Going into yesterday’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, Rams fans, possibly even players, could feel a different energy going into the contest in comparison to their matchup in Week 10. Both teams stood at 6-3 yet most analysts perceived the Rams having a firm advantage at a time when the offense and defense were in sync for LA. The Rams went on to win 23-16. Fast forward to Week 17, the Rams suffer a 20-9 loss to the Seahawks and seal a tight NFC West division win for Seattle. Los Angeles’ record has fallen to 9-6, a consecutive loss where the team looked absolutely outside itself.
Still at solid odds to make the playoffs, the Rams are eager to resolve issues that have slid the team from appearing as a formidable candidate to win the NFC this year into a probable first-round exit. The loss is still fresh and blame is ready to be spread from people across the fanbase. With a path to the playoffs that remains in their control, the Rams must re-center their team with a game still left in the season against a beatable but challenging, Arizona Cardinals team. Here are four key takeaways from Rams vs. Seahawks.
Four Key Takeaways From The Rams Loss To The Seahawks
Jared Goff’s Shortcomings
We’ll get Jared Goff out of the way. Many have come to the conclusion that in the midst of a booming, elite defense and still gifted with a top offensive arsenal, Goff’s inconsistencies and shortcomings are holding back the Rams from winning the NFC West or finishing atop the NFC.
Against a Seattle Seahawks defense that has recently been trending upward with an improved pass rush and great play by the secondary courtesy of 2020 Pro Bowlers Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, Jared Goff looked frozen and flustered throughout the contest. His reliance on the short yard passing game led to his worst turnovers and decision-making of the year. From the beginning of the 2019 season to the present, Jared Goff has been leading starting quarterbacks in turnovers.
In an era of the hybrid quarterback, many viewers now understand the importance of having a mobile quarterback who can escape collapsing pockets and develop a play on their feet. This matchup’s opposing quarterback, Russell Wilson, remains the prime example of developing mobility and how it translates to making him the best deep-ball thrower in the league.
Watching Jared Goff this past Sunday, you would be convinced that stepping outside the pocket makes a deep ball impossible. His indecisions at the line of scrimmage kept him from picking up yards on his feet or completing the ball down the field, instead opting for short-yard incompletions. When the time came for Goff to heave one for much-needed yardage, it landed in the safety’s arms for an easy interception that commentator Troy Aikman accurately described: “It doesn’t get uglier than that.”
Citing his right thumb, which popped out after hitting a player’s helmet in the fourth, as a hindrance for Goff’s performance does not encapsulate his recent bouts of deficient confidence at the position. However, it is a key injury to keep in mind going forward.
With a game left against the Cardinals’ strong pass rush and proficient offense, Goff must continue to exercise his confidence in the right direction for a team that absolutely needs to make a decision on their $100M quarterback. It’s not crazy to believe in Goff’s remaining potential; with McVay’s guidance as a coach who rightfully adapts to solve his team’s weakest links (e.g. secondary, offensive line) and dependable receiving corps of TE’s and WR’s, Goff can find a way to adeptly work the short passing game and warm up to finding success down the field.
But is it too late?
Rams’ Backfield Is Taking Major Losses
Darrell Henderson’s 12 carries for 62 yards at the time became one of the few sparks that kept the Rams offense within the probability of catching up to Seattle. Late in the third quarter down 6-13, Henderson produced key runs that led the Rams right up to the Seahawks’ goal-line, which resulted in the game’s turning point moment where the Seahawks defense stuffed Goff and Malcolm Brown’s attempts at tying the score. Several plays later, Darrell Henderson left the game with a high-ankle sprain and is looking to be a number of games away before returning to a completely healthy running back.
With Goff’s inability to kickstart the offense, the Rams are forced to depend on a backfield that is missing its leading rusher and Cam Akers, who was slated to be the lead back until he suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Jets, leading to an absence from Sunday’s game.
Malcolm Brown and Xavier Jones will be the Rams’ last stand at the running back position until Akers and Henderson return. Malcolm Brown has been a solid crutch for the offense at seldom opportunities and Xavier Jones remains an overlooked talent for the rushing and passing attack. If this unit steps up, the playoff outlook can shift in the right direction for LA.
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Seattle Wakes Up Rams’ Secondary
The elevated play with which the Rams’ defense has been performing all year fuels the speculations and doubts currently vetted against the offense. While Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd continue to ball out against opposing quarterbacks, the secondary’s improved impact has been the difference-maker between this year and last as a part of Brandon Staley’s fresh regime.
On Sunday, the secondary displayed some sluggish attempts to cover the deep ball which led to most of Russell Wilson’s 225-yard performance that only mustered 20 points. Surrendering a 45-yard play to David Moore and not picking up the crucial 18-yard dump-off to Carlos Hyde that put Seattle five yards away from a score woke up the secondary to ease off their regular season highs for one Sunday.
Going into their matchup against the loaded Cardinals WR corps, the secondary must regroup and continue to find ways of tightening the field for quarterbacks especially when looking at the playoff picture that will potentially match the Rams against Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or a final rematch with Russell Wilson.
Sean McVay Should Be Trusted In The Playoffs And Going Forward
Rams fans should admire the poise with which McVay has defended the lackluster performances by LA in recent weeks and his polemical quarterback. The lost swagger going into the playoffs feels like a tandem of bad performances by key individual players on the team and some poor calls from McVay, but the young coach has built trust this year after his shift to a defense-first blueprint that has been a winning recipe in the past and guiding players to a continual belief in their chances of being true playoff contenders.
As a prime example of the team’s cohesive dynamic and culture, Jalen Ramsey approached Jared Goff during their losing efforts against Seattle with a reminder that the defense had his back and would get the ball back to give the struggling offense another opportunity.
All three units of this team still believe in their collective ability to find the path to a championship, one route, or another. With the inclusion of Matt Gay at the placekicking position, the Rams are assuredly restoring their well-rounded game plan and McVay’s tenacity in these situations to find the proper solution is a sign of maturation post-Super Bowl 53. Few coaches in league history find this level of adaptability early in their careers. Belichick required a second head coaching job to get it right; if Los Angeles remains patient with McVay in the postseason and beyond, their chances at a championship will continue to be in play.