After Further Review: Saints prove Rams’ defense is far from perfect
The 8-0 Rams were so explosive, so high-scoring, so fun to watch, that it was easy to bring the star power on the defensive side of the ball along for the ride.
Not so much with the 8-1 Rams. What the Saints did to them in the Superdome on Sunday, the 45-35, six-touchdown, 487-yard beatdown that froze football America in its seat … that could not have been fun for anyone who had high expectations for the Rams’ defense. And in retrospect, it’s odd to think that the defensive power moves the Rams made in the offseason were universally considered the final pieces of the puzzle.
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The trade-deadline deal they made had the same effect, for that matter. Dante Fowler added to the lineup — just book them for Atlanta in February, right? Even with the Saints game coming, and the Chiefs game two weeks after that. Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters added to Aaron Donald, coached by Wade Phillips. Who even knew that many names on that high-octane offense, besides Jared Goff and Todd Gurley?
The Saints made too many of their names known Sunday. Particularly Peters, who got beaten like a drum, then got shown up by Michael Thomas’ Joe Horn homage, then got meme’d as soon as the game ended.
Marcus Peters has been getting toasted lately ?#LARvsNO | #LARams pic.twitter.com/vcLOdbmXVw
Drew Brees never got sacked … which meant Donald, who led the NFL with 10 going into this week, had none, and neither did Suh, Michael Brockers or the aforementioned Fowler. The addition from the Jaguars got a less flattering mention, in fact: He’s the blitzer Mark Ingram flipped over his head.
And while the secondary is still missing the injured Talib, they’re missing any semblance of the Peters they thought they’d traded for.
Even in the context of the rising scores, the rules that hinder defenses and help quarterbacks, and the general tone that among the elite the last team with the ball will win — the Rams’ defense looked bad at least as often as the Saints’ offense looked great.
Worse than all, though: It wasn’t just the fact that the Saints are capable of doing this to anybody. The Rams have given up at least 27 points in four of their last six games — including last week at home against the Packers, when they were spared a potential Aaron Rodgers comeback by the infamous Ty Montgomery kick-return fumble.
There’s still time for this marquee defense to get its act together, especially if and when Talib returns. But so far, instead of being the missing pieces, they’ve looked merely like pieces.
Beginning of the end in Baltimore?
It really is an ugly and perplexing stat: Since winning Super Bowl 47 over the 49ers after the 2012 season, the Ravens have gone 44-45 and missed the playoffs four times. That’s the mark after Sunday’s loss at home to the Steelers, their third straight defeat, dropping them to 4-5 and putting another postseason trip in peril.
That game also followed a morning report on NFL Network that coach John Harbaugh’s job might be in jeopardy if Baltimore lost Sunday. This is not a franchise that acts capriciously and fires in midseason — or that often at all. Harbaugh is just the third head coach since the team moved from Cleveland in 1996, and two of those coaches won Super Bowls. Only five current coaches have longer tenure, and four of them (all but, of course, Marvin Lewis) have won Super Bowls, too.
A coaching change, even after the season, would be relatively cataclysmic. Harbaugh did not dismiss the report out of hand, but he also did not give it tremendous credence in the context of his years there.
“I’ve never been someone who’s worried about keeping a job. It’s always been, for me, doing the job,” he said, adding, “I feel real good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we’ve been in the season.”
But when they come back from their bye, the Ravens and Harbaugh have a lot of fixing to do to get themselves back in the playoff mix … and himself a 12th year.
An ‘Anyone But Kaepernick’ update
Colin Kaepernick turned 31 Saturday; it was the second consecutive birthday he has celebrated without a job in the NFL. Now past the midway point of this season, and with his age and the time that’s passed since teams have refused to sign him, the chances only grow that he has played his last NFL game.
All of which the NFL seems perfectly fine living with. On Sunday, the day after Kaepernick’s birthday, these players started at QB in actual regular-season games: Nathan Peterman (Bills, three interceptions, loss to Bears), Brock Osweiler (Dolphins, 139 yards, win over Jets) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (four touchdowns, two interceptions, loss to Panthers). Back on Thursday, the 49ers started Nick Mullens, who had one of the great debut games in NFL history, but who also went undrafted in 2017 and was playing his first NFL game ever.
