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Clock Runs Out on Rams’ Breakthrough Season

January 6th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

So, there we were, feeling … well, not fat and sassy about the Los Angeles Rams’ chances in the first round of the playoffs … but reasonably confident.

Worried about the placekicker, a little concerned about the defensive secondary, but in all pretty optimistic about their chances of defeating the Atlanta Falcons at the Coliseum.

Meanwhile, overlooking a couple of key statistics.

To wit:

–The Rams’ league rank in “yards per opposition rush” was 30th, at 4.7 yards per running play.

–Their league rank in “opposition rushing yards” was 28th, at 1,959 yards.

Those bottom of the barrel stats were right there for all of us to see, but we neglected them or overlooked them.

The Falcons did not.

In two second-half drives that decided the game, the Falcons ran 16 plays, eight of them clock-draining rushing plays good for 49 yards, settling for a field goal; and followed that with 10 plays, four of them rushing plays, for 14 yards and more clock-killing, leading to another field goal that gave Atlanta a 19-10 lead.

The Rams’ response, after holding the ball for a mere 1 minute and 53 seconds in the third quarter, was to turn to the air, which netted them a fourth-quarter field goal closing the score to 19-13. But that led to Atlanta’s clinching touchdown.

Here is some highlight video, just under the headline at

The numbers tell us the Rams were not good defending the run. Perhaps we all missed that because they were ahead early in most games the season, and they did win 11 of 15 games they actually attempted to win, so the fact that opponents were getting 4.7 yards per rush escaped our attention.

Maybe the Rams’ renowned pass rush also blinded us to the fact that they could be gashed by the run.

The Rams showed themselves to be a shaky tackling team on both of Atlanta’s long field-goal drives. Linebackers Alex Ogletree and Mark Barron each looked like mediocre tacklers — even if they did lead the team in tackles during the season, the linebacker’s primary job, ultimately.

This Rams team, then, was built on four pillars: Rushing the passer; throwing the ball; getting the ball to Todd Gurley; winning the kicking game.

They didn’t do any of that well enough to win. They sacked Matt Ryan only twice; Rams receivers struggled to get open against Atlanta’s fine secondary; Gurley caught only four passes on 10 targets and netted 4 yards; and the kicking game was a mess because Pharoh Cooper succumbed to a bad case of nerves, almost personally handing Atlanta its early 6-0 lead with a muff and a fumble on punts.

And then the Rams were exposed in an area where the numbers said they were not strong — stopping the run.

The Rams inability to get the Falcons offense off the field in the second half exhausted the defense and took so much time off the clock that the Rams felt compelled to give up on the running game (16 rushing plays, against 45 passing plays)  … and there went the club’s 2018 playoffs run.

What next?

The Rams could use a big-hitting, sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can get an opponent to the ground on the first try. They also could stand a shutdown cornerback, but a linebacker better than Ogletree or the undersized Barron is the bigger priority.

On the whole, they are in decent shape. It was ball control, and lack of it, that warped their gameplan tonight. Also, Cooper’s two early gaffes on punt returns put them behind early and pushed them toward chasing the game in the second half.

It is disappointing to see them go out so soon, but given that they next would have gotten the Minnesota Vikings, who look rather like the NFC’s best team … well, some of us of an older generation can do without another Rams playoffs defeat in Minny.

Meantime, it was gratifying to see them become overnight contenders and the league’s highest-scoring team.




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