3 Areas Rams Should Have Addressed During the Bye Week
For the sake of the Los Angeles Rams, let's hope the bye week was one of the most productive they have had under Head Coach Jeff Fisher.
Case Keenum's week off came with a lighter workload, as the Rams coaching staff gave more first-team reps to rookie Jared Goff. The first half of the season has been a "will they, won't they" when it comes to starting Goff at quarterback. Keenum had played well enough (using that term "well" loosely) to stave off the bench week-after-week.
But then he threw four interceptions against the New York Giants, one of which was returned for seemingly the longest pick-6 in history. The loss was the team's third-in-a-row, dipping Los Angeles back below .500 and leaving many to wonder if the team will even make the playoffs, like they hoped would happen when the Rams were 3-1 after the first quarter of the season.
The bye week has come and gone, though, and the team is preparing to take on a Carolina Panthers team that, while 2-5, looks to be improved, and ready to make Sunday very difficult for the Rams. They will need their weakest links to come to Week Nine ready to play effectively, and then repeat that effectiveness every week thereafter.
The Rams have not had an effective, consistent, durable starting quarterback since the Marc Bulger days. Sam Bradford started for this team for about three seasons, before having the roughest two-year stretch of his career, thanks to consecutive ACL tears. But even with Bradford in, the offense was shaky, inconsistent, and unable to get the job done.
Fast-forward to 2016, and the Rams are still in the same boat.
Keenum performed better-than-expected in the three weeks following Week One, when he had no support from his offensive line and was virtually annihilated by the San Francisco defense. Following their road-win against the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles, and Keenum, took a nose dive.
In fact, statistically speaking, Keenum has given a solid performance almost every week since that Week Four victory. In that three-week span, Keenum completed around 70 percent of his passes, threw for just under or above 300 yards, and had a decent quarterback rating average. The only problem is, when it counted most, Keenum threw the ball and the game into the lap of the other team, thus sealing two losses in the final minute of the game.
Should Los Angeles wish to move on from Keenum, they will have their No. 2 quarterback seasoned with experience from the practice field. Fisher talked about they ran through all sorts of situations with Goff, giving him a crash-refresher to keep his playing sharp for when he eventually replaces Keenum this season.
Keenum might not have thrown those last-minute interceptions if he and the offense had taken advantage of earlier opportunities in the game. Or, and this is just my opinion, if the he had a running game, and time to throw the ball.
To say Los Angeles' offensive line is bad is like saying a raw steak is a bit undercooked. Since Week One, the offensive line has been the worst part about the Rams and the unit has shown no signs of getting any better.
According to ESPN's Alden Gonzalez, Fisher said he hasn't even considered making changes at the offensive line. As the old adage goes, If it's beyond repair, don't fix it.
The offensive line has held back this offense all season, especially the running game. Todd Gurley rarely sees opening running lanes, and is often met at-or-behind the line of scrimmage by a wall of opposing defenders. His yards before contact is the lowest of any running back by a long shot and at last check, he was averaging less than a yard. The bulk of his yards have to come after contact, and come mostly in spite of the offensive line.
There are weaknesses across the board, but the biggest culprit, scapegoat, bust, etc., is Greg Robinson.
Robinson was taken No. 2 overall in the 2014 draft and has shown little-to-no signs of improving his very raw style-of-play. Robinson has, however, solidified himself as the leader of most penalties this season. Robinson has 10, seven of which were holding penalties. No one else in the league has more than eight.
Robinson spent his off-season working with renowned offensive line specialist LeCharles Bentley. The former Auburn product documented his apparent progress through Instagram and Twitter, as had Bentley. But it seems like all of that work was for naught, as Robinson is routinely beat or shoved backwards by opposing defensive ends. Robinson also fails to be aware of the outside rusher on blitzes.
"Greg is going to be a really good player," Fisher said to ESPN. "He's highly athletic. I thought, for the most part, he played an outstanding rusher in [Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul], and he held his own in this game."
1. Robinson is going to be a good player? He's in his third season; how much longer until he reaches this supposed "good" level of play?
2. Robinson played terrible against Pierre-Paul.
I could go through the entire alphabet, but you get the picture.
The Rams thought they would be fine losing Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod in the same off-season, and they were wrong.
While the unit is not terrible, their bend-don't-break style of play has allowed several teams to score when they need to, and have become more of a hinderance and than a help to the offense. In the past, the defense would play so well, yet receive no support from their offense to win the game. Now, it appears the other way around, or at the very worst, both sides failing to help each other.
Despite the three consecutive wins, the Rams pass-defense was getting torched by opposing quarterbacks, both in total passing yards and completions. While they held on to win the game, Los Angeles bend-don't-break was a major weakness, and it was taken advantage of by the next three teams they played following their Arizona victory.
The Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants, for the most part, had lower offensive performances against the Rams than they had in earlier games. But all three teams took advantage of the bend-don't-break, and found a way to break the defense and score enough points to seal the victories.
The Rams were without Trumaine Johnson for the last two games, and offenses have found the Los Angeles corners to be weak targets. New No. 1 corner, E.J. Gaines, is just as bad as the corner opposite him in Troy Hill. Both corners were rendered virtually ineffective during the final three-week stretch before the bye, especially against Detroit.
This gem, an on-the-run touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford, was just a sample of what the last three games were like.
Tim Godfrey is a Featured Analyst who covers the Los Angeles Rams for Pro Football Spot. Follow him on Twitter @MrTimGodfrey!