Rams Defense Played it Safe and Lost

It wasn’t a good day overall for the Rams Defense, but their approach on the Bills’ game-winning drive deserves prime placement in the hall of shame.

I understand why teams play soft zone in 3rd-and-forever situations when it’s during the middle of a game. However, I am not a fan of it in the critical moments of a game or in potential 4-down territory. In fact, I think it should be outlawed. The Rams clearly don’t because they went with soft zone on 3rd-and-22 while nursing a 4-point lead with about 3 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. They got exactly what they deserved:

It’s probably unfair to just blame the playcall entirely. The execution and level of awareness on the field was poor. Below, keep your eyes on safety John Johnson (#43) in the middle of the field. Instead of staying in his zone, he overreacted to Josh Allen’s movement, creating a void behind him for wide receiver Cole Beasley.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

That’s inexcusable. There were no other receivers threatening his area that Johnson needed to react to. If Josh Allen ran, there were defenders to Johnson’s left to at least prevent him from coming close to the first down. You have to have better awareness of the route concepts coming at you and the situation.

While the execution was poor, why did Rams Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley let the offense off the hook there? Why allow the receivers to get into their routes? Why not bring a blitz and force a quick throw? Why not play a coverage like 2-man where your defensive backs can jam at the line, disrupt receivers, and be clear on who they are responsible for, all while two deep safeties protect against the big play? I’ll never understand the decision to make life easy for an offense in the most dire circumstances of a game. Yet we see it just about every week throughout the NFL.

And if that 3rd-and-22 wasn’t bad enough, the Bills faced a 3rd-and-25 later in the drive. Again, the Rams dropped into a soft zone – No disruption, no pressure on the offense. Allen was able to plant his back foot and throw the ball in rhythm to Stefon Diggs for 16 yards.

Maybe it would have been a good idea to at least give Diggs some extra attention in that situation. Either way, this was 4-down territory! The Bills needed a touchdown. Why allow 4th down to be made into a more manageable situation for the offense? Why allow them to cut the distance in half (and then some) so easily? Why allow the quarterback to deliver the ball in rhythm because you didn’t disrupt his receivers’ routes? Not to mention, Buffalo was at the 30-yard line. You don’t exactly have to worry about getting burned over the top there. You can afford to be more aggressive, without being stupid aggressive.

The controversial pass interference call on the next play will dominate much of the debate surrounding this game. Make no mistake about it, though, the Rams lost because they played it safe instead of playing to win.

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