After zooming along in the fast lane, en route to their Super Bowl, the Rams are suddenly stuck in freeway traffic — slowed to a crawl, disoriented, and unable to find their way out of the jam.
As if to symbolize the confusion of his franchise, the hopelessly bizarre and tragically uncool owner Stan Kroenke was wearing sunglasses Sunday night when the Eagles and their fans took over the Los Angeles Coliseum dumping grounds for a 30-23 victory over the Rams.
Memo to Kevin Demoff: Don’t forget to give Kroenke his meds.
The Rams have fumbled away a few things away while slipping to a 3-3 record in their last six games.
Jared Goff’s MVP candidacy. Which was never a serious consideration, anyway. The quarterback is having horrific flashbacks to his rookie season with head coach Jeff Fisher. You think I’m kidding? Nope. In his last three games Goff has been intercepted seven times with one touchdown pass. And in his last two games, Goff misfired on 11 of 13 passing attempts — with four INTs — on passes that traveled 15+ yards through the air. (That stat courtesy of ESPN.)
Todd Gurley’s MVP candidacy. This was a live possibility for a while, but Gurley has averaged only 65.8 yards rushing over his last four games. He has a sore knee. For the season, Pro Football Focus rates Gurley’s overall performance at No. 11 among NFL running backs. The season turned for Gurley during the 15-6 loss at Chicago two weeks ago. Bullied by the Bears, Gurley managed 28 rushing yards on 11 carries. Gurley had one 12-yard run; otherwise the Bears held him to 16 yards on 10 runs. (Think of Eric Dickerson in the 1985 NFC Championship Game at Chicago.)
I don’t believe any credible person is still yammering about the Teenage Head Coach (Sean McVay) winning the NFL Coach of the Year for 2018.
The Rams’ rep for tight pass protection is crumbling, with pass rushers cruising through wide O-line gaps like surfers shooting the pier at Malibu. In their first 11 games the Rams were tied for fourth among the 32 teams in the Pro Football Focus pass blocking efficiency ratings (PBE). In the last three games, the Rams are tied for third worst in PBE. Center John Sullivan and left tackle Andrew Whitworth are showing their age; combined they’ve allowed 53 QB pressures in the last six games.
Goff’s clean pocket is getting dirty. Give Goff an abundant time to throw, and he’ll be accurate and efficient. But with the cracks in the Rams’ offensive line, Goff’s composure is cracking. He’s been a puddle of mess, lately. When Goff has been swarmed with pass-rush pressure over the last three games, he’s completed 33.3 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and four interceptions and a passer rating of … 8.9. For the season Goff ranks 26th among the 30 NFL quarterbacks that have taken at least half of their teams snaps with an under-pressure passer rating of 50.0.
That big-name, big-paycheck, big-bust Rams defense is getting shoved around. Over the last seven games (team record: 4-3), the Rams have been road-graded by opponents for 1025 yards rushing — an average of 146.4 per contest. And they’ve yielded an average of 5.2 yards per rushing attempt. Over this seven-game period opposing quarterbacks have zapped the Rams for 16 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 99.6. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a genuine wrecking ball. But when he can’t disrupt, the Rams don’t defend. When Donald has at least one sack in a game this season, the Rams are 8-0. When he goes without a sack, they’re 3-3.
So much for those premature, unwarranted and embarrassingly preposterous “Greatest Show on Turf” comparisons. The 1999 St. Louis Rams were closers; they averaged 33.8 points in their final six regular-season games as a run-up to the postseason and a triumph in Super Bowl 34. And despite absorbing some hellacious hits because of his toughness in the pocket, STL Rams quarterback Kurt Warner never soiled his pants when the pass rush closed in on him. The 2018 Rams scored 54 points in ripping apart Kansas City’s fragile defense in a three-point win on Nov. 19. But since that memorable Monday-night conquest, the Rams have scored 54 total points in their last three games. They were limited to 23 points on Sunday night by Philadelphia — a 13.5-point underdog coming in.
The 2018 Rams are an impressive 11-3 for the season but the sparkle and glitter are fading. In going down to Chicago and Philadelphia in the last two weeks, the Rams lost consecutive games for the first time since McVay became HC before the start of the 2017 season.
Life was easy when McVay, 32, had his offensive machine speeding through overwhelmed defenses. But now that the Rams have reached Dead Man’s Curve — it’s a Jan & Dean reference; Google it kids — McVay has looked rattled in losing two of the last three games.
Perhaps the Rams will recover — but only if Goff can stop freaking out. And only if the overpaid defense can excel at the basics — you know, tackling runners and covering receivers. And only if McVay can navigate through the first true test of his NFL head-coaching career. “We’ve got to be able to figure this out,” McVay said. “And figure it out fast.”
The final two games offer a soft landing: at Arizona, and vs. San Francisco at home. But New Orleans needs only one win in the final two games — both at home, against Pittsburgh and Carolina — to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Rams were in strong position to capture the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have all but handed it away to the Saints. And good luck beating the Saints at home during the playoffs.
Here’s one recommendation: someone must tell Kroenke that he isn’t Jack Nicholson seated court side at the Fabulous Forum watching the Lakers during the Magic Johnson years.
Lose the sunglasses, Kroenke.
Hell, everyone knows you got them — at a discount price, no less — at Walmart.
Thanks for reading.