QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles
QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vincent Verhei

Each year at this time, we like to devote our Quick Reads columns to the two teams headed to the Super Bowl, looking not at when they played their best, but when they played their worst. The Patriots and Rams are great teams, yes, but they are not perfect. What weaknesses were opponents able to exploit and make these championship clubs look beatable -- and in some cases, beaten? Since Los Angeles was the first team to officially clinch a berth in the Super Bowl, we'll start with them today, and cover the Patriots next week.

According to DVOA, these were the Rams' worst four games this season, in chronological order:

  • Week 5: L.A. Rams 33, Seattle Seahawks 31. The Rams traveled to the Pacific Northwest, knocked off the traditional divisional powerhouse, and took a three-game lead in the division just five weeks into the year … and it still scores as one of their worst games this season. That should tell you something about how good L.A. has been. In a back-and-forth affair with seven lead changes, the Rams clinched the win when Jared Goff converted a fourth-and-1 on a quarterback sneak in Rams territory inside the two-minute warning. It was something of a shootout -- Goff threw for 321 yards and a score, while the Rams added 155 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. For Seattle, Russell Wilson threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns, and the Seahawks ran for 190 yards on 32 carries. The Rams also struggled with ball security -- they were fortunate to recover their two fumbles, but Goff still had two interceptions.
  • Week 8: L.A. Rams 29, Green Bay Packers 27. The Ty Montgomery game. The Rams took the lead on a Greg Zuerlein field goal with two minutes and change to go, but the Packers never got a chance to answer when Montgomery fumbled the ensuing kickoff away. Goff overcame five sacks to throw for 295 yards and three touchdowns, and the Rams added 135 yards on 34 carries. For Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers threw for 286 yards (133 to Davante Adams) and a score, while Aaron Jones chipped in with 86 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries.
  • Week 14: Chicago Bears 15, L.A. Rams 6. Every quarterback looked bad against Chicago this year, but few looked worse than Goff, who only threw for 180 yards while giving up four interceptions and three sacks (one for a safety). Things weren't much better on the ground; Todd Gurley had just 28 yards on 11 carries. Still, this game was up for grabs because the Rams defense largely shut down Mitchell Trubisky, whose 30 pass attempts produced only 110 yards, with three interceptions. But the Bears were much better running the ball -- Jordan Howard had 19 carries for 101 yards, and Tarik Cohen added nine for 69.
  • Week 15: Philadelphia Eagles 30, L.A. Rams 23. In his return to the Eagles' starting lineup, Nick Foles threw for 270 yards in 31 passes (Alshon Jeffery caught each of the eight passes thrown his way for 160 total yards), and Philadelphia ran for 111 yards and three touchdowns. The Rams trailed for most of the game, and Goff threw a career-high 53 passes as result. But he didn't do much with those passes, amassing just 339 yards and no touchdowns. The Rams only had 18 carries for 82 yards, though Gurley did run for two touchdowns.

The most common weakness in those four games is clear: the Rams' run defense got steamrolled, allowing a four-game total of 601 yards in 116 carries, a 5.18-yard average. Their average run defense DVOA in those four games was 6.3%, a mark that would have ranked next-to-last over the course of the season. At their worst, the Rams were literally among the worst run defenses in the league. (Of course, they finished 28th in full-season run defense DVOA, so at their best they weren't much better.)

This is a significant problem against a run-heavy Patriots team. New England ranked in the top five in runs, yards, and touchdowns on the ground, though they "only" ranked ninth in run offense DVOA. The Patriots only had three games this year in which they failed to run at least 20 times, losses to the Lions, Titans, and Steelers. The Pittsburgh game was a tight, low-scoring affair, and it's not clear why New England abandoned the run while Tom Brady threw 36 passes (though Pittsburgh's defense, which finished eighth in run defense DVOA and 17th against the pass, probably had something to do with it). Detroit and Tennessee, however, managed to handcuff the New England running attack with offense as much as defense, scoring a combined 37 first-half points while the Patriots managed only 13. That forced Brady to put the ball in the air in an attempt to play catch-up. It would be a huge boost for the Rams if they could take similar lead into halftime at the Super Bowl.

The Rams defense had another major problem in these four games: they got murdered by superstar wide receivers. The trio of Alshon Jeffery, Tyler Lockett, and Davante Adams combined for 16 catches, 391 yards, and four touchdowns in only 19 targets -- that's a catch rate of 84 percent and an average of 20.6 yards per throw. That includes a perfect performance rate on deep balls -- 8-of-8 for 302 yards, an average of 37.8 yards per throw. (The Bears didn't have a single receiver with positive DYAR against L.A., though the sub-freezing temperatures in the Windy City that night probably didn't help.) We should also point out that Aqib Talib missed the Seahawks and Packers games, but played against the Bears and Eagles.

The Patriots had a receiver who was excellent on deep passes this season, but unfortunately his name was Josh Gordon and he won't be playing in the Super Bowl. Their next most frequent target on deep balls was Rob Gronkowski, but he had a down year on those passes, with a catch rate of just 33 percent. (The league average catch rate on deep balls was 42 percent; for tight ends, it was slightly higher at 46 percent.) Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman had good deep-ball catch rates (53 and 57 percent, respectively), but on a total of just 33 targets. The Rams were actually very good against tight ends in their worst games -- despite facing players such as Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, and Zach Ertz, they held opposing tight ends to one catch for 21 yards in seven targets. Gronkowski will probably do better than that in the Super Bowl, but the Patriots will need plays from Hogan and Edelman too.

