Alexander: Rams might get where they want to go with old-fashioned football

First of all, let’s stipulate. If Thursday night’s Rams-Patriots game was a rematch of Super Bowl LIII, as was advertised, it was in name only. Not even the laundry was the same, though the Rams’ new uniforms are looking better and better as the weeks go by.

It was not a night for revenge, or redemption, or much else having to do with that February 2019 night in Atlanta. Those scars, as Sean McVay said after Thursday night’s 24-3 Rams victory, aren’t going away.

“That’s always going to be a part of, you know, the coaching trajectory for me and a night that, you know, you got to be able to learn from,” he said. “But as far as how that affected our plans going into this game, it really didn’t at all.

“We’re a totally different team. I mean, you see, we’re doing a lot of different things.”

Totally different. And, potentially, quite a bit better.

For example: As colleague Kevin Modesti noted, when Cam Akers uncorked a 35-yard run off left tackle on the second offensive play Thursday night it equaled Todd Gurley’s rushing total in that Super Bowl. We know now that Gurley was physically compromised that night and for much of the back end of that season.

But there’s a message there, and McVay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell seem to have deciphered it loud and clear. Who knows? Maybe they do read This Space.

Akers didn’t stop at 35. He didn’t stop until he got to 171 yards, on 29 carries, the best game by a Rams rookie running back since Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis pounded his way to 211 on 28 carries in New Orleans in December of 1993, when the Rams were based in Anaheim.

Akers was asked if he thought McVay got the message when he noted last Sunday in Arizona that the more touches he gets, the better his rhythm.

“I think he did,” the rookie said with a grin.

Glad to help, Cam.

These are different teams and a different time and the Super Bowl rematch angle was useful for Fox’s promotion of its Thursday night game but not worth much else. The Patriots might have won four of their previous five going into Thursday’s game, and they might have embarrassed the Chargers on Sunday, but they’re now 6-7 and 2½ games out of an AFC playoff spot with three games to play, and all of Bill Belichick’s coaching powers probably won’t get them into the tournament.

Meanwhile, it is fair to suggest that the Rams, who have won four of five themselves since the debacle at Miami on the first day of November, might be putting themselves in position to do something special. Remember what we said a few weeks ago about keeping up with their championship L.A. neighbors, the Lakers and Dodgers? It seems more feasible now than it did then.

Rediscovering the running game makes a difference. They had a 16-play, 90-yard third-quarter drive Thursday that chewed up 9:42, and 12 of those 16 plays were runs, nine by Akers. (Again, Coach McVay, you’re welcome.)

Jared Goff only threw for 137 yards, with two touchdowns (one rushing), one interception, one sack and a 74.9 rating, but it was almost immaterial.

“As a quarterback, you know, you may think that’s not fun,” Goff said. “(But) those are the best, when we’re just pounding it and able to make those plays.”

It’s old-time football, and it might be the best way for the Rams to operate: Force the opponent’s defense to respect the run and use their own defense to create havoc and impose their will. Somewhere, the late Chuck Knox is smiling.

There certainly was enough defensive havoc Thursday night. The Rams sacked Cam Newton four times and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham twice, with Michael Brockers getting two and Aaron Donald credited with 1½.

“You know, it’s definitely a cliche statement: stop the run, earn the right to rush the passer,” Brockers said. “And I think that’s what we did.”

But there was more. Consecutive New England incursions into the red zone ended with (a) former UCLA Bruin Kenny Young’s first NFL pick-six, a 79-yard interception return on the first play of the second quarter, and (b) a goal-line stand after New England had a first-and-goal at the 6, with Newton trying to run it in from the 2 on fourth down and getting stuffed by linebacker Justin Hollins for a 2-yard loss.

The Rams came into the game with the league’s No. 2 overall defense behind New Orleans and No. 1 against the pass, giving up 291.3 yards per game overall and 198.3 through the air. On Thursday night, those numbers were 220 and 113. The Saints, who have allowed 288 yards per game, face the Eagles (29th in the league in offense) this week, so their number shouldn’t balloon, but that could be an interesting race.

And this is as good a time as any to launch Donald’s campaign for the league’s MVP award, Patrick Mahomes or no Patrick Mahomes, because the attention he gets from opponents creates so many openings for others. The last defensive player to win The Associated Press MVP award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. I think it’s time.

But that’s a side issue. And if you really want to use this occasion to re-explore Super Bowl LIII, maybe the Patriots did the Rams a favor that night, painful as it was at the time.

“Being at that pinnacle, being at that Super Bowl and understanding what it takes to get back – all I’m trying to do is lead this team and give examples on what we have to do to keep finishing, keep pushing through,” Brockers said.

“Because there’s going to be another chapter.”

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

Read more about Alexander: Rams might get where they want to go with old-fashioned football This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

Powered by WPeMatico

Whicker: Goff couldn’t beat Atlanta from the sideline

  • Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, right, with quarterback Jared Goff (16) look on as a play is reviewed in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, right, with quarterback Jared Goff (16) look on as a play is reviewed in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. Atlanta Falcons won 26-13. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. Atlanta Falcons won 26-13. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks off the field as the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 during a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks off the field as the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 during a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks off the field as the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 during a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) walks off the field as the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 during a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) in the huddle against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) in the huddle against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff(16) runs out of the pocket against the the Atlanta Falcons in a wild card game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Saturday, January 6, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova Daily News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff(16) runs out of the pocket against the the Atlanta Falcons in a wild card game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Saturday, January 6, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. Atlanta Falcons won 26-13. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. Atlanta Falcons won 26-13. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff(16) in the pocket against the the Atlanta Falcons in a wild card game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Saturday, January 6, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova Daily News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff(16) in the pocket against the the Atlanta Falcons in a wild card game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Saturday, January 6, 2018. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) sacks Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

    Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) sacks Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) in the first half of a Wild Card NFL football playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 06, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff looks to pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff looks to pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

of

Expand

LOS ANGELES — Playoff experience didn’t beat the Rams Saturday, not exactly. Playoff expediency did.

