The Rams had a lot of room for optimism coming into Monday Night Football, considering they just went toe-to-toe with their rival and undefeated San Francisco 49ers. However on Monday, a few questionable calls and some puzzling decisions by Sean McVay led to an underwhelming loss under the lights.
The Rams started out with plenty of momentum on offense and after a backfield motion route got Tutu Atwell the ball, it looked like he scored a touchdown to put the Rams ahead. After further review, the referees determined that Atwell stepped out prior to reaching the end zone and completely reversed momentum.
From that point forward, the Rams could not find the end zone, despite leading at the half and for a majority of the game. Two interceptions by Matthew Stafford, the questionable decisions to not run the ball more on a Bengals defense that wasn’t very good at stopping it, and playing a cushion defense on Ja’marr Chase were just confusing.
While Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, and Tyler Higbee’s stat lines weren’t bad, the inability to score in the red zone is ultimately what hurt the Rams in this one. The defense stepped up and got great stops and limited the elite Bengals offense to a miniscule amount of points on almost every drive. Although they only had one turnover on an interception, the defense kept the Rams offense in the game possession after possession.
The Rams are now 1-2 and find themselves tied for last place in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals.
Here are my three takeaways:
Offensive Line Beat Up
The key to the Rams success under Stafford has been keeping him upright. With an offensive line that was upgraded and has stayed healthy over the first two weeks, it is easy to say it has improved. On Monday night, we saw just how much of a fine line the offensive line is.
Left Tackle Alaric Jackson injured his thigh in the second half and was ruled out for the remainder of the game, which meant Zach Thomas had to come in and slot to that position. Immediately following this decision, Thomas was beat on almost every snap and it resulted in the pocket collapsing and Stafford being sacked multiple times.
If Jackson misses significant time, the Rams should seriously consider sliding Joe Noteboom over to that Left Tackle position, or signing a free agent like La’el Collins.
McVay Abandons the Run Game
Sean McVay is known for his genius and play-calling throughout the course of a game, but against the Bengals, he was out coached. Kyren Williams, who had the most scrimmage touchdowns in the NFL through two weeks, was limited to only 10 carries for 38 yards.
The Bengals defense’s weakness this year so far has been their run defense, so naturally you would think McVay would adjust. He did not in this one and it hurt them dearly, especially after losing your left tackle.
The smart thing to do when your line is hurt is to run the ball and get some yardage to open up the passing game. Unfortunately for the Rams, multiple coaching decisions plagued them with the inability to move them down the field and I hope in film rooms this week, the coaching staff sees it.
Let’s Look At The Positives
Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and end this on a positive note, since there are a good amount still. Tutu Atwell, Puka Nacua, and Tyler Higbee all had great games against the Bengals despite the lack of touchdowns. Atwell caught a late touchdown and should’ve had two on the day except for the called back run in the first quarter. Puka Nacua, although he was questionably only targeted once in the second half, had a 70 yard receiving game. Tyler Higbee finally broke out as well, catching 5 passes for 71 yards.
Also, this defense is actually solid. Coming into the year, many believed (myself included) that the Rams would be one of the worst defensive teams in the league. While it is still early, what I have seen from the young players has been excellent. Ahkello Witherspoon made an insane one handed interception in a crucial spot in the game, Byron Young has been excellent through 3 weeks, and the secondary held their own against a great offense in Cincinnati. I only expect this group to grow even more as the season progresses.
The Rams travel to Indianapolis on Sunday to take on a pesky Colts team. Kickoff is set for 10:00 AM PST.