Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams is one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks. In fact, we listed him as the NFL’s top cornerback in our recent ranking of the best players at his position — and we did so for the second year in a row.
Even great players have bad days, and that’s certainly what happened to Ramsey in the Rams’ 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the 2022 regular-season opener on Thursday night. Ramsey allowed six catches on seven targets for 88 yards and either one or two of Josh Allen’s three passing touchdowns, depending on how you want to chart it.
“We got our ass beat, straight-up,” Ramsey said after it was over.
“They were really attacking our little zones, like our soft spots in our zones,” Ramsey continued, via Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. “Obviously we’ve gotta watch the film, but I’m sure we all would’ve liked to play man a little bit more. I feel like we kind of had a mentality like, ‘bend, don’t break’ a lot, because they were driving the ball but they weren’t scoring, like, we were getting turnovers, interceptions, whatever it was.”
That will undoubtedly prompt some discussions with defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
Ramsey’s nightmare of a night started on the first play of the game — Josh Allen threw a quick slant to Stefon Diggs (No. 14), Ramsey (No. 5) seemed to be looking for something more vertical, guessed wrong, and Diggs had his first easy catch of the night. It would not be his last.
This 12-yard pass to Isaiah McKenzie with 2:32 left in the first quarter presented a different problem — the Bills motioned McKenzie from right to left pre-snap, and the Rams didn’t seem to adjust. Again, they were playing single-high zone (clearly, a focus was on Allen as a running threat), and with safety Jordan Fuller playing deep and safety Nick Scott underneath (Scott clamping down on Davis up top would have been better), Ramsey had to choose between McKenzie and Gabe Davis to that side. At that point, all you can do is limit the damage. Should the Rams have been playing man or match here? Clearly Ramsey thought so, based on his postgame comments.
Speaking of scheme, there was Allen’s first of three touchdown passes on the night. Here, the Bills sold run so well, all 11 Los Angeles defenders were playing it — as Allen booted out after faking the handoff to running back Zack Moss, Ramsey read run, backed off covering Davis, and No. 13 had a wide berth to the end zone for the 26-yard score. If you want to know how terrified the Rams were of Allen as a runner, look no further than this play.
Gabriel Davis szn is here. pic.twitter.com/wwoRpSLCJb
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 9, 2022
“Once he starts scrambling, you gotta try to find somebody and, like, latch on to ’em,” Rsmsey said of this play and others. “It is even tougher, actually, when you’re in zone. Once you’re in your zone, then he starts scrambling, you gotta go find somebody to attach to, like the nearest person in your zone. It’s extremely tough, and he did that a couple times.”
The killer play for Ramsey and the Rams, of course, was Allen’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Diggs with 9:25 left in the game. The Rams had no shot from here on out. There appeared to be a coverage miscommunication here — Long (No. 33) seemed to carry the deep half to that side, but in the end, he focused relatively underneath against tight end Dawson Knox.
Either Ramsey thought he had help over the top, or he thought he could catch up to Diggs out of quarters coverage. Either way, the result was no bueno for this defense. I don’t care how good you are — you can’t be late carrying Stefon Diggs up top in off-coverage. Allen had to make a pinpoint throw out of pressure and out of the pocket; the underthrow was the only reason Ramsey was able to catch up at all.
“We felt like their corners were really looking in at the quarterback and Diggs just ran a heck of a route,” Allen said of this play. “The offensive line protected and just gave him a chance and he went there and made a play for us.”
As for Diggs, he was just doing what his quarterback told him to do.
“He just told me to run,” Diggs said. “That actually wasn’t even an original play. Josh sees a lot of things at the quarterback position that you might not see at the receiver position. So, one thing I learned is to listen to your quarterback.”
Buffalo’s patience to take what the Rams’ zone-heavy plan gave them, as opposed to trying deep shots when they didn’t make sense, flustered the Rams and their best cornerback.
“We felt like they weren’t going to be patient enough to do that the whole game,” Ramsey said. “Just take those five yards, three yards, four yards, right? But they were, for the most part… then they had two or three explosives that ended up turning into touchdowns, and that was like, the difference. They won by three touchdowns.”
You can credit new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey for that one. Dorsey knew that his offensive line would have no shot against Aaron Donald, so the plan was to go with the quick game, and when Allen needed an explosive play (like the Gabe Davis touchdown) get on the move and away from the NFL’s best player.
“We knew coming in we had to be efficient offensively,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the game. “In part because of what Aaron does and how quickly he can get to your quarterback. So, if you hold the ball too long back there, he’s going to show up or somebody else is going to show up. I just thought we did a good job taking what they gave us. Josh was very patient, and the receivers were running crisp routes.”
Like a lot of the Rams’ top defensive backs, Ramsey didn’t play at all in the preseason. After the game, safety Nick Scott refused to peg that as the reason for the coverage issues. But he did express the feelings his guys had after that disaster.
“Obviously, we never want to be in this situation. Every guy in this locker room is sick to their stomach because of everything we put into this game, and everything we put into a game plan week-to-week. It’s the NFL, guys are talented on both sides of the ball, and if you don’t execute to your standard, it’s just what’s going to happen. We have to take a long look in the mirror — starting with this group. Starting with the DBs. Starting with myself, trickling down to the defense and the whole team, and figure out how we’re going to get better. The guys we have in this locker room are pro’s pros, and I have every confidence in the world in these guys and myself to look at the mistakes we made, be honest with ourselves, and hopefully get better next week.”
Next week sees the Rams facing the new-look Falcons, who don’t have anywhere near the offense Buffalo does. But get-well games are only that if your defense gets well. With extra time to work out the kinks, perhaps this particular spike strip won’t typify the Rams’ defense throughout the season.
Otherwise? You are seeing, once again, why it’s so hard for Super Bowl champions to repeat. And you are seeing, once again, that the margin for error in a cornerback’s life is indeed wafer-thin.