It’s getting to that point of the season where we have to start looking at the weaknesses of some probable playoff teams. Where are their holes? Where can they be beat? After an absolutely stunning loss at home to the Jets in Week 15, it’s pretty clear that the vulnerability of the Rams is on the offensive side of the ball.
No, the defense did not play well against the Jets. However, they’ve wreaked havoc on enough potent offenses this season to have their poor performance against one of the worst teams ever cast aside as a fluke incident. The other side of the ball is the element of this team most likely to cost it a championship run.
Sean McVay’s offense is heavily schemed, relying on play design and play-calling to break down the defense. The Rams don’t just line up and count on their playmakers to win 1-on-1’s. They are reliant on motion, misdirection, screens and play-action. In fact, they have attempted more passes out of play-action than any team in the NFL this season. Jared Goff has a 102.0 rating on those play-action passes, but his rating drops to just 87.9 on normal dropbacks.
What this means is that negative plays on early downs are an absolute killer, much more so for the Rams than for other offenses. 2nd or 3rd-and-longs leave their bread-and-butter offense less effective. Sean McVay does not want Jared Goff operating too often in obvious passing situations or dropping back 40 times per game. The have to stay on schedule so that the run game and play-action can be a factor.
For the most part, the Rams were behind the chains against the Jets in Week 15.
L.A.’s offensive line has been pretty good in 2020. They’re a top 10 unit in pressure % and sack %, and the running game has been effective for the most part. But against the Jets, the offensive line had one of those days, especially inside.
On L.A.’s 3rd drive, this sack on 1st down put the Rams in a 2nd-and-18 hole. Focus on Quinnen Williams, who beat center Austin Blythe 1-on-1 inside.
The Rams would end up punting on 4th-and-19.
This 2nd-and-9 sack in the 2nd quarter set up a 3rd-and-16. Again focus on center Austin Blythe, this time with Nathan Shepherd (#97) over him.
The Rams ended up converting after drawing a penalty on 4th down, but then Goff threw an INT (more on that in a bit).
On their next drive, Shepherd snuck through the A gap on this 1st down run, forcing another negative play that made it 2nd-and-12.
The Rams would punt again.
After a few successful drives got the Rams back in the game, they trailed by just 6 in the 4th quarter. Once again, the Jets were able to get to Goff prior to 3rd down. This time, the pressure came via defensive end John Franklin-Myers against right guard Austin Corbett (#63).
The Rams also committed several holding penalties that killed multiple drives. A holding on their second drive of the game set up a 1st-and-20, which ultimately led to a punt. Their final two drives saw holding penalties negate an 18-yard touchdown run and another 22-yard run. The big men up front had a bad day to say the least.
The Rams are not built to have Jared Goff living consistently in 3rd-and-long obvious passing situations. In fact, on 3rd and 7+ this season, Goff has a 66.1 QB rating. That is…not good. Goff’s decision making has been a problem since the start of 2019, as he’s thrown 30 interceptions in 28 games.
When he did have time against the Jets, Goff continued to make mistakes. I can’t explain what he was thinking or seeing on this 2nd-quarter interception.
One of the reasons you run play-action boot and get your quarterback on the perimeter is that the decision-making process is simpler. The progressions are clearly defined. There is less anticipation and coverage recognition needed. There is no defensive line to prevent the quarterback from seeing the field. There is also always the option to play it safe and either run or throw the ball out of bounds. It’s what coaches like to use often with rookies, as well as limited or struggling quarterbacks. Here, it led to a bad interception.
The final play of the day for the Rams Offense was another puzzling decision by Goff. This was 4th-and-4. The Rams had a trips bunch to the right. It seemed like this play was designed to go to Cooper Kupp at the bottom of the bunch on a burger (in-and-out) route at the first-down marker.
The Jets matched up with man coverage. Safety Marcus Maye aligned in press position over the front man of the bunch, Gerald Everett.
The Jets appeared to match up to Kupp and the inside receiver, Robert Woods, by playing their releases (outside CB takes the outside release, inside CB takes the inside release).
Both Woods and Kupp released inside, which caused a little initial confusion for those Jets DBs. Kupp was open underneath after the other two routes in the bunch created traffic for the inside and outside cornerbacks to fight through.
Goff decided to go with the low-percentage downfield throw, though. The result was an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
We’ve seen plenty of offenses scheme their way through the regular season effectively. In the playoffs against the better teams and defenses in the NFL, the quarterback has to be able to make throws on obvious passing downs or in difficult situations. Goff has not shown the ability to do that in that last two seasons. Eventually, that will catch up with the Rams.
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