The Atlanta Falcons made no turnovers. They identified the Rams’ rush defense as a sore they could irritate, and they did. They punted when they should have, and they kicked field goals, from 54 and 51 yards, when they needed to. They needed to remove Todd Gurley from the passing game and they did that, too.

They checked all the boxes they could find and they won, 26-13, breaking the Rams’ express after one long, glorious lap.

Afterward, Jared Goff was repeatedly asked to mouth the we-had-a-good-season speech. It should give hope to Rams fans that he would not.

“It (stinks) to have to quit playing,” Goff said. “We’ve got some really good dudes in there. The more big games you can play, the better off you are. As far as playoff experience goes, I don’t even know what that means. You just play the game and they played it better than we did. If this had happened two weeks ago like this, they would have beaten us then, too.”

Often the quarterback has to bear the cross when a season dissipates. Goff left that honor to Pharoh Cooper, the Pro Bowl returner who muffed a punt and fumbled a kickoff, and the Falcons took those chances to score 10 points.

“The first one was a fluke, the second one I know he wishes he had back,” Goff said. “Those special teams guys have won games for us all year.”

Goff was actually fine, considering he was belabored by the pass rush on the first two series, and that the Rams ran only 10 plays in the first quarter and six in the third. They only had the ball for 22:25. That wasn’t enough bandwidth for all the musicians in the band.

“We had to wait to settle into the game,” Goff said, “but we’ve done that before.”

Goff actually made enough big plays. At the end of the first half he drilled Robert Woods with a beautiful 39-yarder down the middle, to set up what might have been a touchdown try if Rob Havenstein hadn’t been caught holding. Sean McVay chose the field goal there and a 13-10 deficit.

Even after the Falcons went ahead by 13, Goff whisked the Rams downfield in a hurry, without blowing a timeout. He went 11 for 13 on that drive until he threw what appeared to be a 5-yard score to Tyler Higbee. At that point there was 2:16 left and the Rams didn’t need to kick onside, with all three time outs in hand.

But then Higbee fell victim to that popular game show, Catch Or Not A Catch, and the Rams had to pick up a fourth-and-5. Deion Jones, one of a horde of quick and brazen Atlanta defenders, broke up the try to Sammy Watkins.

“That’s what I feel good about,” Aaron Donald said. “We got down, and we made some mistakes we shouldn’t have made, but our guys came out and fought.”

Goff had three completions for 20 or more yards. He just didn’t make enough little plays that could sprout into big ones, couldn’t find Gurley on those screens and flares that have overloaded defenses all year. Although Gurley got 101 rushing yards, he caught four balls for just 10 yards. Even on a short week and with travel, the Falcons found the instruction manual and followed it rigidly.

“Really we just didn’t have enough plays,” McVay said. “We only tried one of those screens, and they were in a jam structure early on and forced an incompletion. It really goes back to the rhythm. We weren’t able to get enough plays off.”

The Falcons filled the box with as many as nine defenders and overpopulated the middle and the flat. Then their cornerbacks won more man-to-man battles with the L.A. receivers than they lost.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian also dodged the pitchforks for another week by calling 39 runs, a tactic that worked better after Michael Brockers, the left  defensive end, left with a knee problem.

“Michael has been so stout for us,” McVay said. “They did a good job of getting runs off consistently.”

The observant Falcons noted that the Rams were 30th in a 32-team league in yards given up per rush (4.7).

“We thought we might be able to crease them,” Ryan said, “but the best thing is that we stayed with it  even though we didn’t do much with it in the first half. We thought our offensive line could lean on them.  It was tough sledding for sure, but it was our best plan for success.”

The Falcons needed only one home run and they got it with 7:22 left in the third quarter. Working against a corner blitz, Ryan flipped a screen to Mohamed Sanu, who set up his blockers and burst for 52 yards. Two plays later, Ryan slipped on the annoyingly slick turf but still was able to lob an 8-yard score to Julio Jones, for the 13-point lead.

You could probably say the lack of experience didn’t necessarily hurt the Rams, but the wealth of it helped Atlanta. Last year the Falcons won the NFC and then, as you might have heard, let a 25-point lead evaporate in the Super Bowl. Some of them were around in 2012 when the Falcons came within a play of beating San Francisco for the NFC title. This was Ryan’s ninth playoff start. The amplified Coliseum noise was just a low buzz to them.

“You have to keep yourself in a mental space where you’re not worried about the finality of the game,” Ryan said. “The challenge is to stay locked in and keep your mindset on execution.”

The Rams may be great or disappointing in 2018 but they won’t be the same. Their schedule will be tougher and certainly more disjointed, with more prime-time games. They probably won’t have a healthy offensive line for 16 games. The new-team smell that pervaded Thousand Oaks all season won’t return.

But the Rams will be patching, not rebuilding, and if you thought they had the coach and the quarterback before Saturday night, you must feel they still do.

“I don’t think the game was too big for our players,” McVay said. It wasn’t. It was too quick.

Read more about Whicker: Goff couldn’t beat Atlanta from the sideline This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

Powered by WPeMatico