An opening weekend of excessive turnovers, exciting finishes, difficult injuries and controversial clock management should do nothing to damage one over-arching storyline. The defending champion Los Angeles Rams were really awful.
The 31-10 opening-night loss to the Buffalo Bills was so bad that I’m left to wonder if this team is destined for a putrid season. While all analysis at this time of the year should come with the “it’s only one game” caveat and a patented Aaron Rodgers “R-E-L-A-X” chill pill, there was a level of stinkatude to the Rams that lingers in my nose.
I’m not talking about the usual psychobabble you hear this time of year about a team “being flat” or not being “up” for a game. The Rams were bad in an all-encompassing fashion that spoke to physical performance. To wit:
The seven sacks allowed are worse than you think
It’s not outlandish to see teams give up seven sacks in games where they lose by three touchdowns. But most of those sacks came when the game was still in doubt. Six came in the first three quarters, when the Bills had no more than a seven-point lead. Four of those first six came on a pair of first-and-10 situations, a second-and-4 and a second-and-6. Those are all situations where the running game should have slowed the pass rush. The fact is, Buffalo had zero respect for the Rams running game. But that’s because …
The Los Angeles Rams running game was putrid
The first five runs by the Rams produced a total of six yards. The first seven produced 13. Yes, the Los Angeles offensive line is in transition right now, particularly after the retirement of left tackle Andrew Whitworth. However, Darrell Henderson Jr. is simply not a quality starter and Cam Akers may be the second-coming of Todd Gurley, sans the great early years. Gurley’s career plummeted after an injury cost him his explosiveness. Akers doesn’t look explosive anymore. In 75 carries since returning from an Achilles injury last year, Akers has 175 yards. That’s 2.33 yards per carry. The Rams thought they had a huge steal in the 2020 draft with Akers. Sadly, injuries may have stolen his ability.
Speaking of guys who disappeared, I should mention …
Wide receiver Allen Robinson was supposed to be the perfect answer to losing Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. He averaged 100 catches in his past two full seasons and the escape from Chicago was supposed to provide him with a better quarterback and offense in which to flourish. Robinson had only one catch and one pass thrown to him last Thursday, perhaps proving that coach Matt Nagy might not have been as bad as we think.
The Los Angeles Rams were dominated more than any team in the league in the opening week
This is not just about the scoreboard, which could have been way worse if not for the two interceptions Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen threw in the first half. The Rams averaged only 4.11 yards per play offensively in Week 1. Only Dallas (4.07) and Chicago (3.78) were worse and those teams have big reasons for that. On the flipside, Buffalo averaged a league-high 7.46 yards per play against the Rams defense. That was the highest average in the league in Week 1. Sure, the Bills offense is good, but the Rams have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. What’s up with that?
Finally, the 3.35-yard differential between what the Rams and Bills averaged is gigantic. Half of the 16 games in the opening week featured a differential of less than 1.0 yards. In other words, this game was a lot closer to being a 49-7 Bills blowout than a remotely competitive game, which is shocking based on the following history.
Defending champions playing at home on Thursday night usually dominate
The NFL started playing the Thursday night opener in 2002 and quickly started featuring the defending Super Bowl champion. Coming into the Bills-Rams opener, defending champions playing at home on Thursday night in the opener were 12-2. The only two losses were competitive games between Dallas and the New York Giants in 2012 and Kansas City and New England in 2017. Normally, the Thursday night opener is the closest environment the NFL has to a college home game. In fact, the advantage is so pronounced that Denver beat Carolina in 2016 even after Peyton Manning retired and was replaced by Trevor Siemian.
Put it all together and this wasn’t just a bad game that could easily be explained away. Maybe it’s an outlier that will shock the Los Angeles Rams back into playing well. After all, Rams coach Sean McVay has yet to have a losing season in his first five years and is 55-27 in the regular season (62-30, including the playoffs). There’s a very good chance that this game will be a blip on the radar by the time it’s all over.
For now, however, it’s a massive blip that could be a warning of incoming problems.