The Los Angeles Rams’ season came to an unceremonious end on Sunday night, losing to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, 24-23. They had several chances to pull off the upset, but the offense stalled in the second half and the defense couldn’t get enough stops against Detroit early in the game.
There are several reasons the Rams lost to the Lions, each proving to be as costly as the others. From timeout usage to red zone issues and poor tackling, here are the six biggest reasons the Rams came up short in the first round of the playoffs.
This can’t fully be blamed on Sean McVay, but rather split between he and Matthew Stafford. Early in the second half, Stafford had to burn a timeout with the play clock winding down and the offense taking too long to get aligned. Kyren Williams was late to motion into the backfield, forcing Stafford to take a timeout on third-and-11.
In hindsight, he probably should’ve just taken the 5-yard penalty because the odds of converting on third-and-11 aren’t much better than third-and-16, and it was still so early in the half.
Later on, McVay was the one to call a timeout with the play clock winding down, seemingly even hitting 0 before the official granted him the timeout. That was on second-and-8 from their own 26-yard line. The Rams went on to add three points at the end of that drive with a 29-yard field goal, so it may not have been a terrible decision, but they shouldn’t have let the play clock get down that low in the first place to force McVay’s hand.
The Rams’ lack of timeouts came back to bite them in the fourth quarter after punting it away on fourth-and-14 with 4 minutes left and only one timeout. The Lions managed to run the clock out with a couple of first downs and there was nothing Los Angeles could do.
Lack of pressure on Jared Goff
The Rams generated most of their pressure from the interior all season, getting great effort from Aaron Donald and Kobie Turner throughout the year. Byron Young was effective at times but the Rams’ overall lack of a pass rush was an issue over the course of the entire 2023 campaign.
That reared its ugly head on Sunday night when they were unable to generate much pressure on Goff at all. According to Field Yates, Goff was a perfect 22-for-22 with 267 yards and a touchdown when he wasn’t pressured. Considering he finished the game 22-for-27 with 267 yards and a touchdown, that means he didn’t have a single completion or yard when pressured, throwing five incompletions with three sacks taken.
The Rams knew better than anyone how important it is to get pressure on Goff, given the mistakes he’s made under duress in the past, but they couldn’t find a way to disrupt his rhythm whatsoever.
Red zone inefficiency
When you’re facing an offense as good as the Lions’ is, field goals won’t get the job done. It’s ultimately one of the things that cost the Rams this game. They went 0-for-3 in the red zone, settling for field goals from 24 yards, 27 yards and 29 yards.
Inside the 20, Stafford went 2-for-7 for 7 yards. The Rams ran it three other times for 2 total yards, so they gained 9 yards on 10 red zone plays. That’s not good enough by any stretch of the imagination.
Stafford targeted Cooper Kupp four times in the red zone and three of those passes fell incomplete. Had one of those throws been complete, it likely would’ve gone for a touchdown, which would’ve been a difference of four points — and potentially the difference between winning and losing.
It’s hard to say “just run the ball” because the Lions were stout against the Rams’ rushing attack, but throwing it three times from the 6-yard line on the opening drive was frustrating. Regardless, the offense as a whole needed to be better in the red area.
The Lions’ ball carriers are not easy to get on the ground. Let’s get that out of the way. Jahmyr Gibbs is as shifty as any running back, Amon-Ra St. Brown is quicker than most receivers and David Montgomery is a blend of power and elusiveness as a running back.
That being said, the Rams absolutely needed to tackle better in this game. There were far too many instances where a defender whiffed and couldn’t bring down the ball carrier, often in key situations. Michael Hoecht missed a pair of tackles that proved costly, first on a reception that gained 14 yards by Gibbs and later on Montgomery in the flat during the Lions’ final drive, which picked up a first down.
Russ Yeast missed a tackle on Montgomery in the hole on his touchdown run, Witherspoon missed on St. Brown along the sideline, which turned into a 14-yard gain, and both Ernest Jones and Derion Kendrick whiffed on Gibbs’ 16-yard reception down the right side.
One play that might get overlooked is Yeast’s missed tackle on Sam LaPorta right before the Lions’ 54-yard field goal. LaPorta only gained 4 more yards, but there’s a big difference between 54 and 58 yards on a field goal attempt.
There was just too much poor tackling all across the board against a very good offense.
The Rams only committed four penalties and the Lions had five, but there were a couple of costly errors made by Los Angeles. Nick Hampton was called for roughing the passer in the first half, which gave the Lions a free 15 yards on top of a 10-yard completion. They scored a touchdown on that drive.
Aaron Donald jumped before the snap in the red zone, moving the ball from the 11-yard line to the 5 on first down. Four plays later, the Lions were in the end zone with a fourth-down touchdown to LaPorta.
In the fourth quarter, Rob Havenstein was called for holding on an incomplete pass from the Lions' 34-yard line. That brought the ball back to the 44 and made it third-and-14 instead of fourth-and-4, which would've been much more manageable.
Those three penalties directly led to either points for the Lions or missed points by the Rams. So while there weren't an excessive number of infractions by either team, the Rams' penalties were at bad times.
Allowing big plays on third down
The Rams defense was statistically good on third down. They held the Lions to just 3-for-9 on that critical down, but their three conversions were all back-breakers.
The first was a 14-yard pass to St. Brown on third-and-5, which is where Witherspoon missed a tackle along the sideline. The Lions scored a touchdown on that drive.
The second conversion was another big play to St. Brown, picking up 23 yards on third-and-15. That drive ended with a punt, but it very well could have been at least a field goal if the Lions weren't flagged for a false start on fourth down after Ernest Jones jumped across the line.
The Lions' third conversion was on third-and-6 -- and you guessed it, another big play to St. Brown. This one gained 30 yards and led to a 54-yard field goal by Detroit, padding their lead to 24-17.
Again, the Rams did a good job on third down for the most part, but the few conversions they allowed were all big plays, and two of them led to points for Detroit.