By Sam McPherson
Los Angeles Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff played just fine in his long-awaited NFL debut, but his team was betrayed by a conservative coaching philosophy and the resulting pressure put on the defense. Leading 10-0 with under five minutes to go, the Rams let the Miami Dolphins score twice to take the lead and eventually win the game. After giving up just 88 yards of total offense to the Dolphins through three-and-a-half quarters, the L.A. defense surrendered 152 yards combined on back-to-back scoring drives for Miami late in the game.
With the 14-10 loss, Los Angeles falls to 4-6 on the season, and the team blew a golden opportunity to get itself back to .500. Goff played as well as the conservative game plan allowed him to, while running back Todd Gurley was on track for his best game of the season until the offensive play calling enabled the Dolphins defense to zero in on him. This marks the fourth time this season that the Rams have lost a game by a touchdown or less, a distinct sign that the coaching staff just doesn’t know how to manage its talent.
Los Angeles gained just 227 yards in this game, the team’s lowest total since a Week 1 shutout loss against the San Francisco 49ers. But don’t blame the players. Goff clearly wasn’t allowed to throw the ball downfield, as his 31 attempts for just 134 yards suggest. When the team has talented players like wide receivers Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt on the roster to catch the ball, you have to throw downfield every so often to keep the defense honest. It didn’t happen in this game, and as a result, the early success of the running game faded at the worst time for the Rams.
Gurley ran for 75 yards on 20 carries, but his final six carries—all in the fourth quarter—went for just nine yards once the Dolphins realized that Goff wasn’t going to be allowed to throw downfield to beat them. Gurley opened the scoring in this game with a 24-yard TD run, but when the defense knows the QB isn’t going to throw downfield, it’s easier to defend the run. This is exactly what the Rams couldn’t afford to do in this game with a rookie QB, but the coaching staff did it anyway.
As noted above, the Rams defense played very well for the first 50-plus minutes of this game. Unfortunately, NFL games run 60 minutes, and the Dolphins’ potent offense came together in just enough time to win the game. It’s almost as if the conservatism that doomed the L.A. offense in this game started to rub off on the defense, too, as Miami held the ball for just 4:13 combined on its two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. After playing so well for most of the game, the Rams defense went into prevention mode and let the game slip away.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald committed a foolish personal foul on the Dolphins’ final drive that cost the team 15 precious yards, but the L.A. secondary just couldn’t shut down Miami WR DeVante Parker in the final moments. Parker scored the game-winning TD, and he caught 30 yards’ worth of passes on the final drive. It was just a stunning collapse by a defense that had played really well all afternoon.
Special Teams: B+
Greg Zuerlein missed a 48-yard field goal attempt right before the Dolphins scored their first TD. Perhaps that was the crack of daylight the Miami offense needed, because suddenly, the entire game’s mood shifted. The loss certainly wasn’t Zuerlein’s fault, but he hit a 46-yard kick earlier in the game. Punter Johnny Hekker was excellent once again, and Benny Cunningham’s 44-yard kickoff return after the Dolphins’ second TD gave the Rams a chance at the end, even if the offense couldn’t make the most of it.
It’s hard to spin the fact that head coach Jeff Fisher’s act has grown tiring with the Rams. This was the 18th time since Fisher took over the team in 2012 that the Rams have lost a game by a TD or less. That is a pattern of poor in-game coaching and management that cannot be ignored. This game just exemplified the reality that Fisher is afraid to let his players play, especially on offense. Fisher did the most predictable thing he could do with a rookie QB making his debut, and it probably cost L.A. a victory … again.
Imagine if the Rams had just won nine of those 18 ridiculously close games (not including the tie from the 2012 season) in the past few seasons. Perhaps you’re looking at a club with multiple playoff appearances in that time frame instead of a franchise that will now probably fail to win eight games once again. Fisher is failing week by week here, and this team has too much talent on the roster to be a losing squad again in 2016.
Los Angeles travels to New Orleans next Sunday to take on the Saints, another NFC team experiencing a disappointing season. Both teams are 4-6, although the New Orleans organization is still within shouting distance of the NFC South Division title. The Rams, on the other hand, are 2.5 games behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, and their playoff chances are very slim, if not highly improbable.