Rams Season Ends in Cold Green Bay
January 21, 2021
It was a sobering way to start the New Year. The Los Angeles Rams playoff run came to an expected end on a cold Lambeau Field, losing 32-18 to the Green Bay Packers in the 2020 NFC Conference Round. The NFL's number one defense had no answers for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' number one offense. The losses continued on Sunday as Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley agreed to terms to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.
"The finality of everything is so sudden," said Rams head coach Sean McVay in the aftermath of Saturday's game. "The first thing that we're going to do is kind of catch our breath, let the dust settle, get away and really evaluate everything... I am disappointed that we're still not playing and that's a compliment to the confidence I had in the team and the group of men that we were working with."
Rodgers and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur picked the Rams defense apart from their opening drive. The two-year relationship between the two since LaFleur joined the team has developed into the most lethal combination in the league. Rodgers engineered six scoring drives in nine possessions. The Packers could have easily scored on their last possession, but chose victory formation near the Rams end zone. Their other two possessions gained first downs and they only punted once.
The Rams defensive front line pressure never materialized. Rodgers was rarely touched, was never sacked and came away with stellar numbers. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, not at 100% due to injured ribs, wasn't the force the Rams needed him to be in order to counter Rodgers' brilliance. He completed 23 passes for 296 yards and two touchdown passes. Rodgers' 58-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Allen Lazard sealed the Rams fate with seven minutes to go.
I don't know if I got touched hardly at all the entire night, other than the scrambles getting outside the pocket," said Rodgers. "That was a fantastic performance by them (Packers offensive line). We had a great plan when it came down to it. And Matty was dialing up some really good stuff."
The Rams will now search for their third offensive coordinator in three seasons. Wade Phillips was the O.C. under McVay from 2017-2019, before Staley was hired for the 2020 season. With the Rams evolving into the league's best defense, Staley became a prized possession in the eyes of the Chargers. Former head coach Anthony Lynn was fired after the end of the season as the team started off poorly again and failed to make the playoffs in three of his four years at the helm.
McVay: "To see somebody do such a great job like he's done, along with our defensive coaches and then ultimately our players making it come to life... a unique thing to see him come in and do such a great job then immediately be a prime candidate for a lot of these openings and you realize how precious these opportunities are."
Under Staley, the Rams defense led the league in total defense, defensive passing and defensive scoring. They also had the NFL's third best rushing defense. The Rams scoring defense was one of the best in the past 20 seasons. Staley was the outside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears in 2017 and 2018. He had the same position on the Denver Broncos staff in 2019.
"It's hard to put into words just how excited I am for the opportunity to be the Los Angeles Chargers' head coach," said Staley. "While this is certainly a dream come true, it's also a dream that's just beginning. There's a reason this was probably the most sought-after job out there, from ownership, to the fans, to the city, to the men in that locker room... it's the total package."
The Rams have little time to waste as the 2021 season begins immediately. With the team hosting Super LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday, February 6, 2022, the pressure is on McVay and the Rams to not only make the Super Bowl but to win it. The team has been to the playoffs in three of his four seasons as head coach, but the Rams have yet to win an NFL title while playing in Los Angeles. The franchise won its only Super Bowl in 2000 while located in St. Louis.
The Rams defensive front line and cornerbacks are the backbone of the club right now. The line of Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Morgan Fox and Sebastian Joseph-Day is as good as it gets. "I appreciate this defense, every single person in this defense because as men, we stepped up to the challenge, stepped up to the challenge to face anything," said Brockers.
"But for him to feel he gave everything he had, he almost felt like he was hindered a bit with the injury," said Brockers of Donald. "I've got to talk to him and let him know: "That's not on you... You gave us everything you had. You are the reason why we're here..."
The secondary led by Jalen Ramsey also had a great season. Ramsey allowed just 50% of completions when his receiver was targeted. Darious Williams and Troy Hill stepped up their game with numerous impact plays while the Rams allowed only two 100-yard receivers this season. The team's safeties John Johnson and Jordan Fuller performed well. Outside linebacker and edge rusher Leonard Floyd's quarterback sacks inflated that position's numbers.
Offensively, the Rams will take a look at the quarterback position, where Jared Goff completed his fifth season as the team's starter. After taking the team to the Super Bowl two years ago, Goff overall has regressed into the middle of the NFL quarterback pack. One can count the number of quality games he's had in the past two seasons on ten fingers. To his credit, he displayed a lot of guts by beating the Seahawks the week before with a broken thumb and having one of his best games of the season against the Packers. Unfortunately, he was facing Rodgers.
"Was able to do some good things out there but my job is to win the game. There's absolutely no moral victories, especially in the playoffs," said Goff. "It felt good enough to make any throw I needed to make. It's still recent surgery. It's plenty capable of making any throw out there. Does it feel normal? No. But is it capable of making every throw I need to make? Yes."
McVay on Goff's performance: "For him to come back from a thumb surgery, do what he did in Seattle, do what he did yesterday, it's a real credit to him, his competitiveness, his resilience. I think there's a lot of positives from that... I loved the scars that we were able to respond from. There were a lot of ebbs and flows this year but the men in that locker room, I'm very appreciative of."