Rams v. 49ers - Week 6 recap
What a strange, strange game.
It certainly felt to many (most?) like a disaster in the first half, but I thought it was more of a coaching battle that tilted (obfuscatedly) toward San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan who certainly did a fantastic job in the first 30 minutes.
In the end, the Los Angeles Rams came up short, 16-24.
3 keys to outcome
1.) Odiferous offense
This was the Rams' "worst" game offensively this year, though I would probably say more "confused." Whereas the Week 4 game against the New York Giants lacked execution and cohesion, there was some semblance of direction especially in the first half. The bigger issue was that in the second half, the Rams couldn't put together back-to-back plays to set up crucial 3rd down conversions.
Tonight was messier. The plan was pass-heavy early and led to a deficit in terms of time of possession that San Fran exploited with a very good running game empowered by some craft playcalling, positive offensive line play and some especially impressive individual work from RB Raheem Mostert. Things got put off schedule without a functional passing game and a delayed running game that didn't really get RB Darrell Henderson, Jr., involved until the second half and didn't get RB Cam Akers involved until...well, perhaps next week?
Not a real need to require a ton of inspection here. The Rams had their lowest scoring output of the year. QB Jared Goff had his worst game of the year in terms of passing yards. The Rams' wide receivers made their fantasy owners very unhappy.
Just not a good day for the O, and that starts up top with HC Sean McVay.
2.) Niners' liners
The Rams struggled to deal with a combination of the Niners' contracted passing game and their offensive line's performance in the running game. And in the first 30 minutes, they just didn't have a response.
Credit the 49ers for playing what looked much like the Rams' 2020 offenses against them, but the Rams just didn't have an effective way to undercut things in the first two quarters. The Rams' defensive response in the second half is a good bit of evidence that it wasn't based on the quality of the defensive roster but more on the gameplay and coaching (and honestly, I'm a bit surprised DC Brandon Staley wasn't more prepared for it), but their response in the second half showed how capable they were of dealing with the Niners' limited offense.
The first four defensive possessions though showed quite obviously what could go wrong over the middle and why the Rams need to scheme up more support there.
And perhaps why it might be a focus of their offseason project to come.
3.) Friends as foes
Ultimately, this was a game that came down to the coaches. Rams HC Sean McVay v. 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan. Rams DC Brandon Staley v. Shanahan and his offensive cohort of Run Game Coordinator Mike McDaniel (an offensive assistant with Washington in 2011 & 2012 and the wide receivers coach in 2013 whilst McVay was tight ends coach and Shanahan was serving as offensive coordinator) and Passing Game Coordinator Mike LaFleur (the younger brother of Matt LaFleur who was Washington's quarterbacks coach from 2010-13 and served as McVay's offensive coordinator in 2017 before a lateral promotion with Tennessee a year later and a head coach appointment in Green Bay in 2019) was as those parentheticals delineate a defining battle. And seeing the Rams' offensive staff fail to outscheme 49ers DC Robert Saleh yet again was a reminder of his quality as a DC.
More than any game, this felt like one determined on the sidelines moreso than one on the field.
So be it.
But it's a fine reminder that as much love as we throw McVay's way (and as much as he deserves it), he's not the only good coach in the NFL.
5 key factors revisited (from...well, pre-game tweets)
1.) Rams' O-line
Limited heavily until the second half running game at which point they performed quite well (questioning why they didn't assume more responsibility earlier).
Understandable why McVay isn't leaning on them early. But with as many big games as are on the docket and as this one underscores, perhaps it's best to lean on them earlier than is perhaps comfortable.
For better or worse.
In all honesty, this was due to me expecting more from the tight ends and not less from the wide receivers (shocker, I wasn't angling for 198 yards passing from Goff).
But given the setup, the Niners were always going to bracket the outside and offer the middle.
This could end up being the story of the Rams' front seven...or the Rams' defense...or the Rams' 2020 season.
The entire roster build was built upon a bit of the construct of Aaron Donald + anyone = sufficient. And that's not entirely wrong! But it misses a bit of detail. Aaron Donald + certain anyones - certain other anyones + coaching = sufficient. Mathematics tell us that those are different equations. Something Pythagorean or whatnot.
The Rams simply don't have enough talent in the front seven to adjust games once they start. Donald forces adjustments beforehand. He, sometimes, forces them amid gameplay. But if not...well, the secondary can do plenty. But they can't play up front.
4.) Second airy
This secondary is so damn good. It's just impressive to see every week and the effect they have on gameplay.
We didn't get the underneath interception from the linebackers I was anticipating (I SEE YOU SHANAHAN), but the gameplay was built for it ESPECIALLY in the second half.
5.) K Sam Sloman
STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE
I know it's weird to praise Jared for a game in which he came in under 200 passing yards, but I thought he operated the system well. That the system put him in tough positions wasn't his fault (see below).
At this point, the issue is one of application. McVay opted not to play Cam Akers, well, at all. And given the results...fine! Hendo had a fantastic game, and while Malcolm Brown didn't add much he did create instability for the Niners' defense to deal with. No, Akers didn't add to that. Yes, I'd like to see it. Yes, it brings into question why we drafted a running back in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft if we're not going to use him.
No, I don't have those answers.
McVay was leaning on his wide receiver talent. This was a good reminder of the limitations from the WR depth chart. We have technique. We have discipline. We have tenacity.
We don't have measurables. We don't have freakish athleticism. We don't have supremacy.
That's fine, but it's an indication of what happens when you're reliant on a system in and of itself.
They were primed to offer more (and did), but didn't quite get enough to get the production to match theri performance. Could have gone off.
I can't believe that through six games that I have such little criticism of the line!
Yes, McVay is clearly scheming to protect them from themselves, but they're doing just fine! And that's something we sure as hell didn't say about them a year ago.
This was Greg Gaines' best game as a pro. And they did a ton up front to be proud of.
The problem is...
It's the worst part of the Rams' defense, and the Niners went right at it. Not sure there's a better answer, and not sure we should ask more since the Rams limited SF to just 3 second-half points.
Not their best game, but another solid show from the secondary. The difficulty is figuring out the spine of the defense up the middle when the linebackers are struggling to contain the passing attack right in the middle of the field especially when it's coming via a quick pass attack.
K Sam Sloman isn't making anyone comfortable and neither is WR Cooper Kupp on punt returns, but...
Yeah, I'll go there. Especially if we're gonna grade McVay on a curve.
This is just a stark example of a game where he got outschemed, and that's rare. We have games where he got overaggressive. Some where he chased a scheme he wanted to. Some where he felt a defensive mechanism that wasn't there. And some where he felt he could unlock a component of his team to outdo the opposition.
This was all of that plus two wasted timeouts in the second half that put him in an even more adverse position.
Think about how often you'd rarely give McBae a F for his job on the sideline. Because if you're like me and maybe counting that in a pair of fingers or less, that's why this deserves an ultimate failing grade.
Quite a bit to build on. And what makes it interesting is the San Francisco 49ers pulling up the bottom limit of the best division in football.
Yeah, this one stung. But the second half performance showed that it shouldn't sting too much.
As long as the Rams up their game and get ready for the real heat of the season that lies ahead.