Chicago’s future looks bright while the Patriots may have cost themselves a first-round bye. NFL insiders break down the biggest stories from Week 15.
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Jared Goff has this look in his eyes, one many had long forgotten.
Overwhelmed. Confused. Defeated.
Gone is the chill, poised demeanor of one of the league’s fast-rising stars. Now the Los Angeles Rams quarterback resembles his 2016 form, when his mind-bending errors caused critics to view the rookie and No. 1 pick as a possible bust. After throwing just six interceptions in the first 11 games of the season, Goff has thrown seven in the last three, including six in the last two outings.
But the problem isn’t just Goff.
The Rams look off in many key aspects. One month ago, they delivered the most electrifying performance of the season with five offensive touchdowns and two defensive scores in a 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. But Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles – and for a second straight week – this usually well-oiled machine sputtered in a defeat marked by uncharacteristic errors and undisciplined play.
There’s an unfamiliar look on the face of Sean McVay as well. The massively popular coach seemingly has had all of the answers while turning the beleaguered Rams into a playoff squad in his first two years on the job. But McVay gazed at his players in disbelief as they floundered Sunday night and suffered back-to-back losses for the first time on his watch.
One of the league’s most explosive and formidable teams is suddenly very mortal. It was easy to write off the feeble effort of the 15-6 loss to Chicago in Week 14 as simply an off game. But with many of the same problems carrying over into Sunday’s 30-23 defeat, the Rams’ struggles (many of them on offense) are becoming a disturbing pattern at the most important juncture of the season.
At 11-3 and with the NFC West already in hand, Los Angeles has already secured its postseason ticket. But without a quick remedy, this late-season funk very well could carry over into the playoffs and ruin the franchise’s hopes of contending for a Super Bowl.
McVay has made things look easy during his 22-8 start as a head coach. His teams always manage to overcome whatever snags they hit — until the last two weeks.
Now McVay must tackle a laundry list of problem areas.
In the regular season’s final two games, he must help Goff rediscover his confidence and effectiveness. Restore balance to an offense whose signature rushing attack has gone anemic will also be essential.
Additionally, McVay must find a way to help reinvigorate a pass rush that has registered just one sack in the last two games. And he must find a way to curb the abundant penalties that have plagued his squad in their back-to-back defeats.
McVay has to figure out how to get his team to play fast, free and smart again.
“We’ve got to be able to figure it out and figure it out fast because these last couple weeks, we’re doing things that are totally uncharacteristic of what good football teams do, what we’ve done through the first handful of games this season,” McVay told reporters at his postgame news conference. “But the only thing we know how to do is go back to work, look at ourselves. Everybody’s got a hand in this, and we’ve got to get it figured out fast.”
No play better encapsulated the Rams’ current state than Goff’s third-quarter interception. Tripped by an offensive lineman, he fell to the ground and briefly fumbled before scooping the ball up. Wrapped up by linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, an off-balanced Goff tried to throw the ball, but it slipped from his grasp and landed in the hands of Eagles safety Corey Graham for an interception.
Much like their quarterback, the Rams appear to be crumbling under the pressure facing them in the homestretch of the season. Without a dramatic turnaround, the team can expect a second consecutive one-and-done playoff showing.
As McVay has acknowledged, the Rams need to get back to running the football effectively. Lightening Goff’s load is the best way to help the quarterback get his groove back.
But there’s more to establishing the run than merely a verbal commitment. Penalties and poor production have limited the Rams on first down, forcing the offense into passing situations.
And a potentially more concerning element could threaten the Rams’ goal of restoring balance. Gurley missed time Sunday night after suffering a knee injury. He returned to finish the game and said afterwards that it wasn’t an issue. But he doesn’t look the same. He hasn’t appeared to have the same acceleration – particularly when trying to get to the edge. Any lingering ailment could threaten the Rams’ chances of wrapping up a first-round bye or home-field advantage.
If the all-pro back is indeed healthy, then the Rams must get him going early. But the secret is out now. The Bears and Eagles have shown the Rams’ potential playoff partners the blueprint for success: Force the offense to become one-dimensional and then go after Goff.
Thus far, McVay has done a very good job of making adjustments from quarter to quarter and week to week. But now, with his team at its most vulnerable point, the coach faces his most daunting challenge.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News