It’s in the books and nothing can change it, the Los Angeles Rams have clinched a playoff berth for the fifth time in seven years under Sean McVay. While all the takeaways weren’t pretty from L.A.’s 26-25 Sunday win over the New York Giants, the only bump in the road between the Rams and their first playoff game is the season finale against the dreaded San Francisco 49ers and that game won’t leave a huge impression on the standings.
As for the Rams defense, not much has changed. The weekly script seldom deviates, the defense takes its bend-but-don’t-break philosophy right to the very edge, teetering on it actually. One thing that has changed is they are using more man coverage with a single high safety. While they are still susceptible to the big play, the tighter coverages underneath have helped control opponents pitch-and-catch aspect. Using more blitz and sims are getting them closer to having a consistent pass rush pressure rate, as well.
Rams top-5 defensive pressures against Giants:— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) January 1, 2024
Kobie Turner: 10
Aaron Donald: 6
Byron Young: 3
Michael Hoecht: 3
Ernest Jones: 3
Knocking off the Gmen was tougher than expected, they seemed to really want the game, playing hard and emotionally. Maybe it was the long trip or the game’s placement in the schedule. but the Rams defense didn’t seem to have their usual emotion and swagger. That should not be a problem next week vs. the ‘Niners, whether it’s starters or backups.
Here’s how the drive charts shook out for the L.A. defense.
A garden variety three and out? Or harbinger of things to come? A couple of runs between the tackles earned only a couple of yards. On third down quarterback (QB) Tyrod Taylor throws deep along the sideline to wide receiver (WR) Jalin Hyatt, where cornerback (CB) Ahkello Witherspoon has 1on1 coverage. Hyatt has a step, but the ball is ever so slightly underthrown and slips through his arms for an incompletion. The Gmen would take more deep shots. Rams 0, Giants 0.
The Rams took a lead and N.Y. answered back with a 85 yard touchdown drive of their own. Although he was sacked once early on the the drive by edge (E) Byron Young, QB Taylor danced around pass rush pressure and completed five of five passes. The Rams got a break on a holding call, but couldn’t cash in with a stop. WR Hyatt was again locked up in 1on1 with CB Witherspoon and this time checked up on his streak pattern and ran a comeback for 18 yards. The 24 yard score came on a WR reverse to Wan’Dale Robinson. The Giants faked a run off left tackle and both linebackers bit, giving a numerical advantage to the blockers. Robinson was not touched until the goal line. Rams 7, Giants 7.
Another three and out for L.A. On the first play, defensive tackle (DT) Kobie Turner ran a small inside loop with fellow DT Larrell Murchison, stacked and shed his blocker and used his burst to run down the pocket-fleeing QB. After a couple of short passes to the tight end (TE), the Gmen punted. Rams 7, Giants 7.
Kobie Turner had TEN QB pressures vs. the Giants pic.twitter.com/p9M4B9GlSA— PFF LA Rams (@PFF_Rams) January 1, 2024
After a Rams interception, New York took over on their own 38. The Rams blitzed on the first snap, flushing QB Taylor and forcing a missed throw. The defense then dropped eight into coverage resulting in a short underneath completion and then blitzed again on third down. While this short pass was also complete, it was 1⁄2 yard short of a first down. Near midfield, the Gmen went on fourth, but QB Taylor could not handle the snap and had to fall on the fumble well-short of the line to gain. Rams 7, Giants 7.
With 1:44 before halftime, the Giants started the drive with a holding penalty. On first and twenty, running back (RB) Saquon Barkley got 11 yards on a draw and safety (S) Jordan Fuller was called for a ticky-tack pass interference penalty to convert. Again, it looked like WR Robinson had beaten CB Witherspoon down the sideline, but QB Taylor was looking at him all the way and S Fuller read it, flowing to the play and nabbing an interception. Rams 14, Giants 7.
A Rams fumble at their own 43 gave New York a bonus possession with 58 seconds left in the half. On the first play, WR Robinson turned a short crossing pattern into a 20 yard gain. From there DT Aaron Donald swatted down a pass, DT Turner and E Michael Hoecht combined for a sack, and a short QB draw set up a field goal. Special teamer Bennett Skowronek high-jumped over the line to block the kick, but was called for a “running and leaping” penalty. The Gmen converted the re-try. Rams 14, Giants 10.
New York went right to the air to open the second half. DT Donald sacked a fleeing QB Taylor and then completed a short one underneath. On third down, QB Taylor found TE Waller wide open in the flat and room for 20 yards up the sideline. At midfield, the Rams pass rush forced QB Taylor out of the pocket for two yards and after a short run between the tackles, DT Turner was able to trip up QB Taylor for a sack. Rams 14, Giants 10.
