By Sam McPherson
Despite some fourth quarter struggles this season, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense was a top five unit heading into Sunday’s matchup in New Orleans against quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-powered offense. After their visit to Louisiana, however, it’s all but guaranteed the Rams’ defense won’t be ranked among the top-five come next week. New Orleans had no trouble with the Rams’ defensive schemes, as the Saints beat the visiting team 49-21. The loss drops the Rams to 4-7 on the season.
On the bright side, the Los Angeles coaching staff took the shackles off rookie QB Jared Goff. The overall No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft didn’t disappoint, as he threw for three first-half touchdowns. His second half performance wasn’t as good, but the entire Los Angeles team seemed a bit off in the final 30 minutes of the game, as the Saints turned a seven-point halftime edge into a blowout with 21 unanswered points.
The Rams jumped out to a 14-7 lead in the game and at halftime were only down 28-21. Unfortunately, the Rams’ offense couldn’t do much in the second half, but a lot of that had to do with lack of opportunity. Simply put, the Rams’ defense couldn’t get off the field, Los Angeles held the ball for only 24:04 in this game, and most of that came in the first half when the Rams scored three TDs. Overall, Goff’s numbers were an improvement from his first start last week. He finished with 20 completions, 32 attempts, 214 yards, three TDs and one interception.
While the coaching staff clearly opened up the playbook for its talented young quarterback, that play calling didn’t include giving the ball to 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley. Los Angeles’ explosive running back received just 13 carries in this game. Even though Gurley missed workouts on Friday due to an illness, it was surprising to see the Rams abandon the running game so readily in this match-up. Overall, Los Angeles called just 17 running plays. If the team wants its young quarterback to succeed, it has to have better balance than that in the game plan.
What other grade can you give a unit that surrendered 49 points and 555 yards? It was an ugly, ugly day for the Rams’ defense, and there’s no sugarcoating possibilities here. Brees threw for 310 yards and four TDs, while also running for a score. The Los Angeles defense gave up a 50-yard TD pass from New Orleans wide receiver Willie Snead to running back Tim Hightower. Perhaps that was just salt in the wound, as that was the final score of the game for the Saints in the fourth quarter when the game was already all but over.
The other New Orleans’ RB, Mark Ingram, ran for 146 yards and a TD on just 14 attempts. He also caught a TD pass from Brees. Four different Saints receivers had a reception for at least 31 yards. The New Orleans offense was 5-for-5 in red-zone touchdown efficiency, and the unit was 3-for-3 in goal-to-go situations as well. Basically, nothing the Rams did on defense worked in this game.
Special Teams: A
Johnny Hekker had a 68-yard punt, as he averaged 47.7 yards per kick and even placed two of them inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Benny Cunningham had a 61-yard kickoff return and averaged 32 yards on his returns against the Saints. On the other side of the equation, Los Angeles didn’t give up any big plays on special teams to give New Orleans any extra help.
Fans have to be wondering just what the defense worked on all week in practice, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has a lot of explaining to do. In the last four games, the Rams defense coughed up only 253 yards per outing and only 12.5 points per game. Obviously, the Saints are in a different league when it comes to offensive firepower, but it was still strange for the Los Angeles unit to go from such a good four-game stretch to its worst performance of the season. On the bright side, the offensive play calling for the rookie QB was a positive.
Unfortunately for the Rams, their schedule does not get any easier next week, as they will travel to New England and take on QB Tom Brady and the Patriots. To avoid a repeat of Sunday’s disastrous defensive performance against the Saints, the Rams will need to make significant adjustments on defense. With a 4-7 record now, Los Angeles basically has no chance to post a winning mark for the first time since the 2003 season.