There is a term that people in sports use for coming close in a game and almost winning. That term is “losing.” As the Rams fell to 4-7 Sunday in San Diego, they fell to 3-3 in one-possession games, and 3-5 in games that were within reach in the fourth quarter.
Jeff Fisher often talks about how his team is “growing up.” But he has one more season with his original draft class under control before the turnover starts again. It’s reaching the point where this edition of the Rams needs to grow up and win their close games, or the same cycle of futility that’s lasted for ten years will be extended.
1) While I would have probably called something different, I had no problem with the play call on the game-clinching interception thrown by Shaun Hill. It was second and goal at the four, and as Fisher said, they were going for the win. The problem was in the execution. I said to myself as Hill dropped back, “just don’t throw a pick.” There is no excuse for a 13-year veteran quarterback to make that throw in that situation.
Throw to the perimeter or throw the ball away, but don’t throw a pass that can be intercepted. By the way, I personally would have preferred the Rams run the ball. With over a minute to go, force San Diego to use their time outs. And if you don’t punch it in on second or third down, you take your chances in overtime with a field goal. I want the team to be aggressive overall, but sticking with what you do best and want to be would have served them best in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
2) Turnovers were killers-again. One of the problems the Rams have had this year is the sack-fumble. Sunday’s hit by Cory Liuget on Hill and Andrew Gachkar’s ensuing 13 yard fumble return are added to devastating sack-fumble touchdowns against in Philadelphia and Arizona. With all of the investment in their offensive line, the Rams still get quarterbacks battered into giving up points. Only the Jaguars have allowed more sacks than the Rams 34 this season. With all due respect, there is only one rookie playing up there. Hill was only brought down once on Sunday, but that sack led to the points that provided the difference in the game.
3) The run defense was bad. Ryan Mathews’ best game of the season so far had been sixteen carries for 70 yards last week against the Raiders. He ran 12 times for 105 yards. The Rams knew he’d be running between the tackles, and knew San Diego’s favorite play was the draw. Yet he continually picked up large chucks of yardage on that very play. As the esteemed Stats Doctor Rick Winer wrote last week, the Rams had “allowed 51 yards rushing on 26 carries in the last two weeks, or just under two yards per carry. If my research is accurate, this marks the lowest two-game total for rushing by Rams opponents in franchise history.” To go from that level of excellence to allowing 19 carries-129 yards to Charger running backs defines the Rams inconsistency. Once again, at some point, youth doesn’t work as an excuse any more. There are two rookies on the Rams starting defense…Aaron Donald and E.J. Gaines…and they are arguably among the top four players on the unit.
4) The Rams HAVE to overcome bad calls. The Rams were victimized again by the officials, and that’s too bad. They had two touchdowns called back, plus a Tavon Austin punt return that would have started the final drive at the Charger five yard line rather than the 40. But great teams generally are able to overcome adversity. When Kenny Britt’s 51 yard score was nullified by a facemask penalty with 1:51 left in the first half, the Rams ran two more plays, punted, and allowed a ten play, 54 yard drive that resulted in a field goal at the end of the half. Remember, the game ended 27-24. After the penalty on the Austin play, the Rams committed the decisive turnover. Those were untimely penalties, but it’s important for everyone to think “one snap and clear” and move on to the next play.
5) The special teams were a mixed bag. A team like the Rams, that plans to play such close games, can’t get field goals blocked. That’s what happened with 4:38 left in the first half.
Blocked field goals and blocked punts (which gave Philadelphia a touchdown in their six point win over the Rams), can’t happen EVER for a team that plays the way the Rams do. The margin for error is too thin. On the plus side, Johnny Hekker completed ANOTHER pass on a fake punt. He’s now 5-6 for 79 yards and a touchdown in his career, and he has a PERFECT passer rating of 158.3. Hekker is a real weapon…and apparently there is no way to stop him.
6) It was good to see the Mountaineers step up. Stedman Bailey was…and might be…unstoppable. He looks like a number one receiver. When he had a touchdown to the left side called back in the fourth quarter, he simply went to the right and caught a TD there. He became Hill’s primary target late, and caught seven balls for 89 yards. He should be the Rams go-to wideout. And Austin, in addition to his punt return, was used as a runner on the perimeter and scored his first touchdown of the year. He had six touches for 38 yards. If they get his touches up to about twelve per game and don’t run him up the middle, the Rams might have something.
7) Tre Mason showed he’s durable. I had concerns about the 5-8, 207 pounder after a 29 carry performance against Denver. But he had seventeen touches for 88 yards and looked fresh. Not only that, but on the sack-fumble play, Mason was fending off Gachkar before Liuget’s sack. If he holds up, Mason has all the attributes to be a three down back.
8) The Rams are a lower third team. Bill Parcells said it and I subscribe to his belief 100 percent that “you are what your record says you are.” The Rams are tied for the 22nd best record in the league. If the draft were held today, they’d have the ninth pick. They went through the gauntlet half of their schedule at 3-5. But they haven’t put back-to-back wins together this year.
At 4-7, two of their wins came on special teams tricks (Seattle) and an uncommon goal line fumble by Colin Kaepernick at San Francisco. They dominated Denver, and were dominated by Minnesota. Consistency isn’t exactly a strong point, here.
There’s no reason to believe this group could put a streak together or win consistently enough on the road to be great.
9) The Rams have said that they plan to draft a quarterback early in the 2015 draft. And they need to. Hopefully that player will be ready to take the reins and win immediately. The guy who has the ability to do that is Jamies Winston of Florida State. He is SO good as a quarterback that if I squint real hard, I can see that he hasn’t been charged in a he-said/she-said sexual assault, has had his crab leg-gate situation adjudicated, stupidly jumped up and yelled something profane in a school cafeteria, and hasn’t had any evidence of being paid come forth about his autograph signing situation. Could he be a victim of circumstances? If he keeps leading Florida State back to wins, I’ll buy it.
10) Fisher falls to 0-8 against San Diego in his career. The only other team he hasn’t beaten is the team he coached for eighteen years, the Titans, whom he’s only faced once. If Fisher ever DOES get a team back to the Super Bowl, hopefully for his sake it’s not against San Diego.
The Raiders are next for the Rams at the Dome. Definitely a winnable game. And as we saw Sunday, they’re all losable.