The Rams ended their season with a loss in Seattle for the third consecutive season, but for the third year in a row, both teams were better in week seventeen than they were the year before. Seattle will be the favorite again to win the Super Bowl, and the Rams will struggle to find a way to break a string of eleven consecutive non-winning seasons. With that, ten takeaways from Sunday’s 20-6 loss to the Seahawks.
1) There is no disgrace for the Rams in losing to Seattle. The Seahawks are the best team in the league, and are nearly unbeatable at home. Having them shut out at halftime and tied in heading into the fourth quarter is a good thing. The Rams didn’t give any quarter, they weren’t physically beat up by Seattle. They simply did what lesser teams do in situations like that…they turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, and that led to fourteen Seattle points and took one off the board for the Rams. Don’t turn the ball over, and you have a chance for a 13-6 win. But the turnovers DID happen, and that’s the major reason the Rams had a 6-10 record.
2) The Rams only won the turnover battle in three games in 2014, going 3-0 in those games. They lost that battle seven times, and went 0-7 in those games…including Sunday against the Seahawks. In the six games in which they were even in turnovers, the Rams were 3-3. The same sort of results occurred in 2012 and 2013.
Under Fisher, the Rams are 13-1 when they win the turnover battle, 6-8 when they tie, and 1-18-1 when the turnover margin is against them. The Rams played only four games in which they didn’t turn the ball over, and threw sixteen interceptions. If you throw a bunch of interceptions, it’s hard to win.
The only team in the top eleven in times intercepted is Indianapolis, and Andrew Luck led the league in touchdown passes and was second in attempts and yards.
The Rams quarterbacks didn’t do enough good things to offset the bad things.
3) The Seahawks appeared to come out with more fire in the second half of the game. After giving the ball up on two punts, an interception, a fumble and a fourth down stop in the first half, Seattle turned in two eight play drives that led to third quarter field goals, then had a six play, 54 yard touchdown drive after a fourth quarter interception. Add that to Hill’s pass to Lance Kendricks that was muffed and intercepted by Bruce Irvin and returned for a touchdown, and Seattle came up two really good drives and then scored their two touchdowns by taking advantage of turnovers.
4) The Rams need better quarterback play, but it likely won’t come with the tenth pick in the draft. Tampa Bay, Tennessee, the Jets and Chicago pick ahead of the Rams, and will likely be in the market for a quarterback. It’s doubtful that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (who needs development time anyway) or Jamies Winston will be available with the tenth pick. The Rams are kind of backed into a corner in terms of re-signing Sam Bradford and hoping he’s healthy enough to play next year. They do need to draft a QB, and would be smart to scour the market for another backup. If they have Bradford and he gets hurt again, Hill and Austin Davis have proven what they can…or can’t…do.
5) Of the twelve teams that allowed the fewest sacks this season, eight made the playoffs. Only eight teams allowed more than the Rams 47, and none of those teams made the post-season. In fact, none of the bottom ten teams in sacks allowed made the playoffs. The Rams need to rebuild not only the right side of their offensive line, but their depth up front, too.
Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has a great reputation, but apparently needs more talent and a more elusive QB. Without question, Hill and Austin Davis didn’t handle pressure particularly well. But at this point in their careers, Scott Wells and Davin Joseph aren’t the guys to face that vaunted Seattle defense, either.
6) We can’t blame the penalties. I would love to sit here and complain about the number of penalties killing the Rams chances, and in fact there were games and untimely penalties that did affect the won/loss ledger. But the fact of the matter is that the five least penalized teams in the NFL, the Jaguars, Saints, Dolphins, Panthers and Chiefs either failed to have a winning season or missed the playoffs (Carolina made the playoffs with a losing record, K.C. was 9-7 but won’t play in the post-season). Meanwhile, the five MOST penalized teams this year were Seattle, Buffalo, the Rams, the Broncos and the Patriots. It would seem you’re more likely to be one of the best teams in the league if you commit a lot of penalties, rather than the opposite.
7) The Rams should benefit from all of the turmoil in San Francisco. In addition to the departure of coach Jim Harbaugh and the apparent retirement of defensive end Justin Smith, the 49ers face the free agency of guard Mike Iupati, wide receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore. The window may have closed on San Francisco. With the Rams being the youngest team in the league, they still have the chance to take advantage of what’s happening out west.
8) Jeff Fisher commented on the number of returns for touchdowns against the Rams, which totaled ten. Every single one of those is going to cause problems, but they seemed to come at big times for the Rams. Against Dallas the Rams were down by three with six minutes left when Bruce Carter returned an interception for a touchdown, and the Rams lost by three. Philadelphia returned a blocked punt for a TD in the first minute of the game, then recovered a fumble in the end zone early in the third quarter of a six point win. San Francisco turned a seven point lead into a fourteen point lead in the final minute, with the Rams having a chance to tie that game. Kansas City returned the second half’s opening kickoff 99 yards to extend a 10-7 advantage to 17-7.
In the final six minutes at Arizona, Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie’s return touchdowns turned a 17-14 Cardinal lead into a 31-14 advantage. And the Bruce Irvin touchdown put Sunday’s game out of reach. The Rams, on offense and special teams, must respect possession of the football more than they did this year.
9) Marcus Roberson’s first NFL interception was heartening. Despite another Janoris Jenkins miscommunication that led to a long pass to set up Seattle’s first touchdown, we know Jenkins has enough ability to be a solid NFL corner. Trumaine Johnson is useful. E.J. Gaines was a sixth round revelation. Some people are saying the Rams have to get a cornerback in this draft, but I disagree. If they get a late compensatory pick to take a developmental guy, that’s fine. But with those four, plus Brandon McGee coming back and Lamarcus Joyner showing great potential as a nickel back, I don’t think a corner is a high priority. And for those of us that wanted a safety last year, now the Rams have a solid starting duo in T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, plus Mark Barron and Joyner, and last year’s fourth rounder Maurice Alexander. The team is set at safety.
10) Heading into this off-season, the Rams need to fix the offensive line and the quarterback situation, and continue to build quality depth. It might be smart to try and poach Iupati from San Francisco. The 49ers won’t be able to keep him under the cap, and with Jake Long likely done because of injury and cap considerations, the three time Pro Bowl participant would be a good fit for this offense.
Then the Rams could concentrate on quarterback, with Barrett Jones and Tim Barnes battling for the center position. The defense is in good shape, with strong side linebacker being the only real need position on that side of the ball. The Rams are close to being good in terms of the number of players they need…but because one of those needed is a quarterback, they’re farther away than they’d like to be.
It should be an interesting off-season. This is ten straight years without a playoff appearance for the Rams. Even though they inherited a bad situation and have had some bad luck, it’s time for this regime to turn the franchise around and get back to the playoffs.