The Gmen started by moving the chains on a short completion followed by a short run. The drive bogged down starting when QB Taylor tried a rollout and E Nick Hampton strung him out of bounds, then RB Barkley was stoned up the middle by a Rams run blitz, and finally Barkley whiffed on a short pass in the flat. Rams 20, Giants 10.
Punter Ethan Evans flipped the field by booting from his own nine yard line to the Giants nine with the help of a big bounce and a fine tackle by cover man, S Jason Taylor. Two inside runs went nowhere, the first stopped by DT Donald and DT Desjaun Johnson on the second. On third and 10, L.a. blitzed six, bit QB Taylor was able to hit his hot receiver in the clear for a first down. Then lightening struck. The Rams brought a safety blitz and QB Taylor quickly looked to hit his hot receiver in the vacated area, but the rush pressure didn’t get there and instead he stepped up and launched a deep ball. WR Darius Slayton had ran past CB Witherspoon and single-high S Fuller was late reacting, just like that, 80 yard touchdown pass. After a missed point after it was Rams 20, Giants 16.
Taking advantage of an interception and 20 yard return, N.Y. starts the drive from the Rams 34. After two completed short passes made it third and two, RB Barkley was stopped short bringing up fourth and one. Another short Barkley run converted. From the 23, L.A. dodged a bullet when RB Barkley beat E Michael Hoecht on a wheel route to the goal line, but QB Taylor mis-fired badly to his wide open man. Barkley the powered through tackles down to the 10. From there the Gmen tried to get too cute, missing on a tackle eligible pass play, and called for holding on set QB run play. Pushed back to the 20 on second and goal to go, an underneath pass gained a few back. On third down, New York’s wide receiver beat CB Derion Kendrick to the post, but QB Taylor threw just late and behind enough for Kendrick to recover and tip the ball away, forcing a field goal. Rams 20, Giants 19.
QB Taylor comes out passing, no run plays on this drive. Opens with a look-in catch and run for 10 and on play two, WR Jalin Hyatt beats CB DeCobie Durant deep down the center of the field for 47 yards, but the play is called back for holding. QB Taylor goes right back to it and moves the ball to the L.A. 40 with a 14 yard completion to WR Slayton and 18 yards to WR Hodgins. From there DT Aaron Donald got a 1on1 blocking rep and beat it for a nine yard sack, a short pass underneath was dropped, and on third and 19, defensive backs Russ Yeast, DeCobie Durant, and Jordan Fuller ole`d a flat pass to the TE into a 18 yard gain. On fourth and one QB Taylor inexplicably threw short of the stick and CB Ahkello witherspoon made a nice wrap-up tackle to force the turnover. Rams 26, Giants 19.
L.A. went three and out, taking a minute off the clock. With 7:40 left in the game, New York started with a first down on a swing pass and two short runs. Holding was called on 15 yard scamper away from pressure by QB Taylor to make a first and 20. Taylor hit TE Waller underneath for 10 and then just missed him on the sideline, Waller was wide-open and Taylor had to get rid of it as E Byron Young hit him. On third down, DT Kobie Turner looped around the outside and hurried QB Taylor into a misfire. Rams 26, Giants 19.
After a Giants 94 yard punt return and missed two point conversion made it a 26-25 game, the L.A. offense could not close out the game. With 77 ticks left on the clock, P Evans uncorked his shortest punt of the day (40 yards) and a short return went to the Rams 48. Things looked bleak as it appeared the Gmen needed only two first downs for an easy game-winning field goal. But fate stepped in, one of the refs called a holding penalty on the return, pushing N.Y. back to their own 35. While New York pulled off five plays as those final seconds flew by, only two mattered. On the first, the Rams blitzed with man coverage behind it and QB Taylor broke contain and ran untouched 31 yards to the Rams 34. The second came two plays later as the Gmen missed a 54 yard field goal that would have won the game. Rams win 26- 25.
Penultimate Punter Rankings! pic.twitter.com/wCWdXBET3U— Puntalytics (@ThePuntRunts) January 1, 2024
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good
Even the most fervent Rams know this one could have gone either way and the problem areas are the same as the previous 15 games. The Rams 2023 defensive nature will not and cannot change. But enough about that, Rams fans have way too much to celebrate this new year.
What does change is the situation that now surrounds the team and that is the playoffs. Everything goes out the window, what you, I or the “experts” thought about the Rams before the season, during their mid-season slump and the successful stretch run. It’s the first day of school, today is the perfect day to re-invent yourself, all sins are absolved, and everybody starts with a clean slate. There is no worry of tomorrow or yesterday, only the game to be played. And anything can happen.