By Richie Lay – Los Angeles Rams Writer
This weekend showed a fixture book that looked like it was full of easy-picks, with several high-flying seemingly playoff-bound teams playing the weaker teams. However, we as fans should have remembered that this is the NFL, where no game is an easy game – a lesson the Los Angeles Rams were taught on Sunday night when they played, at least on paper, a ‘weaker’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, who ran out 55-40 winners at the Coliseum in one of the most bizarre games I have watched in recent memory.
Let’s start with the LA defense. In my game preview, I wrote that “The Rams will win this game with their defense”, yet I sit here writing this at the tail end of the highest-scoring game so far this season in the NFL. Oh, to be a sports writer!
Throughout the first three games of the season, I, along with many other of the ‘Ramily’, had purred about the stout defensive backbone of the team who had been the cornerstone to the 3-0 start to the year, coached by Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips.
However, the Tampa Bay offense (and particularly their pair of Wide Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) bullied and harassed the Rams secondary all afternoon, racking up 21 unanswered points fairly rapidly in the first quarter, and they never turned back. To compound the beating, the Offensive Line of the Florida-based franchise completely nullified what should have been an excellent LA pass rush unit that includes two-time defensive-MVP Aaron Donald, who was effectively a non-fixture this game.
All across the board, the defense of the Rams just seemed to roll over far too easily all afternoon under the pressure of the visitor’s offense. Yes, Bucs Quarterback Jameis Winston – who I had branded pre-match as inconsistent and inaccurate – had an excellent game. But the quality of play we have begun to associate with this Rams defensive operation just wasn’t there on Sunday. An excellent example came in the third quarter when Cornerback Marcus Peters became completely lost in no man’s land after a simple route by Evans left him wide open for a simple pass from Winston to score a touchdown.
In one of the only bright sparks on the defensive side of the ball for the Rams, Peters did somewhat make amends for that poor-coverage play later in the fourth quarter, when he magnificently intercepted a Winston pass before showing lighting quick feet to scoot into the end zone for a pick-six to put the Rams momentarily back in reach of a victory. But other than this solitary big-play, it was a dire night for the Rams defensively.
Despite the encouraging 40-points scored by Los Angeles, it was, strangely, not an inspiring night offensively for Rams fans either. California native QB Jared Goff was one of the many Rams players who needed improvement in form after his mediocre start to the season – a start that I described as bland in my game preview.
I think Goff must have read my preview and taken notes because the third-year QB was anything but bland on Sunday afternoon – and sadly, that isn’t a compliment. Goff turned the ball over four times against a fired-up Tampa defense that Bucs Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles coached excellently to baffle and bemuse Goff into reading the wrong coverages. Time after time the Bucs’ Line Backers faked the blitz, only to drop back into coverage and break up, tip, or intercept poor throws from Goff.
In saying all that, the Rams QB did mix the sour plays with some sweet ones, and actually threw for a total of 517 (yes, five-hundred-and-seventeen!) yards on the day from 68 attempts, launching some absolute dimes into the hands of the (once again) superlative LA receiver trio of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks. This week it was the turn of Woods to steal the show, going 13-receptions from 15-targets for 164-yards.
Despite the positives, on several occasions, the Rams offense seemed to stutter and falter and somehow looked very awkward at times throughout the game. This was epitomized when rather than punting the ball, they went for the first down on a desperate 4th-and-4, only to nearly run out of time on the play forcing them to rush the snap before they were properly set. The pass was then tipped off by a Bucs player and ended incomplete. Another example involved an almost comedic-like turn of events: with the play-clock ticking down just before the ball was due to be snapped, the Rams audio picked up a player shout “wait, what are we doing?!”, forcing a time-out to be called.
Another such drive should have finished with a Rams field-goal, but after getting a fortunate “roughing the snapper” call after the kick, LA was given a second opportunity when they regained a first down at the ten yard line, only to squander it, going incomplete; incomplete; sack; on three consecutive plays.
I think Goff’s problem as much as anything was that because the Rams went 21-0 down so early in the game, he was forced to throw the ball a ridiculous amount of times and in an extremely aggressive manner in order to try and drag the home side back into the game – which he very nearly did on numerous occasions, each time shortly before throwing an interception to keep letting the Bucs back into the game.
In the pre-match press conferences, Rams Head Coach Sean McVay said Goff had developed a “refreshing security” about him; sadly we never got a chance to see that side of the young QB as he was constantly having to chase the game from behind rather than sit in front and control the game as he has got so used to doing in his career in LA. This is one area that Goff certainly needs to improve on if he is to make the jump into the next tier of Quarterbacks, as is the way that he reads defenses and coverages to avoid being outsmarted and out-schemed as he was by Bowles.
To Goff’s credit, he has put under immense pressure all game due to a combination of poor Offensive Line play (Andrew Whitworth, Austin Blythe, and Rob Havenstein all struggled), as well as some excellent pass, rushing from the Bucs defense who generated immense pressure all game. Line Backer Shaq Barrett once again looked powerful and dangerous, even if his sack and hurry numbers were not as flashy as they have been in the past few weeks.
Sunday’s game was not the end of the road for this Rams team, but they will have to recover quickly if they are to stand any chance when the in-form Seahawks visit the Coliseum on Thursday Night Football later this week. The defense will need to quickly regroup to ensure they regain their earlier impervious form – they get the benefit of the doubt from me because so far, they have played well for three games and played poorly only once. The bigger concern would be the quarterback; Goff’s sky-high passing yards hid what was a poor all-round performance this week. Sunday’s game did very little to alleviate the concerns that the Rams first-choice QB has been a weak point in this LA offense all season.
Over to you, Jared Goff…