By Sam McPherson
It just keeps getting uglier for the Los Angeles Rams in the first season back in the City of Angels, and after a 42-14 loss at home to the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams will finish the year with a losing record for the 10th straight season. At 4-9 with three games to play, head coach Jeff Fisher certainly is feeling the heat after the team’s eighth loss in its last nine games. The 3-1 start to the 2016 regular season is a distant memory now for Los Angeles and its fans, and if it wasn’t for the futility of the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams would be in last place.
Los Angeles took it on the chin against the Falcons on Sunday, falling behind 42-14 by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. The team turned the ball over five times, which didn’t help the defense at all. The Rams offense actually out-gained Atlanta’s No. 1-ranked scoring offense in this game, although the five turnovers made that completely irrelevant as the Falcons still got their points.
Los Angeles gained its most yards on offense since Week 9, but four offensive turnovers wiped out anything positive that happened in this game. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff struggled against a mediocre Atlanta defense that took away the Rams’ running game, just as every other opponent has been able to do in 2016. It’s really disappointing that after 13 games this season, the L.A. coaching staff still hasn’t been able to figure out how to get running back Todd Gurley going, since he was the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year after a dominant season last fall.
Goff completed 24 of 41 attempts for just 235 yards and two interceptions, while Gurley ran for just 61 yards on 16 carries. Both Goff and Gurley scored on rushing attempts in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. In general, it just has been too easy for opposing defenses this year to game plan against the Rams. By taking Gurley out of the equation, the L.A. offense has stalled due to inconsistent and poor QB play. Offensive coordinator Rob Boras has to accept the blame for the same issue, week in and week out, this year.
How can you blame the Rams defense for holding the Atlanta offense to under 300 yards despite the L.A. offense gifting the Falcons five possessions? Well, Atlanta did score two defensive TDs, so the Rams defense gave up only 28 points. The first Falcons TD “drive” covered three yards due to a turnover on the opening kickoff. That means Los Angeles really only gave up three real scoring drives on the day, but two of them were very long drives fueled by big plays. Also, the Rams defense failed to force any turnovers on its own, and that was problematic in a game like this one that got out of hand early.
However, Los Angeles did stuff the Atlanta running game, holding the Falcons to just 66 yards on 25 carries. That was a positive, although Atlanta’s third-string RB got the most carries for the team with the game result decided by the third quarter. Falcons QB Matt Ryan advanced his MVP cause by completing 18 of 28 passes for 237 yards and three TDs.
Special Teams: C-
Kickoff return specialist Bennie Cunningham missed the game due to injury, and that absence was felt on the opening kickoff, which was fumbled away by wide receiver Mike Thomas. Just 10 seconds into the game, Atlanta had a 7-0 lead as a result. Thomas later had a 41-yard kickoff return to set up the Rams’ first TD, but it was irrelevant by that time. WR Tavon Austin had a 27-yard punt return, too.
The offensive coaching staff just can’t escape criticism here, simply because Gurley is the team’s best player—and the game plan did not give him enough chances to succeed. Coming into the season, the Rams knew opposing teams were going to key on Gurley, and the coaching staff has not come up with an answer all year for that challenge.
Defensively, the L.A. coaching staff can’t be blamed too much for this one, although giving up some big plays at the wrong time certainly hurt the Rams. But in the end, none of this really would have mattered much. Fisher is either going to be fired or be forced to release his entire staff after this season is over, because the L.A. roster has too much talent to be 4-9 right now.
Strangely, the Rams have beaten the Seattle Seahawks three straight times, dating back to the 2015 season. Earlier this year, L.A. beat Seattle, 9-3, in one of those defensive struggles that fans change the channel on if they can. The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West Division title at home with a win on Thursday Night Football against the Rams later this week, although Seattle looked terrible on Sunday in Green Bay. With both squads coming off 28-point losses, it’s guaranteed to be a painful three days between games for both the Rams and the Seahawks.