After two consecutive weeks of disappointing losses, let’s start out by diagnosing how a little thing can become something much larger. We knew that the special teams struggled in 2020, and the hope was that the team could manufacture those improvements on the fly. Well, perhaps the team might have done so, if they made better decisions over who to keep on the Rams roster.
The LA Rams were torn as the roster deadline approached, as the team was quite happy with both of their auditioning punters: veteran Johnny Hekker and newcomer Corey Bojorquez. At the time, the competition appeared to be neck and neck. At least, that was the situation from the fans’ perspective until the last preseason game.
"“Bojorquez punted five times on the night for 277 yards (a 55.4-yard average) and booted three times inside the Denver Broncos 20 yard line. The Broncos did not return a single punt. His highlights included punting a 67.0-yard boomer outside of his own endzone. But his best was a 70 yarder that went out at the Broncos’ one-yard line.”"
After that performance, the expectation was that the Rams would part ways with long-time punter Johnny Hekker and go with the unfamiliar but formidable punting of Bojorquez. But that is not how it played out.
Rams’ roster decision coming back to bite the team
Instead, the Rams renegotiated a cheaper contract with Hekker and traded Bojorquez to the Green Bay Packers for next to nothing – swapping the Rams 2023 seventh-round pick for the Packers 2023 sixth-round pick. So how did that one work out?
Per ESPN‘s 2021 punter ranking, not very well. Corey Bojorquez is the sixth-ranked punter in the NFL, while Johnny Hekker is the 27th-ranked punter this year. The difference? 5.4 yards per punt, or 254 yards in aggregate over the course of the season. On the net punting average, which factors in punt returns of the other team, Bojorquez is the best in the NFL, while Hekker is the 15th ranked punter.
Bojorquez has 31 punts this season to just 13 attempted returns. With seven fair catches, that means that he is punting over a third of his boots out of bounds, prohibiting any attempt to set up a return. Hekker has punted 29 times, with 14 fair catches and five attempted returns. He too has a sizable number of punts going out of bounds. The difference? 196 net punting yards, or the length of two football fields.
The Rams will face the Green Bay Packers and Bojorquez in Week 12, and witness Bojorquez’s punting first hand. While that game will likely not come down to a punting battle between former teammates. But it’s clear that the LA Rams will need to play flawless football to have any chance of winning against the Packers at Lambeau Field.
That game has suddenly grown in importance as tall as a coastal redwood. The Rams must defeat the Packers, or fall to 7-4 and risk the chance of missing out on the NFL Playoffs this year. That is where we are folks. The Rams’ schedule to end the 2021 NFL season is brutal, particularly in light of the fact that the 49ers still dominate the Rams in a manner that defies explanation. And now, we have two weeks to mull it over. Gagh!