With the knowledge that the Rams were going to play at Minnesota, but have to do so without starting defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, weakside linebacker Alec Ogletree and strong safety T.J. McDonald, most of us would have thought a 21-18 overtime loss was positive.
But with the chances the Rams had, the loss is crushing.
After starting 2-3, the Rams likely gave themselves three more losses if they want to make the playoffs, and one of those losses has been used on the Vikings.
With that, ten takeaways from the loss at TCF Bank Stadium.
1) It’s 2015, and of the twelve teams in the playoff picture right now, ten are in the top half of the NFL in scoring. The two that aren’t in the top half are 4-4 Indianapolis, the AFC South leaders, and the same Vikings that beat the Rams on Sunday.
The Rams have a great defense, but the league is set up for scoring. So a team averaging 19.1 points a game…29th in the league…is going to have a difficult time consistently winning. To score, the Rams need to be able to throw the ball now and then. And so far, they can’t.
2) The Patriots, Cardinals, Falcons, Bengals, Raiders, Giants, Broncos and Colts are all in the top half of the league in passing, and can make a play in a close game. The Steelers, Packers and Panthers all have, in varying degrees, the ability to throw to win a game. The Rams 177.1 yards passing per game are last in the league, and their seven touchdown passes are second to last. So while the team has achieved Coach Jeff Fisher’s goal of playing great defense and running the ball, those attributes are being wasted by the inabilities of the passing game.
3) The defense deserves heavy praise. Missing the aforementioned four starters, they held Minnesota to two touchdowns and 293 yards. They held the great Adrian Peterson to 125 yards, although he did have several big runs on the game winning drive. Overall, allowing eighteen points in regulation is good enough. This one isn’t on the defense.
4) It was interesting to hear Vikings coach Mike Zimmer whine about a hit that LaMarcus Joyner delivered that knocked Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of the game, a game of collisions. Zimmer said “I do know there’s a history there of their defensive coordinator. I’ll leave it at that.” Zimmer is referring to Gregg Williams’ serving a suspension for the bounty scandal in New Orleans. Is Zimmer really suggesting there’s a bounty situation going on in St. Louis? Is there a more scrutinized team and coach than the Rams defensive coordinator?
On the other side of the coin, Pittsburgh lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the second time this season, and rather than whine, coach Mike Tomlin said “injuries are as much a part of the game football as blocking and tackling. It’s unfortunate, we don’t like it, but we embrace the challenge that comes with it. We’re not looking for excuses, that’s just how we have to be.”
“We’re not the only team that deals with it. They had a lot of guys that got hurt in game today. I’m sure they feel the same way we do.” As a fan, I’d much rather hear Tomlin’s matter-of-fact reasoning than Zimmer’s whining about the other coach.
5) The Rams rookie guards and young center had a difficult time with Viking defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who had ten tackles, including three for loss, and half a sack. Jamon Brown and Andrew Donnal aren’t in the best situation against a guy like Joseph. Rob Havenstein doesn’t play like a rookie, so when he’s out, the line really needs to scramble with Garret Reynolds moving to right tackle.
6) Three of the Rams four longest plays were a 55 yard pass to Kenny Britt, a 23 yard pass to Britt, and a 20 yard completion to Lance Kendricks. Yet Britt was targeted five times and Kendricks twice. In 24 plays in the fourth quarter and overtime, Kendricks wasn’t targeted and Britt was thrown three balls; a nine yard catch, a seventeen yard pass interference penalty, and an incompletion that was negated by a holding call, anyway. Of the other 22 plays run in that span, fifteen were called for Todd Gurley or Tavon Austin. Yes, they are the Rams two best playmakers. But 15 of 22 plays going to two players is way too predictable.
7) It was good to see Greg Zuerlein rebound with a game-tying 53 yard field goal with seventeen seconds left after missing a 48 yarder with 1:45 to go. He got back on the horse after a tough couple of weeks. With the way the Rams play, they need him to hit every field goal.
8) Without Quinn and Long, the Rams recorded only one sack and, according to pressbox stats, five quarterback hits and hurries. They weren’t able to get much pressure on the Viking QB’s, although they did know they could get to Shaun Hill once he got in there. With Jay Cutler at quarterback for the Bears next week, the Rams need to get their defensive ends back to better disrupt the opponents passing game.
9) If Jeff Fisher wasn’t happy about going 2-22 on third downs in the previous two games, the 2-for-16 on Sunday will drive him nuts. Both conversions came on the drive that led to Todd Gurley’s first quarter touchdown. Otherwise, the Rams came up empty in the second, third and fourth quarters. They were 0-for their last 12. That was devastating, and if you want to point to one primary reason for this particular loss, that’s it.
10) To grab a playoff spot, I think the Rams will have to go 6-2 in the second half. They’re essentially three games behind Green Bay and Minnesota, since those two hold two-team tiebreakers over the Rams. The best chance for a playoff spot very well could be to win the NFC West. Among their six needed wins, it would do the Rams well to beat Arizona and Seattle.