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Rams fans were sent home extremely disappointed on Sunday afternoon after their team blew a 17-point lead to the 49ers, who have now won six games in a row against Los Angeles. The end result? A 27-24 loss in overtime.
It was a stunning and heartbreaking defeat to end the season, dropping the Rams to the No. 4 seed in the NFC. They now have to face the Cardinals in the wild-card round, which is a difficult matchup – even if it is at home.
Sunday’s loss told us a lot about the Rams as they enter the playoffs, setting off some alarms with regards to both the offense and defense ahead of next Monday night’s game against the Cardinals.
Sean McVay fails to adjust – again
McVay is a great head coach and the perfect guy for the Rams. But he also has his flaws, including his inability to adapt in-game. The 49ers absolutely shut down the Rams’ running game and were pressuring Matthew Stafford relentlessly. Deep passes weren’t connecting and the plays that took long to develop didn’t work because of San Francisco’s pass rush.
Rather than countering with a short, quick passing game, McVay still tried to run it against the 49ers’ wall of a defensive line and called deep drops for Stafford, which put him in tough spots. Stafford’s average time to throw was 2.97 seconds, which was the 11th-highest in the NFL for Week 18 and higher than his season average of 2.8 seconds.
McVay should’ve called more two- and three-step drops to get the offense in a rhythm when the offensive line couldn’t get any push or protect Stafford.
And ironically, with the game on the line and the Rams needing a first down to clinch the win in the fourth quarter, McVay got conservative and called three straight running plays. He has to be better as a play caller.
Stafford didn’t lose the game for the Rams
Say what you will about Stafford throwing two interceptions, but he wasn’t the reason the Rams lost this game. In fact, with how often he was pressured by the 49ers and with the minimal help he got from the running game, the Rams are lucky they even got to overtime.
He was sacked five times, took 13 hits and was pressured constantly, yet he still completed 65% of his passes and threw three touchdown passes – including the go-ahead score with 2:29 left. He led what should’ve been a game-winning drive, but the defense couldn’t get a stop with less than two minutes to play.
And when the 49ers managed to come back from the end of the first half to the end of the third quarter, Stafford barely touched the ball. He threw one pass from the two-minute warning until there was 1:46 left in the third quarter. In that time, the Rams went from leading 17-0 to being tied 17-17.
His overtime interception was a badly underthrown ball, but he kept the Rams in the game with big throws, especially on third down. Only four of their 19 first downs came on the ground, with 12 coming on passes by Stafford.
49ers dominated the trenches
The Rams have been one of the best teams all year in the trenches, ranking either at the top of the league or near the top in just about every metric on offensive and defensive line play. But against the 49ers, you’d think they were one of the worst teams in those areas.
The 49ers rushed for 135 yards and landed 13 hits on Stafford, also shutting down the Rams’ running game by allowing just 46 yards on 26 carries by Sony Michel and Cam Akers. The Rams got no push in the running game and although they did sack Jimmy Garoppolo three times, he was only hit six times – and only twice by an edge rusher (Von Miller).
They were bullied by the 49ers once again, which has been a trend every time they face San Francisco. It’s exactly why they’ve lost six straight to the 49ers.
There are coverage issues in the secondary
Communication has not been very good in the Rams’ secondary as of late. Against the 49ers, there were several breakdowns in coverage, allowing receivers to run wide open down the field.
What might be more concerning is the play of their cornerbacks outside of Jalen Ramsey. Darious Williams didn’t have a good game, Dont’e Deayon was abused by Juaun Jennings and David Long Jr. allowed several big plays, including a 26-yarder to Brandon Aiyuk before halftime.
In the playoffs, teams are going to find ways to avoid Ramsey, just as the 49ers did on Sunday. Williams, Long and Deayon must step up against the Cardinals, who boast a talented receiving corps even without DeAndre Hopkins.
Chemistry lacking with WRs besides Cooper Kupp
Stafford targeted his wide receivers 17 times on Sunday. Kupp caught all seven of his targets, but Van Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Ben Skowronek only came down with four of their 10 targets.
Stafford had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeting Kupp, but when he threw to his other wideouts, he completed just 4 of 10 passes for 49 yards with two touchdowns. That works out to a passer rating of 16.3.
His deep ball to Beckham was underthrown and intercepted, continuing a trend of missing OBJ on passes down the field. He inexplicably targeted Skowronek on a deep shot despite being double-covered, resulting in his first interception.
Jefferson caught two of his three targets for 31 yards, including a 24-yard dig over the middle, but their chemistry has been lacking in recent weeks, too.
Big plays were back-breakers
Unlike last season, the Rams defense has allowed far too many big plays. Raheem Morris likes to play a bend-don’t-break defense, but they’ve given up so many long completions and rushes all season.
Against the 49ers, the Rams allowed four plays of 30-plus yards – their most in any game this season. Aiyuk had a 31-yarder, Samuel caught a 32-yard pass from Garoppolo, Jennings gained 34 yards on third down and Samuel’s 43-yarder late in the fourth set up the 49ers’ game-tying touchdown.
If the Rams forced incompletions on any of those plays, they might’ve won the game. But there were breakdowns in the secondary and flat-out poor coverage in one-on-one situations, which can’t happen in the postseason.