Rams Offense Trashes a Chance to Win in Green Bay

Really, the Rams defense did about as well as anyone could have realistically hoped for. It obviously wasn’t a perfect performance — Gregg Williams’ unit didn’t pitch a shut out — but consider the mission at hand Sunday. Go into Green Bay, where the Packers rarely lose, and put the clampdown on prolific quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

With Rodgers as their starter in regular-season games, the Packers are 45-9 at Lambeau Field and average 31.6 points per game. They’ve been even more unstoppable since Rodgers got his first season as the starter (2008) out of the way. In his last 42 regular-season home starts Rodgers is 39-3, his offense has averaged 33 .3 points, and he has a passer rating of 116.5. No NFL quarterback — not even Tom Brady in New England — has been more unstoppable at home since the start of the ’09 season.

The Williams defense put up considerable resistance on Sunday, slowing and disrupting Rodgers in a way that few visiting teams have in recent years. The Rams took the ball away from Rodgers three times, with two interceptions and a fumble. Before Sunday, since replacing Brett Favre at the outset of 2008, Rodgers had  never  lost three turnovers in a regular-season home game.

We’re talking about a QB who, in his previous 16 home games, had zipped 44 touchdown passes with  zero  interceptions. Rodgers finished Sunday’s game with an 82.8 passer rating, his third-worst figure in a regular-season game at Lambeau. The Packers converted only four of 13 third downs, were suppressed on the ground (86 yards rushing) and scored on only three possessions.

By giving up only 17 points to the GB offense, the Rams defense certainly did its share to steal a win in the the NFL’s most venerated venue.  The 24-10 loss to the Packers can be put at the feet of the Rams offensive line, on the right arm of QB Nick Foles. We could also put some blame in the hands of Rams’ receivers … but hell, they’d end up dropping it. We can put some of this at the right leg of kicker Greg Zuerlein, The usual foolish pre-snap penalties were an issue again. And as is the case most of the time, the coaching on the Rams’ offensive side was puzzling.

Zuerlein missed three long field-goal attempts; one was blocked when Jason Smith — uh, I mean, Greg Robinson — whiffed on impeding his man inside. Foles was sacked three times, but that was just a partial accounting of the punishment he absorbed behind a line that crumbled more easily than the award-winning Wisconsin Blue Montford cheese.

You would need HBO’s boxing crew to keep score on all of the punch-stat damage done to Foles; unofficially he took 12 pass-rush hits in addition to the three sacks.

According to Pro Football Focus, Foles was under siege with pass-rush pressure on 60.6 percent of his dropbacks Sunday — the highest (as in worst) percentage for an NFL quarterback on Sunday. Two of Foles’ four interceptions came out of the pass-rush haze. Foles completed five of 17 when under duress, but two of the incompletions were drops and he threw the ball away four times.

Robinson had a horrible game at left tackle. When is this guy going to play to the anticipated level of the second overall pick in the 2014 draft? And I don’t want to hear about the O-line’s inexperience. This collection of talent was scouted and procured by GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher. This is what they wanted.

Foles completed 11 of 30 passes and hanging four interceptions and held up about as well as Jaime Garcia in NLDS Game 2. Foles’ passer rating (23.8) was the fifth-worst by a Rams quarterback in a single game (minimum 20 passing attempts) since the franchise moved to STL in 1995. Foles stands in a five-QB group photo that includes Chris Miller, Tony Banks, and Marc Bulger — the only four Rams’ quarterbacks to have a poorer passer rating in a game. (Banks had two of the four worst games.)

Let’s hope Foles has a happier ending than those fellows. Foles had one triumph Sunday: he walked out of Lambeau on his own power, with no gurney required to wheel him to the team bus. But Foles might have needed some smelling salts after looking at the stat sheet to see these numbers …

Passing from inside Green Bay’s 10-yard line: 1 for 5, a touchdown, and two interceptions.

Third-down passing:  5 of 16, four INTs.

As for the coaching: where were the quick routes, the checkdowns, the outlet passes? Remember how an under-fire Foles flipped the ball to running back Benny Cunningham to escape sacks and harm in the season-opening win over Seattle? Hello? Did offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and his aides forget to watch the DVD of that Seahawks’ game? Or was Foles too disoriented to spot his hot-read receivers or safe-outlet targets? The Rams may have kept extra guys into block, but that didn’t work, so they should have had more of a hot-read package to give the harried Foles a place to go with the football — quickly — when under duress.

The plan with the passing offense seemingly ignored a predictable reality: Green Bay would be unleashing the hounds, determined to bark and snap their way past the overwhelmed Rams’ line to maul Foles. This group — assistant coaches and linemen — inexplicably declined to account for Green Bay pass rusher Clay Matthews, who has 65.5 sacks and 139 QB hits in his 90-game NFL career. The lax protection and the inability to make effective adjustments was appalling and incompetent.

The Rams offense was basically a +3 on Sunday; the unit scored only 10 points but gave up seven back on Foles’ wildly undisciplined, back-foot, pick-six INT for a touchdown. The Rams couldn’t take advantage of the three GB turnovers, managing to cash in for one field goal. The other two takeaways were squandered by a Foles interception and a Zuerlein miss.

The Rams were inside Green Bay territory eight times Sunday — including seven times in their final eight possessions — and came away with a lot more frustration and futility than points.

Since Fisher became Rams coach in 2012, NFL teams have scored an average of 23 points per game.

The Rams have been held under 23 points in 40 percent of Coach Fisher’s 53 games.

We’re not asking for the “Greatest Show on Turf II” here. If the Rams could merely put a league-average offense on the field with higher frequency, their record would be dramatically better.

Here’s why I say that:

When the Fisher-coached Rams score 23+ points in a game, they’re 15-6-1.

When they fail to reach 23 points in a contest, the record is 7-24.

The Rams just finished a three-game stretch against Pittsburgh, Arizona and Green Bay. Their defense had to play very well to give the team a chance to win — and did exactly that for the most part. They limited three productive offensives to an average of 17 points per game, forced seven turnovers, bagged 11 sacks, limited quarterbacks to an 85.5 rating, and made 24 stops on 36 third-down plays. But with the misfiring Rams offense flopping around, the team lost two of three winnable contests,

Staging an upset win in Green Bay was a long shot for the Rams, but they had much of the defensive formula in place to pull it off.

Since the start of the 2009 season, when Rodgers starts at home, the Packers are 9-4 when scoring 24 points or fewer in a game. That’s a good record — but the Packers are certainly more beatable when putting up no more than 24 points via offense, defensive return, or special teams. And when Rodgers has a passer rating under 90, the Packers are 6-2. Again, a good record — but short of invincible.

While imperfect, the Rams defense did enough Sunday to make a victory possible at Lambeau.

The sensational Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley (159 yards rushing) added the sizzle to make a victory possible.

The problem: the Rams’ horrendous passing game, turnstile offensive line and the unreliable field-goal unit made victory impossible.

The Rams are 2-3 through five games, and now drift into the bye week knowing they should be taking a winning record into vacation. Foles could use a break; it will prevent him from being broken. But instead of heading to the beach perhaps the offensive line should attend a special mini-camp on pass protection instead.

Thanks for reading …

Bernie