The Los Angeles Rams suffered a tough loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday, eliminating them from the playoffs. While the Rams did still manage to make an incredible turnaround from last season, they left something to be desired. Sean McVay’s first go-round as an NFL head coach, becoming one of the youngest ever to win 11 games. Jared Goff blossomed into the type of quarterback that can lead a franchise into the future and Todd Gurley established himself as an MVP candidate. However, most of these things just did not pan out on Saturday night. Sure, Gurley got over 100 yards rushing he was still inconsistent.
The Rams star running back did not get his touches throughout the course of the game and was not over 50 rushing yards until late in the game. The Rams were 8-0 this season when Gurley touched the ball more than 20 times. They fell to a record of 3-6 in the games where McVay deprived his running back of the ball.
Right out of the gate, things did not go well for the Rams. But, a quick three and out was understandable because of all of the inexperience on the offense. However, when the defense stepped up and took the ball right back, the second three and out became much more concerning. Things began to get more and more concerning as the Rams special team unit made an uncharacteristic mistake. On a Falcons punt, Blake Countess was hit in the foot, causing a fumble which Atlanta recovered. While this may seem like just a fluke it is largely the fault of a lack of communication, Pharoh Cooper must talk to his wide guys and let them know to clear out with a “peter” call. Clearly, Countess did not get the message and Atlanta was able to get on the board first in the game.
Meanwhile, the Rams offense continued to struggle. Ram receivers struggled to beat coverage and Sean McVay rarely went to Gurley on the ground. Goff was ineffective early on in the game, but he simply had nowhere to throw the ball. More and more excellent Johnny Hekker punts fed the Falcons possession, and they eventually drove down the field for another field goal. Down just six points, things were very much in reach for the Rams. However, Cooper was ready to make yet another special teams error. On the ensuing kickoff, the Rams Pro Bowl return man was spun around and upended, losing the football in the process. This lead to a Falcons touchdown and all of sudden a gassed Rams defense trailed by 13 points.
The Rams needed to get something going offensively in order to keep the game from getting away from them. After trading punts with Atlanta, Gurley broke a big run and L.A. was finally rolling. Two passes to Cooper Kupp were mixed in with Gurley runs, and Kupp hauled in the first touchdown of the day for the offense. Now down six, the defense looked to shut things down going into the half. They did one better, getting the offense the ball back with time on the clock. Goff threw the team down the field and set Sam Ficken up for a field goal, the Rams now down by three.
After halftime, though, the game was all Atlanta. The Falcons tallied 13 second-half points compared to just three for the Rams. Strong runs by Gurley set up a field goal that got the Rams within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Mohamed Sanu had other plans. Sanu broke loose on a screen pass on the ensuing possession for over 50 yards, setting up an Atlanta touchdown. That was the play that iced the game. After the Rams were unable to get in the endzone after driving down the field, it was a done deal.
The Rams trudged to the locker room on Saturday night a defeated group with fresh wounds. However, once they reflect on the season they will see that they have a lot to be proud of.
Most Valuable Player – Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald is the destroyer of worlds. Personally, I believe that Donald was the best player in the entire NFL this season. While playing in his first career playoff game on Saturday night, Donald’s talents were on full display. A guy who was often written off a “too small” showed up bigger than most. He notched a sack and ten quarterback pressures, in the first half. That is the type of player that Donald is, he posts numbers like that and nobody bats an eye. If the Falcons had lost I would be blowing up their gameplan for not sending Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to the backside to help on Donald, but they did what they needed to do to get the job done.
When choosing this weekly MVP award I could easily choose Donald every week, he is an absolute game-wrecker. He may not have the size that most prototypical interior linemen have, but he has all the strength in a speedier more compact frame. Falcon lineman would get out of their stance and Donald would be halfway past them, hitting them with one of his many pass rush moves. Donald is on the quarterback’s mind every single play, he is that type of player.
Least Valuable Player – Pharoh Cooper
Rams return man Pharoh Cooper had his worst game of the year in the biggest game of the year. A surprise hero of the season who went from a guy with no role to a guy who made the Pro Bowl as a returner, it was tough to watch. As fans distastefully called for Cooper to be benched on Twitter, I disagreed. How could the Rams have benched Cooper, one of the players who had the capability to make the type of play they needed to get back in the game?
The Rams punt return gaffe, which may have looked like a fluke, was a result of Cooper’s poor communication and inability to step up to the ball. Also, he failed to protect the ball on the kickoff. Not only did he give the Falcons a possession that yielded points, he drained even more gas out of an already exhausted Rams defensive unit. On a night where the Rams had plenty of players that did not perform up to their value, I had to choose the Pro Bowler who forked the ball over to the other team twice as my LVP.
Todd Gurley is the best running back in the NFL and by far the most dynamic threat on any offense in the league this year. Scoring 19 offensive touchdowns, saying he is the focal point of the Rams offense is an understatement. So, how can Sean McVay only give Gurley 18 touches? The Rams are undefeated this season when Gurley touches the ball more than 20 times, totaling a record of 8-0. Yet, the Rams elected to throw 45(!!!) times with their second-year quarterback and not lean on the run game. On just 14 carries Gurley broke the 100 yards rushing mark, averaging over seven yards per carry. Yeah, seven yards per carry is pretty good.
Sure, early in the game the Falcons were selling out to stop the run and late in the game the Rams were forced to pass but there were SO many more opportunities to give Gurley carries. This has been a trend for McVay and the Rams all season and it is my one true criticism. Feeding Gurley has led to success all season for the Rams, they failed to do so on Saturday night and it resulted in a loss and offensive inefficiency.
That concludes the Rams 2017-2018 campaign, and they will turn towards the offseason. The Rams had an incredible season and were, without a doubt, the biggest surprise in the NFL. However, they leave a lot to be desired. On Saturday night they were the better team on the field and they failed to execute their game plan, take care of the ball, or let their star succeed. Sean McVay built a new culture within the Rams organization that his players have bought into. The turnaround from a 4-12 laughingstock to an 11-5 NFC West champion was rapid and incredible for the Rams and their fans, and they may have established themselves as the new kings of the division along the way.
Now the eyes of the organization will turn towards the offseason where the Rams have plenty of work to do. With plenty of contracts expiring amongst key starters and contributors, Les Snead has a big spring ahead. Also, L.A. still needs to tie up the best player in football for years to come. Couple that with the draft where the Rams will likely look to pick up some edge players and depth in the secondary and this team is just going to improve come next September.
Until then, thank you for spending your season with us and we hope you do the same in the offseason.
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