On a day that the Rams clinched their eighth straight losing season, but did earn ESPN’s top play with Darren Bates’ spectacular blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, there were more negatives to discuss than positives. And here are 10 takeaways from the Rams 37-27 loss to the Giants…
1) The Rams clearly have some fight. We saw that during the late second quarter rumble as Alec Ogletree roughed up Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out of bounds. William Hayes got involved trying to defend Ogletree, who had been kicked by Beckham. T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, along with James Laurinaitis and Janoris Jenkins and the rest of the defense, got into the heated battle. It happened last season in Carolina and in Seattle at the end of the season. The Rams have passion and desire and will defend their mates to the end, but sometimes that comes at the expense of team success. I love the passion, but I hope it can be lassoed and utilized as a force for good on the field, rather than a mechanism that results in a street brawl.
2) It was a terrible day for the defensive backs. Eli Manning was an astounding 25-32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, resulting in a 148.8 passer rating. He was 16-18 for 200 yards and a score in the first half. Certainly, Manning couldn’t miss. But it was rather remarkable how often he had receivers running free down the field.
The Rams didn’t have an interception, and came close to just one pick. He came into the game with thirteen interceptions and had been sacked 27 times, going only two games (at Dallas and Tennessee) without being sacked. Nobody in the front seven had a sack, with T.J. McDonald recording the only one for the Rams. Once again a miscommunication left an opposing receiver wide open for a long touchdown, and ultimately poor pass defense let the Rams down.
3) Where was the defense vs. the run? Jeff Fisher and his regime have drafted and signed defensive players to play in the NFC West and stop guys like Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch. And indeed, the Rams have been sensational against the run for most of the second half of the season. But on this day, Giant running backs ran 30 times for 131 yards. The defense certainly didn’t slow the run down. The Giants were able to dictate to the Rams defense, which is something that shouldn’t happen with so much physical talent on that side of the ball.
4) Why was Scott Wells playing, anyway? Wells had a high snap that caused quarterback Shaun Hill to panic and overthrow Stedman Bailey late in the first half, then delivered another high snap that went over Hill’s head and caused a fumble that snuffed any Rams comeback chances. The Rams came into the game with a record of 6-8, out of playoff contention. They used a 4th round pick on center Barrett Jones last year, and Fisher admitted that Wells has been fighting through some elbow issues. Why isn’t Jones getting an opportunity? With all due respect to Wells, he turns 34 on January 7 and has not played to the level expected when he signed a free agent contract with the Rams before the 2012 season. If he’s hurt, or is going to play like that, why not give Jones a chance to see if he can play next year? I’d like to see Jones and Brandon Washington…although you might not want to play them at Seattle, either. I think Fisher and his staff missed a chance to see some young talent against the Giants.
5) The Rams were easily offended by Odell Beckham Jr. When asked why the Rams were jawing with Beckham Jr., Fisher said “I don’t know. Someone said he said came out and said he was going to set an NFL record today against the defense early this morning. I was told that, I don’t know. But he’s an outstanding player. He’s a very, very good player and he’s going to be hard to stop over the years.” Seriously? A rookie says he’s going to set a record and your feelings are hurt? Are you kidding? That’s ridiculous. After T.J. McDonald took a taunting penalty because of his involvement with Beckham late in the first half, Mark Barron came out during a time out to calm him down. The Giants scored on their next play. Beckham’s taunt after his first touchdown most certainly helped cause the fracas in the second quarter, when Ogletree manhandled him. If receivers know they can get into the Rams head with antics like that, the Rams are going to see that every week.
Apparently this group didn’t spend enough time with and learn enough from Cortland Finnegan.
6) The Rams and their fans have now suffered eight straight losing seasons. Even the Raiders have had a couple of 8-8’s in that time. The gold standard of late for St. Louis has been the Scott Linehan/Jim Haslett club that went 8-8 in 2006. Do we know bad football? The last team to have a streak this long was the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals, who had nine straight losing years between 1985-1993. Of course, 1985-’87 were their last three years in St. Louis. So in our last 23 seasons of NFL football in St. Louis, we’ve had four winning seasons, and seventeen losing ones. And folks wonder why people don’t want to spend their hard earned money on going to the Dome.
7) Kenny Britt had a huge play and a great day. With 4:13 left in the first half, Hill was flushed from the pocket, rolled right, and appeared to throw the ball away. But Britt appeared from nowhere to make a brilliant, 27 yard sideline catch and help set up a Rams touchdown moments later. He finished with nine catches for 103 yards. Britt leads Rams wide receivers with 44 catches for 710 yards. He deserves a contract for next year.
8) There were more devastating penalties. The Rams committed “only’ nine penalties for 76 yards…compared to the Giants 12-149. McDonald’s penalty was tough. But with 10:28 to go in the game and the Giants ahead 30-20, they lined up to punt on a 4th and 1 from the Rams 46. Incomprehensibly, veteran Kendall Langford jumped offsides, giving the Giants a first down that led to their final touchdown and a 37-20 advantage. Even though the volume of penalties is down a bit, their effects are still as great.
9) Is Fisher on the hot seat? I got question on Twitter a couple of times. No, and he shouldn’t be. A good franchise simply can’t continue to churn through regimes every three years and hope eventually it’s going to work out. The Giants should be a model for the Rams. So should the Steelers.
Fisher took over an untenable situation in which nearly half the players on the roster he took over didn’t even make it to a training camp the next year. He heads into year four of the project. Are things perfect? Certainly not. But this is a franchise that needs stability on the football side. Giants fans have wanted Tom Coughlin fired several times, before the team won Super Bowls. I would have to believe that many Cowboys fans wanted Jason Garrett fired after they finished 8-8 for the third straight year last year, but now he’s working out pretty well at 11-4 and as NFC East champs.
I don’t think Fisher’s seat should be hot…or even warm…heading into the off-season.
10) To fill up the stadium, the Rams need their product to be better. As has been mentioned, the Rams have eight straight losing seasons and finished 3-5 at home this year. This after they went 5-3 at home last year. Fisher is 11-12 at the Dome (one home game was in London) and 20-26-1 overall heading into week seventeen. While that’s a dramatic improvement over the 15-65 before he got here, reality is that NFL teams need to win to fill the stadium. If the Rams can reach a deal to remain in St. Louis, they need to know that the novelty of a new edifice lasts only so long. Eventually, if you’re going to be selling a product, that product needs to be of quality for people to buy it…even if it is the only game in town. If the losing persists, people aren’t going to buy…wherever the team plays. The Cardinals and Blues have learned this; the Redskins, Raiders and Buccaneers know it too. Winning sells.