Could the Rams actually make the playoffs?
Thanks to Blake Bortless (if there was any poetic justice, this would be the correct spelling of his last name) and the special teams, the Rams are now 4–2.
In spite of their horrible loss to Seattle (six red zone possessions that resulted in 10 points), and a really bad offensive game in the win over Jacksonville, the Rams have started to show enough strength on defense and special teams that they might have a shot at the playoffs.
Based on the last two games, here’s what we know:
Offense: Against a top defense, the Rams offense is going to struggle scoring points. They only accounted for ten points in each game. The difference was turnovers and special teams. (Jacksonville actually looked like a better defensive team than Seattle.)
Defense: Against a mobile quarterback, the Rams front seven gets neutralized, so they need to get turnovers to have a chance. Against a stationery quarterback, the defense is above average, though not in the Seattle/Jacksonville category.
Special Teams: The kicking game is excellent with Zuerlein and Hecker among the best in the league at their positions. The return game is okay, but the only weakness is the tendency to muff punts.
Coaching: They biggest difference in this team is the coaching, and the way the players have bought into the system. The offensive play calls are just imaginative enough to keep good defenses from being able to settle in and destroy what looks like an offensive line that is average at best. Jared Goff is playing much smarter football, and his decision making has minimized the times that negative plays turn into the game-changing disasters we saw in almost every game last season.
Wade Phillips has turned a defense with one and maybe one half star players into a strong unit. They give up some big plays and yield a lot of yards (even against a bad quarterback like Bortless), but they make adjustments. They have won three games by getting stops at end the game, and a fourth that was keyed with two touchdowns off turnovers. They only gave up one game winning drive against Washington that was the result fatigue.
X-Factors: The Rams have a very small margin when they play better teams. They are 2–2 against Washington, Dallas, Seattle and Jacksonville. The total point differential is +2. Unless the offense makes a big jump, this is a team that isn’t quite good enough to win in spite of losing the turnover battle.
- In London against a Cardinals team that was regressing to their St. Louis mean until they got Adrian Peterson.
- @ the injured and tanking Giants (who just killed Denver)
- Home against what could be the best team in the AFC (did I really write that about Houston?)
- @ the Case Keenan bowl who is now playing great (but if he plays like he did last year, he may score more points for his old team than he does for his new team)
- Home against the creaky bones of Drew Brees, who plays much worse on turf than artificial surfaces (but who destroyed the Panthers, Dolphins and Lions, while losing to the Vikings and Patriots — is this a pattern? Do the Saints treat humans with more kindness than animals?)
- @ the wingless Cards (who now look more like giant ostriches with thighs the size of Adrian Petersen)
- Home against Philadelphia
- @ Seattle (Could this determine the NFC West?)
- @ the Tennessee Mariotas — now playing without Mariota
- Home vs San Francisco, who could be threatening the Lions historic season of failure
Outlook: I’d say the schedule would make them the favorite in four or five of these games. If they beat the New York, Tennessee and San Francisco and split with the Cardinals, that’s seven wins. If they can win two of the remaining six against the strong teams, that’s nine wins. And given the parity in the league this year, that might be enough to make the playoffs.
The Rams were basically six Cooper Kupp fingertips away from winning the Seattle game, going 5–1 with a two-game lead over the Seahawks, and a good chance to win their division with ten wins. Now they are a couple of bad breaks away from going 7–9.
(I’m filling in the football void this week as my friend julian rogers recovers from the Santa Rosa fires.)