From the moment the Rams’ John Wolford hit the SoFi Stadium turf to debut as a starting QB, fans across social media and announcers alike had a plethora of comments that lasted well into the night and into Monday. Designated as the defacto Monday armchair quarterback for @TalkRams, this is the one game that I am truly going to enjoy writing, because so much occurred during the game, so much was said and so many believe that Wolford should be the starter from here on out, while others are more level-headed about the situation.
The Los Angeles Rams (10-6) moved into the playoffs, as the No. 6 seed, Sunday after once again dominating the Arizona Cardinals for the eighth straight game, 18-7. L.A. has not lost to Arizona since head coach Sean McVay took the reigns in 2017. The Rams will travel to Seattle to play their NFC West rival in the Wild Card game at 1:40 p.m. Saturday.
The results of this game came from direct dividends provided by Wolford and the defense. It goes without saying, Wolford’s style of play befuddled the stout Cardinal defense, and is a direct contrast to the play of the “other” starting QB, Jared Goff.
Let’s not kid ourselves though, Goff is not only the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, a highly paid franchise-QB, and a winning starter (42-27; 18,171 total yards), he also can win games within the NFC West where he is 16-10 in his career, including 7-1 against Arizona and 6-4 versus Seattle. In fact, Goff has been so good against the Cardinals, in his last three games alone he has the following line: 98-135 (72.5%), 1094 yards (364 ypg), 6 TDs, no turnovers and a passer rating average of 111.33. It’s my opinion had Goff been healthy, the Rams would have stood a good chance of beating Arizona just as well.
The “Wolfman,” aptly named by Rams fans as the game progressed, early on in the game showed his nervousness with a first pass interception that put their hosts in prime position at the Rams 10-yard line, eventually scoring the first points of the game. His throws were strong and long for the most part, but he got his own motor running with some nifty movements within the pocket, scrambles and designed running plays. Something that is not seen in a Goff-type of game. Wolford finished the game with six carries for 56 yards and was the leading ball carrier for either team. He also became the first player to debut at QB and throw for 200+ yards and rush for 50+ yards. A great start for a career in a tough league.
In order to illustrate this, Wolford started the game one of five passing with an INT. Then came the 16-play, 69-yard, 7:44 drive for a field goal (more on this later). On the first set of chains, after an incomplete pass, Wolford scrambled on third down and 10 for 13 yards and a first down. He then completed a pass, scrambled again for 11 yards, and then ran the ball on a designed play for nine yards, completed a 27-yard pass to Robert Woods, and then another completion to Cam Akers. Wolford had his mojo and the rest of the game became his canvas that would excite Rams fans everywhere. He finished the game 22/38 for 231 yards, and INT and a 64.7 passer rating.
Here in lies the problem. Wolford was not the answer to the Rams’ season-long red zone issues. He faced the same issues Goff has faced: lack of running game, receivers dropping passes, poor offensive line play, penalties and poor play calling inside the red zone, especially deep in the zone. The Rams were zero for four in the zone Sunday, and had twice been to the one-yard line where they came away with just three points from Matt Gay, who scored all 10 of the team’s offensive points. This is totally unacceptable by any team in any league.
The absence of LT Andrew Whitworth, because of injury, over the past seven games has been a serious detriment to the mobility and flexibility of the offensive line’s play. Prior to the injury, the Rams had 22 red zone touchdowns over nine games. The team’s production was cut in half with only 11 TDs over seven games. Whitworth could be activated for Saturday’s game, but McVay and staff can’t bank on his or Goff’s return, so they must find a solution to their zone issues, or they will be looking towards the 2021 season with 22 other teams by week’s end.
Defense asserts itself with a vengeance
Suffice it to say, and with the regular season over, it can now be factually said that the Rams were the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and for the umpteenth time this season, they once again saved the team’s bacon. If there is one thing (other than a Super Bowl win) to be handled this offseason it is to do whatever it takes to keep first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley in the fold for years to come.
This column has covered multiple games the defense has held the opposing team to seven points or less in the second-halves of games. They bettered that mark Sunday by holding Arizona scoreless for the last 55:49 of the game. Considering the Cards only needed 10-yards to score, the blame there does not fall on the defense.
Jalen Ramsey had the most active, acrobatic and productive game as a Ram. Even if he did nothing else this season, he earned every penny Sunday against DeAndre Hopkins shutting him down for a second-straight game this season. I would say he was worth every penny. His flying through the air, from behind, to deflect a pass in the end zone and break up a TD pass to Hopkins was a class play.
Troy Hill answered the bell as well. The defensive corps hadn’t had a take away for two games, and talked of it after both the games, shouldering blame for the losses as well. Hill, once again, showed why he is going to be a superstar in the near future. With 30 seconds left in the first half, Arizona back up QB Chris Streveler, who entered the game after a vicious pass rush decimated Kyler Murray on the game’s first drive, threw an errant pass that was tipped by Hill and recovered in the air by himself. He then dashed 84 yards for a game-breaking TD. The best thing about the play was the defense was on its best behavior throwing great blocks and getting in the way without drawing a flag. That is tough to do when a runner is crossing the field diagonally.
With the absence of Michael Brockers, the group continued to thrive with the career changing year from Leonard Floyd, who garnered one of the four team sacks. Two of the sacks came courtesy of Samson Ebukam.
If nothing else, it all needs to come together Saturday for the third matchup against the Seahawks. The teams each have a win this season, and know each other well. Will Staley be able to design a plan to shut down Russell Wilson?Will McVay be able to find TDs in the end zone again from close range? Or will it be up to Matt Gay to move the team into the next round?
Until next week…