The reaction from fans and media members following the Rams’ gut-wrenching loss to the Chargers last Sunday is what you’d expect: Some blame Shaun Hill for his crucial interception, while others say Brian Schottenheimer should have never put his quarterback in that position in the first place.
My take? Schottenheimer didn’t throw the pass. Quarterbacks have an exorbitant amount of responsibilities pre and post-snap. One of them is to always have their eyes in the proper place so that they can deliver the ball to the right player at the right time. That’s what Mike Leach used to stress to his signal-callers at Texas Tech and with good reason: It all starts with a quarterback’s eyes. Hill made a poor read at the most inopportune time and it was one of many contributing factors in the loss.
That said, I didn’t like the decision to begin with. The Rams had two objectives at that point: Score, and leave the Chargers with limited time (and timeouts) to respond. Had they decided to run the ball on second down, at worst they force San Diego to let the clock continue to run or use its second timeout. In that situation, the Rams still had a third down play in their back pocket if they didn’t score on second down. If they don’t score on third down, they kick the field goal and leave the Chargers with little to no time on the clock to score in the final seconds. Both objectives would have been met.
But let’s say we all agree that the Rams made the right decision to be aggressive in that spot and throw it on second down. I still don’t like the play call. Nobody was open on Hill’s initial drop back. He saw that Chris Givens was covered on his first read, then went to Britt and had his pass intercepted. Benny Cunningham eventually broke free after running a jerk route but he was Hill’s third read on the play. Why not run play-action or another play designed to create separation on Hill’s first read? The closer an offense gets to the goal line the less field the defense has to cover and the tighter passing windows become. Give Hill one read, then have his second option be to hit the guy in the third deck eating nachos. The Rams could have simplified things for Hill in that situation.
Of course, it’s easy for me to analyze the situation days after the fact. I have an opportunity to review every possible angle, while NFL coaches have to make decisions in the heat of the moment.
No matter what side of the latest Rams’ blame game that you’re on, though, the widespread issue for this team is turnovers. In their four wins this season, the Rams turned the ball over a total of three times. In their seven losses, they turned the ball over a whopping 16 times, an average of 2.29 per game. Speaking of simplifying things: When the Rams protect the football, they win. When they don’t, they succumb to self-inflicted wounds.
Their turnovers have come at crucial moments in games, too. Hill’s interception on Sunday sealed the Rams’ fate in the fourth quarter. Bruce Carter’s pick-six off Austin Davis came when the Rams were trailing by only a field goal to the Cowboys in the fourth quarter in Week three.
Defensive end Cedric Thornton’s recovery of a Davis fumble in Philadelphia came on the Rams’ opening offensive possession in the second half in Week four.
While the situation looked bleak regardless, Dontae Johnson’s 20-yard pick six of Davis in Week nine came in the fourth quarter with the Rams down a touchdown to the Niners. And finally, Patrick Peterson’s 30-yard pick-six of a Davis pass in Week ten came in the fourth quarter when the Rams were trailing by only a field goal.
The Rams have been good enough defensively to be 4-0 over these last four weeks and the future continues to look bright on that side of the ball thanks to several impact players like Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald and T.J. McDonald. Until they receive more consistent production from the quarterback position, though, it’s hard to envision them being consistent as a team.
More: Fisher Expects Sam Bradford to be Under Center in 2015