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Plus, on Kap’s actual birthday, Sam Bradford — given $15 million guaranteed by the Cardinals last offseason while Kaepernick was having conditions put on merely trying out — was cut after playing just three games.
Opportunities are rare. Some who get them make the best of them, and others make the worst of them. NFL teams have simply decided it will never give Kaepernick another one, and they don’t care what anyone thinks about it.
With that in mind: EJ Manuel, former Bills first-round bust who last played for the Raiders in 2017, has some questions of his own.
? #gobills pic.twitter.com/FqeC227R5i
Chargers still can’t kick bad habits
This year’s Chargers had seemingly decided not to live the way they did last year, when they started 0-4, finished 9-7 and fell just short of the playoffs and the AFC West crown. With their win in Seattle, they moved to 6-2.
They haven’t quite abandoned their old ways, though. They lost their first two games last year because of bad field-goal kicking, and they eventually used four kickers throughout the season. This season, Caleb Sturgis started off shaky (four missed extra points three missed field goals in five games), missed a pair of games with an injured quad while his replacement was perfect, then returned Sunday … and missed two extra points and a field goal.
The Seahawks ended the game at the Chargers’ 6-yard line, failing from there to score and get a chance to tie the game and force overtime.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was in no mood to experience a repeat of last season, saying LA needs to “re-evaluate the whole situation.”
The Chargers have one more loss than the first-place Chiefs do; and their only losses are the to Chiefs and Rams. This was their third win by eight points or fewer. In two of them, Sturgis missed at least one kick.
Jets’ Darnold bet is costing them in short term
This is the deal the Jets made for 2018. Their QB options going into training camp were career seat-warmer Josh McCown, a healthy Teddy Bridgewater on the comeback trail and the future of the franchise, Sam Darnold. They went with Darnold as the starter, and this season and Sunday’s loss in Miami are the growing pains.
Coach Todd Bowles got a grace period last year when the Jets gutted the roster. There’s no way he, and they, could have been expected to win this year any more than they were last season. On the other hand, if at 3-6 (with three straight losses) they stay on this course, making a case to keep Bowles, or general manager Mike Maccagnan, or both, would be tough.
The Dolphins were beatable. The Jets’ defense did what it needed to do against Osweiler and the rest … but Darnold and the offense were atrocious. The pick-six he threw in the fourth quarter was the game’s only touchdown.
Many in the Jets fan base, of course, have resumed demanding Bowles’ head, but how he can make Darnold mature faster, especially with what barely passes for offensive weapons, remains a mystery.
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Bowles said this after the game about the season possibly in a downward spiral, and it’s hard to argue it: “It’s not a ‘spiral’ thing. It was a tough loss, we’re gonna go back to the drawing board and fight. Our team’s together, we understand where we are, and we just gotta get back to work tomorrow.”
That’s the opposite of the way the veterans quit on the team two seasons ago. The Jets are far from contention, but all things considered, they’re far better off than the others in the sub-Patriots AFC East division. One slight problem, of course: Their build-up around Darnold in the near future will not include the three future second-round picks they dealt the Colts to move up to get Darnold.
They do have the third-round pick they got for trading Bridgewater to the Saints. The scowls over trading Bridgewater and the improved immediate results for the longer-term payoff of Darnold have resumed with the Jets’ latest skid. Right now, it’s too hard to see the silver lining off in the distance.
The Julio Shutout is over
The Falcons and Julio Jones needed to lose that albatross around their necks, and finally, with 3:45 left in their 38-14 blowout win in Washington, they did it: Jones scored his first touchdown this season, and his first since November of last season.
It wasn’t a red-zone touchdown, which would have exorcised the demons completely, but the Falcons got two touchdowns and a field goal in their three trips to the red zone Sunday. Between that and Jones finally getting into the end zone, the nationally televised disaster of opening night in Philadelphia receded further into the past. And, recall, that game followed the red-zone failures in the playoff loss to the Eagles to end the previous season.
It all hung over their heads all season, even through the wave of injuries and the frustrating losses. Now they’ve bounced back from their 1-4 start with three straight wins. They put up their highest point total of the season (after managing just 12 in the opener), and Julio is off Touchdown Watch.
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