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The Rams and Getting Their Signals Straight

December 10th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

Think back to the Los Angeles Rams’ 2016 NFL season.

Prize draft pick Jared Goff was a mess. When he finally got a chance to play, in the final seven games of the season, the rookie quarterback looked clueless and panicked, conditions that rule out competence. And, yes, he was 0-7 as a starter.

The Goff we saw from Week 1 this season, under the guidance of 31-year-old coach/guru Sean McVay, has seemed methodical, cool and confident, with a nice touch on the ball and a fairly high level of accuracy.

It has been a startling makeover and, of course, a welcome one to anyone who remembered the price the Rams paid to move up in the 2016 college draft and take Goff with the first pick. Turns out Goff can be competent. (Sigh of relief.)

But we should not consider Goff as having completed the caterpillar-to-butterfly process, and we offer the final half of the fourth quarter today of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 43-35 over the Rams at the Coliseum.

We saw there a Goff and McVay system that leaves the Rams at risk in high-tension situations.

As described by Troy Aikman, former NFL quarterback and designated analyst (to Joe Buck’s play-by-play) for Fox, the genesis of practically every play the Rams run is the end product of a complex communications system that leads from McVay to Goff and then to the other 10 guys on offense.

Aikman said McVay calls a play only after the Rams have gotten to the line of scrimmage — so that McVay can get a sense of the defensive players on the field before he settles on a play expected to counter whatever it is the defense is doing.

McVay then radios, via Goff’s helmet, the play he prefers, and only then does Goff get busy announcing the play to his 10 teammates. A process that can take 20 seconds or more as Goff walks around in the backfield.

Normally, this works fine, as the Rams’ 9-3 record, before Sunday’s game, and their status as the No. 2 NFL team in scoring, would suggest.

However, a good opposing defense, complete with above-average pass rush, makes the McVay/Goff system less likely to succeed.

We saw three problems in the final minutes.

1. McVay may not be doing an adequate job judging his own team, ahead of a play, perhaps because he is trying to process too much information.

The Rams had the ball and a 35-34 lead when right tackle Rob Havenstein limped off the field and was replaced by an inexperienced backup, Darrell Williams.

The Eagles were getting a fair amount of pressure on Goff when the starters were in and the arrival of an inadequate backup is no small change in circumstance.

Yet, McVay called a play that seemed to assume pass protection of the sort Havenstein would provide. Instead, the Eagles overran Williams and Chris Long knocked the ball out of Goff’s hand and the Eagles recovered the fumble — which turned into the go-ahead field goal.

(To his credit, McVay, after the game, said he rued his choice of play that led to the fumble.)

2. On that same play we saw that Goff has not gained an appreciation for that moment when the ball has to get out before his protection collapses. He seemed unaware, as he often does, when the defense was closing in. This can lead to sacks or turnovers (and injuries), and the fumble was his fourth of the season. Goff needs to “feel” the pressure when he cannot see it, but so far, he rarely does.

3. The Rams need to come up with a way for McVay and Goff to speed up play selection and execution when time is running out. After the Eagles had taken a 37-35 lead, the Rams ran three plays and on each of them they went through their time-burning McVay-to Goff-to teammates routine, as if they had all day to execute a drive.

Three plays yielded zero yards but did manage to burn 1:43 off the clock — or just about the maximum they could spend on three plays.

Early in games, the Rams’ slow pace at getting a play and running it is annoying; in this situation, it was infuriating and fatal. It was frustrating to watch because so much time was coming off the clock that their possession was shaping up as their last in the game.

Turns out, it just about was. The Rams punted and got the ball back with all of :01 on the clock.

The Rams have other issues, including overaggressive players on defense who seem prone to silly penalties. Then there’s the defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whose defense was gashed for 472 yards; either he is not as good as advertised or his players are not. And maybe more carries for Todd Gurley, too.

These Rams are so much better than fans expected. But they are not yet to a place where their inadequacies can be exposed by an elite coach.

Imagine how a Bill Belichick would dissect the McVay system. Luckily, the Rams will have a year or two to work out the bugs before they get to a really big postseason game.



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