By Sam McPherson
The curtains have closed on the Los Angeles Rams’ return season to Southern California, and the reviews won’t be good. With a 44-6 loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams finished their 2016 regular season with a 4-12 record and a lot of questions going forward. The team needs to hire a new head coach, and after Sunday’s lifeless effort in front of the local fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, there isn’t going to be a lot of good faith in the City of Angels until the Rams prove they have what it takes to be a winning organization.
This Los Angeles team finished with the fifth-worst scoring differential (minus 170) in franchise history, dating back to 1937. After four seasons of playing mostly competitive football, this Rams roster seemed to collapse long before Jeff Fisher was fired as the head coach. Los Angeles ends the year having lost 11 of its final 12 games, and there are a lot of problems to tackle in the offense season for the organization’s front office. By the time the team opens its new stadium in 2019, the Rams have to be more competitive than this if they want to succeed in Los Angeles.
The Cardinals have a good defense, but the Rams gained just 123 total yards in the season’s last game. The offense converted just two of 14 third-down opportunities, and the unit fumbled five times in this game, even though only one of those bouncing balls was recovered by Arizona. Toss in the two interceptions, and it was clearly a very long day for an offense that features three premium draft picks in skill positions. Quarterback Jared Goff threw for just 120 yards in 20 attempts before leaving the game, while running back Todd Gurley ran for just 40 yards on 14 carries. Wide receiver Tavon Austin had four total touches and two fumbles. So much for those high draft picks.
Overall, four different players threw passes for the Rams in this game, and the team still couldn’t move the ball effectively (if at all). Los Angeles gained 56 yards on its first scoring drive in the second quarter, but that was pretty much the only fleeting success the offense demonstrated all game. The second scoring drive covered one yard in three plays before a successful field goal. Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, finishes his rookie season with an 0-7 record as the starting QB. The team definitely needs a head coach that is also a QB guru.
Once again, it’s hard to blame a solid defense when it’s put in the position of constantly being on its heels thanks to the offensive ineptitude of its own roster. With the offense committing three turnovers, including one interception that was returned for a touchdown, the Rams defense didn’t stand much of a chance in this game. Los Angeles gave up only 344 yards, so the 44 points on the scoreboard do not tell the whole story. The Cardinals had two scoring drives of 19 yards each that led to 10 points, and another scoring drive of 37 yards that led to a touchdown. That’s 24 points right there that the defense can’t be held directly responsible for in this game.
The Rams intercepted both Arizona QBs in this game, and they held RB sensation David Johnson to just six yards on five carries. Johnson came into the contest with a 15-game streak of 100-plus yards from scrimmage, which was an NFL record he couldn’t extend in this game against Los Angeles. Backup RB Kerwynn Williams did most of the damage on the ground against the Rams, but overall, the L.A. defense didn’t play as badly as the scoreboard suggests.
Special Teams: C
Kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker did their usual good deeds, the former nailing both his FG attempts and the latter booming the ball well enough (44.4-yard average) on seven attempts. In fact, Hekker also launched a 73-yard punt in this game, and he threw a four-yard pass, too. However, the kick/punt return units did next to nothing in the game, and that was an area that could have given the Rams a big boost if some big play had occurred.
Interim coach John Fassel clearly couldn’t do anything with this roster, leading any observer to conclude the team quit on itself long before Fisher was fired after the 13th game. Fassel’s first game was on a Thursday night after a Monday promotion, and it was against the division champs. His second game should have been a win, but the defense collapsed in the fourth quarter at home. This third game was just embarrassing for the organization as a whole. Compared to the Cardinals players, the Arizona coaches and their similar lack of motivation, though, the Rams coaching staff was clearly just counting down the days until the end of the season, right along with the players. The whole staff should be fired.
With no first-round draft pick, thanks to the trade up to grab Goff last April, the Rams have to start their offseason by finding a new coach. As discussed earlier in the week, the Los Angeles roster has plenty of tools in place for the team to be successful. The organization just needs to find the right man to lead the show. The sooner the Rams put this ugly season behind them, the better. That challenge starts on Monday morning, and it won’t end until the franchise achieves its first winning season since 2003.