Last night was absolutely frustrating. The game was completely winnable. Joe Burrow was playing on a bad calf, the Bengals run defense was the worst in the league, and the Rams were displaying the type of balance that Sean McVay had found success with. They had everything going for them and yet because it was in primetime, the Rams tempted fate by wearing their all-Smurf jerseys.
Sean McVay called one if not the worst game of his career. Last night might have been a three-point loss but it seemed like a 40-point one. This was a return to the type of tailspin that fans were accustomed to last year and even during the Super Bowl season. It absolutely sucks it really does and tonight had a lot of low points and we’ll dive into them but there were also aspects that can be built on (no really there were). Their errors were many but they’re pretty much all fixable.
*Actually, quick sidebar before getting into the big takeaways of the night. That opening drive TD by Tutu Atwell that was taken away was absurd. If it had counted yes, things turn out much differently but it doesn’t excuse everything that transpired after.
Sean McVay’s Still His Own Worst Enemy
Sometimes McVay can’t help himself and tonight he was on a pass-happy bender where decided to do his mid-00s Mike Martz impersonation. It’s baffling considering the first two weeks demonstrated that when he invests in the running game good things happen. If the run game were a kid Sean McVay essentially went out for a pack of cigarettes never to return.
The Rams only attempted 13 rushes…13! This is despite the fact that the Bengals run defense ranked at the bottom per DVOA. Kyren Williams should’ve been fed early and often. They also should’ve done more runs with Tutu Atwell as those plays were working. Instead, McVay put Matthew Stafford and the line in an impossible spot as the offense got more and more predictable as the game wore on and that led to Stafford being his worst self.
The line only allowed one sack through three games and tonight they allowed six. Stafford was beaten like Joe Pesci in “Casino” all night and the line’s health took a dark turn. Alaric Jackson left with a thigh injury and was replaced by a not-ready-for-primetime Zach Thomas. The left side was easier to get into than Arizona State. AND YET McVay refused to adjust for it. He didn’t have an extra tight end or blocker to chip the edge rushers which he’s done in the past. He refused to run the ball, especially in the red zone, and reverted back to his 3rd and long screens and draws that are essentially a white flag.
Stafford’s two picks were a direct result of the play-calling. They got away from the sweep motions that allowed Puka Nacua to break out the first two weeks. Instead, Stafford was asked to chuck it and even when he was able to successfully bomb it to Van Jefferson he threw it right to the Bengals because they knew a pass was coming.
Furthermore, his clock management was early 00s Andy Reid-esque. In the fourth, the Rams were still in it. They punted on 4th and 5 and yet they still scored a garbage time touchdown that finally got Tutu Atwell in the end zone. By then it was too late. They attempted an onside kick despite not successfully recovering one since 2013 and that remains true.
He seemed out-coached at every level. The rushing attack was there. They still had more rushing yards (71 yards to 67) than the Bengals so if they had invested in that part of the game they’d have won by two scores. The Rams were 1-11 on third-down which is atrocious and it put undue strain on a defense that gave the Bengals everything they had.
There was seemingly no plan especially once the line sustained injuries and he never trusted his line even when they were healthy. There’s also no reason why Kyren Williams should be returning punts when the team employs DeMarcus Robinson and Ronnie Rivers.
This game lies squarely on Sean McVay. He was his absolute worst self tonight, stubborn, conservative, scared, and unimaginative. The silver lining is that he usually pivots back to what works.
The Defense Continues To Improve
Once again the chorus of irrational “FIRE RAHEEM” or “THIS DEFENSE IS SOFT” reared its ugly head but it wasn’t warranted. Yes, the Rams should’ve pressured Burrow even more than they did, but that’s a product of their young front seven not being able to penetrate.
That said, Aaron Donald showed up tonight. He got a sack, two QB hits, and seven tackles, all despite facing triple teams. Byron Young recorded a half sack along with Kobie Turner. Young is continuing to develop but he needs to generate more consistent pressure. Durant had a costly penalty that put the Bengals in the red zone late in the half. Russ Yeast is continuing to develop as well.
Despite the Rams giving up yards they still didn’t give up a receiving touchdown and with the exception of that Joe Mixon touchdown, they were only scored on my Evan McPherson. That’s not too shabby considering the offense kept putting them in tough spot after tough spot.
They finally got a turnover (should’ve been two but whatever) after Ahkello Witherspoon made a miraculous play. It’s just too bad the Rams went three and out right after. The defense has kept the Rams in every game despite being made up of nobodies and castoffs. It might not be pretty but it’s actually working.
Tonight was a bigger disappointment than the last seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Game of Thrones” combined. It was a golden opportunity to go up 2-1, beat two playoff teams, and establish themselves as a wild-card contender in the NFC. This was a huge setback and while the refs, the jerseys, and primetime karma can all be factored in, at the end of the night the Rams beat themselves.
The Bengals took advantage of the Rams mistakes and saved their season. Now the Rams have to regroup on a short week. The Colts are beatable but not if Sean McVay comes in with a game plan as paltry as the one he had last night. All the errors are fixable. Week one wasn’t a mirage, the Rams aren’t the worst roster in the league, and certainly not the tanking disaster windbags like Mike Lombardi labeled them as at the beginning of the year.
When they stick to a balanced rushing attack mixed with play-action, good things happen and when they get pass-happy and abandon the run, nights like this happen. The season isn’t over in the third week. That’s the kind of soft behavior that the defense gets accused of displaying every week.