On a night that should have been incredibly sweet for Rams fans–one last bask in the warm glow of the 2021 season including not one but two championship banners being unveiled–Thursday Night Football instead felt like the first day of winter. Watching the debut of this 2022 Rams team, one would think the Bills were the reigning Super Bowl Champions and the Rams were just the poor unfortunate souls who had drawn the lot of playing them in primetime in Week 1.
While it’s not time to overreact, I believe there is a place for a nuanced conversation where we can point out valid criticisms without going overboard. That being said, let’s crack this case open on what went wrong when the Rams hosted the Bills, then bury this game and move onto the Atlanta Falcons.
As we all know, the biggest issue the Rams faced was their offensive line could not block Buffalo’s defensive line. Most rational fans and pundits expected the Rams to face a drop off with the retirement of long-time left tackle Andrew Whitworth and the departure of right guard Austin Corbett.
However, the surprise of this game was that Joseph Noteboom did not look like a four-year veteran swing tackle, but instead looked like someone barely familiar on how to play the position. New starting right guard Coleman Shelton did not inspire a ton of confidence with his performance either. Not only that, but two of the returning interior offensive linemen, Brian Allen and David Edwards, looked like barely capable players, when we’ve seen them perform at a much higher level.
Granted, the Bills defensive line is deep and talented, headlined by former Super Bowl MVP and ex-Ram standout Von Miller. Regardless, against a four-man defensive front that did not blitz a single snap, the Rams allowed a 40% pressure rate. Point blank, they did not look like a championship caliber offensive line.
Coach McVay also did not do the offense any favors. He ran 11 personnel 100% of the time, never lining up an extra TE to help chip block (it’s worth noting the Rams only carry two TEs). To make matters worse, he often lined up empty (RB & TE split out wide) and went away from play action (Rams ran play action of 17%). That’s just unacceptable.
Continuing with the offense, Allen Robinson and Matthew Stafford clearly did not have an established chemistry. In his first game with the Rams, Allen Robinson only had only two targets and one reception for 12 yards. Ben Skowronek should not have three times as many targets as Allen Robinson.
Getting Robinson involved is something that Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford, and Allen Robinson will have to figure out going forward. The marriage between those three looks so beautiful on paper, and it would be such a shame if it does not live up to the expectations we all had for this season.
The interceptions thrown by Matthew Stafford were also troubling. The first was a miscommunication with Tyler Higbee, the second was a pass too high for Cooper Kupp that bounced into the hands of Jordan Poyer, and the third a pass batted in the air at the line.
Moving onto the struggles on the defensive side of the ball, I’ll be brief. The Bills averaged 7.3 yards per play and converted 90% of their 3rd downs. For some context, the team with most yards per play over an entire season was the 2000 St. Louis Rams, who averaged 6.98 yards per play. The team that ranks second all time, the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs, averaged 6.84 yards per play. In other words, the Rams defense allowed the Bills to put up numbers that would be historically the best offense in NFL history. I doubt this will continue over the season, but I thought it was poignant to note.
There’s not much good to say about this Week 1 performance, but let’s end on a positive note before we move onto Atlanta. Second year linebacker Ernest Jones had an outstanding game against the run. Troy Hill, showing out in his homecoming game, had a beautiful INT defending the slot, but also was excellent in coverage on key 3rd down halfway through the 2nd quarter to hold the Bills to a FG. And not that it must be said, but Aaron Donald is still the best football player on the planet for all of those wondering.
On offense, the lone bright spot was Cooper Kupp, who had a whopping 15 targets, reeling in 13 of them for 128 yards and a TD. In special teams play, Matt Gay hit his PAT & a 57-yard FG, on a weekend of NFL football in which it felt like no kicker could make anything.
On to the Falcons
Week 2 should provide the bounce back game the Rams need, hopefully akin to the Jaguars game in 2021 after losing three straight, or the Cardinals game in 2018 after losing to the Eagles and Bears back-to-back.
The Falcons passing scheme can certainly be described as lacking, in part because Marcus Mariota is not a premier QB. However, Mariota’s rushing ability in tandem with Cordarelle Patterson can definitely create problems for defenses, as they combined to total 192 yards on the ground in Week 1. However, a (hopefully) fired up Rams defensive front should be a mismatch for the Falcons offensive line and keep their running game in check. And, the Falcons receiving corps should be one of the worst the Rams secondary face all season.
After blowing a 16-point 4th quarter lead vs. the Saints in Week 1, expect the Falcons and their talented, young players AJ Terrell and Kyle Pitts to come out fired up as they look for a bounce back game of their own. The Falcons’ collapse was in part because their offense stuttered, but also because their defense could not stop a resurgent Saints WR corps including veterans Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry, as well as rookie Chris Olave.
Bottom line, the Rams must use this opportunity at home vs. a weak Falcons team to fix their offensive line, get Allen Robinson involved, and shore up their defense. Their next two games are both on the road vs. division rival Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Their schedule, and the opportunity to fix their problems, doesn’t get any easier.