future. Here are 10 takeaways from the Rams’ playoff loss to the Lions.
1. Matthew Stafford showed up in an emotional game
The Rams could not have asked for more from Matthew Stafford. He made approximately seven ‘no-look’ passes throughout the game and was absolutely feeling it. The Rams quarterback finished 25-for-36 for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford missed a throw in the second-half to Cooper Kupp that would have gone for a big gain, but for the most part, Stafford was stellar.
Coming into the game, it was always going to be an emotional one in Stafford’s return to Detroit. From the get go, the Rams quarterback was sharp. He finished with an EPA per dropback of 0.448 to Jared Goff’s 0.374. Stafford’s 0.448 EPA per dropback was the highest for a losing quarterback in the wild card round since at least 2012. The Rams did not lose because of Stafford.
2. Defense didn’t generate pressure on Jared Goff and made them pay
Stopping the Lions offense was always going to be a tall task for the Rams defense. However, the key was to generate interior pressure on Goff to force him into mistakes. That simply didn’t happen, especially early. The Rams needed players outside of Aaron Donald to make plays and win their one-on-ones and it simply didn’t happen.
Goff was 22-for-22 when kept clean. When under pressure, he was 0-for-5 and had a fumble. The Rams struggled generating pressure in the first half and the Lions went down the field three straight times and scored three touchdowns. Coming into the game, the Rams needed to mitigate damage of explosive plays and limit the Lions offense to field goals when possible. That didn’t happen and it was just too much to overcome.
3. McVay mostly good, but had a few costly blunders
There are certain things with Sean McVay that unfortunately are always going to be issues. Red zone play-calling is one of them. The issue with the play-calling on Sunday Night wasn't necessarily the amount of passes — although an argument can be made. From a play-calling standpoint, McVay is obsesses with the back-corner fade in the red zone. The Rams ran at least three of them and didn’t convert on any. That’s a play that should be burned from the playbook given the inefficiency and success-rate.
McVay has gotten some criticism for sitting on a 21-17 deficit going into the half instead of being aggressive. Had the Rams had the ball at the 30, it’s an argument. The Rams had the ball at the five because the defense couldn’t get off the field earlier on the previous drive. McVay deserves credit for going for it on 4th-and-5 that led to a touchdown. An argument can be made that McVay should have gone for it on one of the fourth downs in the red zone instead of settling for three. He also probably should have tried to get a chunk back on the 3rd-and-14 on the final drive to set up a “go” situation instead of trying to get it all back in one chunk.
4. Efficiency in the red zone the difference
We can talk about penalties that should have been called until the end of time. However, at the end of the day, the Rams went 0-for-3 in the red zone against the NFL’s 29th ranked red zone defense. That’s 12 potential points off of the board. On the other end, the Lions went 3-for-3 in the red zone. If the defense gets a stop on the fourth down, it’s an empty possession that would have been big at the time.
That is something that the Rams can control. For the offense to go 0-for-3 in the red zone against the 29th ranked defense is inexcusable Again, while the Rams should have ran the ball more in the red area, the decision to pass and go to the back-corner fade several times was questionable.
5. Star players show up in big games and Puka Nacua did just that
Two of the Rams star players showed up and one of them was Puka Nacua. He broke the single game rookie receiving record with 181 yards. His touchdown on a double-move while trailing 14-3 came at the perfect time. Nacua recorded the most EPA by a rookie pass catcher in the playoffs since at least 1999 when a 14.6 EPA when targeted.
The Rams found a star player with Nacua and this is only the beginning. He’ll have another full offseason coming up and should only continue to grow. Every time that the Rams needed a play this season, Nacua showed up. The future is bright for the fifth-round rookie.
6. Missed tackles showed up in big moments
The way that the Rams defense was missing tackles, you would have thought that they were going up against the San Francisco 49ers and Kyle Shanahan. On defense, the Rams missed 15 tackles and they showed up in big moments. At the start of the second half, a missed tackle turned a potential 59-yard field goal into a 54-yard field goal. A missed tackle by Michael Hoecht on the final drive gave the Lions a first down that essentially ended the game.
At the end of the day, the Rams need to add playmakers and physicality to the secondary and the defense. The missed tackles against teams like the Lions and the 49ers continue to be their achilles heel. Again, this is something that the Rams could have controlled.
7. Rams needed more from Kyren Williams and Cooper Kupp
Nacua and Stafford both showed up against the Lions. Cooper Kupp and Kyren Williams left a little to be desired. Williams had to leave the game a few times with an injured hand and concussion concerns. He finished with 13 carries for 61 yards, but the Rams could have used him in the red zone.
Kupp had just five receptions for 27 yards. It’s true that Kupp was dealing with injuries this year and never seemed right. However, there may be fair questions to be asked about the future of an oft-injured wide receiver going into his 30s. Kupp showed up in the big moments during the 2021 Super Bowl run and unfortunately was non-existent on Sunday Night outside of a fourth-down conversion.
8. Defense gave offense and chance and they disappeared
Early on in the season, the Rams offense held pace with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers before disappearing in the second half while the defense held strong after second-half adjustments. That’s exactly what happened against the Lions.
The Rams offense had a great first half, scoring 17 points. However, against a below-average defense, they went away in the second half. It might be a different story if the offense turns one of their red zone trips into a touchdown. With that said, the defense held Detroit to three second half points. That should have been enough for the offense to overcome a four-point deficit. The defense didn’t get a stop that they needed in the end, but offensively, the chance was there in the second half to take control of the game.
9. Rams-Lions is a rivalry in the making
Between 2017-2019, the Rams and Saints had a heated rivalry that was at its highest following the 2019 NFC Championship Game. Both teams played each other in games that meant a lot for seeding in the regular season and played the one time in the playoffs. That’s the direction that the Rams and Lions might be headed.
It was all fun and games in 2021 while Stafford won the Super Bowl with the Rams. The Lions were at the bottom of the NFL and weren’t really a threat. Sunday’s game might change those feelings and both teams are set to play in the regular season next year. With Stafford and Goff there is an obvious connection between these two franchises. With both on the rise, this is a small rivalry in the making.
10. Rams one point away from a playoff win and will have offseason resources
When you take a step back and look at what this season was, it’s hard not to have some pride with what the Rams accomplished. They were seen as a team that was tanking this year and ended up winning 10 games. The defense ranked dead last in defensive spending and finished higher than other respected units that had higher expectations.
The Rams lost to a team seen as a serious contender by one point on the road. This offseason they will have cap space and a top-20 draft pick for the first time in the Sean McVay era. This young Rams team got a lot of valuable experience this season and will have a chance to take a big step forward in 2024.