You'll note that so far we have only discussed the Rams defense. That's because, aside from the Chicago contest, their offense was still pretty good even in the team's worst games. The one area where they struggled was with turnovers. As mentioned, Goff threw four interceptions against the Bears, but he also had two against the Seahawks and another against the Eagles. Meanwhile, the defense only collected four interceptions (three of them in one game against Chicago). That's a big reason the Rams were -4 in turnover margin in their worst games -- and that easily could have been much worse. The Rams fumbled six times in these games, while their opponents fumbled just once, but the Rams recovered five of those seven loose balls. The Patriots were +10 in turnover margin this season, which was fifth-best in the league. They only had a negative turnover margin three times, including last week against Kansas City.

As strange as this is to say about the Patriots, their passing attack might be lacking the kind of weapons needed to exploit the L.A. defense, but their versatile rushing offense and knack for winning the turnover battle could make them a bad matchup for the Rams. We'll see what advantages Los Angeles might have when we look at New England's worst games next week.


11 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2019, 7:36am

1 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

How close was the 2nd Seattle game to making the list, can we get a table of the DVOA of all Rams (& Patriots next week) games please?

Are there any personnel groupings that LA struggled against in these games?

10 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

Took me a week to reply, but the other Seattle game was not close to making the list -- it was their ninth-worst (or eighth-best) game of the year, so right in the middle of the pack.

Full access to every team's DVOA each week is available as part of our Premium Subscription. See this page for more info:


2 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

Sean McVay is going to have to pull off some real innovative magic because despite the amount of points given up in that chiefs game, belichick's defense did a Herculean job for most of that game given the personnel they had and the opponent they were facing.

At this point I really don't trust Jared Goff at all. maybe that's just me being an eternal pessimist, but he's not polished enough as a passer and facing mahomes at Kansas City is a much taller task than facing the Rams on a neutral field.

At the same time the Rams defense has definitely been on the upswing and I love Wade Phillips as a coach.

last year this time I thought Philadelphia didn't have a chance in hell of winning this game. I should have known better given I'm a statistician and a close follower of football, but I still don't I think the Rams will win this game.

3 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

A lot's going to hinge on the Pats OL versus Rams DL battle. If the Pats can play from ahead and run the ball, they'll be in good shape. If they have to play from behind, Brady's going to need time because his receivers are unlikely to get separation quickly. Except maybe on Peters, who seems to be better as a zone guy. Playing zone is fine if the DL can get pressure, otherwise it'll be suicide against Brady.

On the other side, I expect the Rams will move the ball. I'm guessing the first issue will be whether they can convert drives to TDs or have to settle for FGs. Goff's not likely to Mahome a bunch of long strikes even if Cooks does stretch the defense. The second issue will be whether Belichick can trick Goff into a turnover or two. I expect Goff will throw for 300 yards and Gurley will rush for 100. The question is how many points that translates into.

On special teams, it'll be interesting to see if McVay dares try a Hekker fake against NE. Could NE even try to trick Hekker into thinking a play's there when it isn't?

Last point of interest: which starter does Belichick mysteriously bench to send a message for the 2019 season?

5 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

I understand the mistrust of Goff to a degree, but nothing like to the point where my most expected outcome would be for him to fall flat on his face in the face of Belichick's defense (which, let's remember, is not especially talented). The numbers say he has been consistently good for two whole seasons now. And whilst DYAR wasn't particularly impressed, I thought he stood up to the pressure well against the Saints in an incredibly hostile environment. The Super Bowl atmosphere will be nothing like as challenging as that.

Listening to Dan Orlovsky this morning, he was adamant that the absolute point of coaching emphasis for Belichick in the next two weeks will be not succumbing to the Rams play-action game. Which means asking his LBs and safeties to play a step 'slow', thereby challenging McVay to run the ball repeatedly. It's a fascinating match-up for sure.

8 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

Goff is getting a huge contract regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl. Really tough to say whether he will be worth Aaron Rodgers type money, but it is categorically proven that he is a QB that you can win a lot of games with, in good surroundings. His past two seasons are far beyond anything that Flacco had (or has) ever consistently achieved.

4 Not Every Quarterback

The Bears were tough on most QBs this season but certainly not all. Rodgers absolutely roasted them during Week 1 and in Week 5, Brady had a decent game: 25-36, 277 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int, only sacked once. Josh Gordon had four catches for 100 yards (he trampled Bears DBs like a TE). Pats had two special teams TDs and Trubisky threw a Hail Mary that his receiver caught at the one-yard line.

6 Re: Not Every Quarterback

Mack was curiously absent in the Bears-Pats game. He was recovering from injury and used oddly, including lots of drop backs and shadowing, likely because he wasn't healthy enough to get a good rush going. Also, the Pats OL is really good.

9 Re: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Los Angeles

The game is interesting, if the Rams can get big plays out of the run game they have a shot. Otherwise Goff hasn't looked good this year with the pass rush in his face from what I've seen. He doesn't handle a collapsing pocket all that well, which is what was happening most of the time against the Bears (wind probably didn't help).

Am I the only one noticing the Patriots pass rush these past 2 games? 30 sacks on the regular season and 6 sacks in 2 games in the playoffs. I sort of expected the pressure against the Chargers, but not so much against the Chiefs. 2 sacks on the Chargers, and 4 sacks on the Chiefs and both of those teams offensive lines have given up the most QB hits in the playoffs this year (15 for Chargers & 16 for the Chiefs), I'm assuming mostly from the Patriots defense. If the Patriots get that kind of pressure on Goff, I don't think the Rams have a chance in this game, Goff will turn it over.