The LA Rams came out with a win in their season opener, and by many accounts, their performance exceeded expectations, by a healthy margin. But success can lead to complacency, and the Rams are simply not that good that they can run at 50 percent effectiveness and still expect to mop up the floor with their opponent.
Like it or not, the LA Rams open the 2021 NFL season with three NFL playoff teams from 2020, then take on two very good NFC West rival teams, before hitting the road to face the New York Giants. Even as inept as the 0-2 Giants may seem now, they could climb to 3-2 and have the home-field advantage on Week 6 when the Rams come to town.
So the Rams must take the lessons learned in Week 1, and just like a pit crew for the Nascar Racing Circuit, must use this small window of time to reset the timing and performance. So what needs to be corrected this week? Let’s focus on that:
IV – Covering kickoffs
The tempo for the season opener did not start well for the LA Rams. In fact, placekicker Matt Gay did his part, hoofing the football seven yards deep into the Chicago Bears endzone. But Khalil Hebert did not take a knee for a touchback. Instead, he opened the game with a frighteningly adept 50-yard kickoff return. When the Bears stepped onto the SoFi Stadium football field for the first time, they were already snapping the football from their own 43 yard line. The Bears would go on to pile up 106 yards from four kickoff returns by Khalil Herbert. The Rams must do a better job of covering kicks immediately.
III – Run defense
Are the LA Rams spoiled? Did the 2020 defense set the bar too high? No running back in 2020 rushed for over 100 yards. And yet, that has already happened in just one game in 2021. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Rams surrendered one huge run right up the middle, a 41-yard burst right up the middle of the defense from the Bears running back David Montgomery. As the game progressed, the Rams run defense stiffened considerably.
Of course, the Rams climbed to a considerable lead, forcing the Bears to abandon the running game. But tossing out the initial you-can’t-stop-me 41-yard run from Montgomery, the Rams allowed a running back to rush for nearly 4.5 yards-per-carry. That’s too high for a defense that needs to create three-and-out situations to get the football back into the hands of the offense.
II – Third down conversions
The LA Rams are not going to win the battle for time of possession very often this year. With a third-down conversion success that borders on 50 percent, that time of possession disparity will only get worse. For the conversions which the Rams missed, the Rams faced a third down and 19 yards to go (a sack and penalty) (short completion), a second, and nine at the Chicago 35-yard line (incompletion). A third and one at the Chicago 32-yard line run for no gain, a fourth time on the same drive with a third and goal at the Chicago 4-yard line (incompletion). Finally, with a third and 13 at the Chicago 19 yard line, Matthew Stafford took a knee to run out the clock and seal the win.
I – Running the ball
The Rams ended the first half against the Chicago Bears having rushed seven times for 12 yards. By games end, the Rams had rushed 18 times (tossing out five Matthew Stafford scrambles) for 79 years. That means that the Rams rushed 11 times for 67 yards in the last half of the game, which was a far more effective effort.
But it’s naive to expect that the Rams will get out to 20 point leads on their opponents in each game this year. In fact, some contests may very well come down to which team can run the football more effectively. While increasing the playing time of running back Sony Michel could help, the Rams may want to consider upping the use of blocking tight end, Johnny Mundt.
Is it wrong to look at what the Rams did wrong in the first game and hope that they will improve on those areas? Of course not. 31 other teams, win or lose, are doing the exact same thing each week. The Rams must continue to improve to be successful. Thankfully, I believe that they will continue to get better as the season progresses.