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Rams

Rams’ defense was so befuddled by Lamar Jackson, they couldn’t even find the football

The Rams’ defense could not keep up with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (8).
The Rams’ defense could not keep up with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

In the hours after the Rams’ win over the Chicago Bears this month, Todd Gurley already was looking ahead.

The running back had just produced his best game of the season, carrying his team to its most important victory to date. But in his postgame media scrum, Gurley warned of what — rather who — was on the horizon.

“The best player in the league right now,” Gurley said. “He’s killing it.”

Gurley was referring to Lamar Jackson. And at the Coliseum on Monday night, the MVP front-runner made the Rams his latest victim.

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In the Baltimore Ravens’ 45-6 rout of the Rams, Jackson threw for 169 yards and ran for 95. He had as many touchdown passes as incompletions (five in 20 passes). As he staged his latest stellar start, further solidifying his status as the NFL’s newest superstar, the Rams had no answers.

A defense that had been bordering on dominant for the last month was promptly dismantled.

“We’ve got to go watch the film to figure out exactly what went wrong,” said Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whose arrival five weeks ago coincided with a defensive renaissance. “It’s a lot to watch, obviously. I don’t know really know where to start.”

How about the opening drive?

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Wary of the Ravens’ speedy receivers, the Rams tried to play man coverage. They were pushed around up front, however, and then watched Jackson find rookie receiver Marquise Brown on a pair of crossing routes, including a six-yard touchdown to open the scoring.

On the next possession, the Rams switched to more zone coverage. Jackson adjusted, finding Brown in the end zone on an 18-yard post route, splitting a pair of defenders with a perfect throw that made it 14-0 late in the first quarter.

Occasionally, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips dialed up a blitz, including on a first down early in the second quarter when Jackson dropped the snap. For a moment, the second-year quarterback looked dead to rights, but he scooped the ball, sprung forward and left the defense in his dust. The 29-yard scramble put the Ravens on the one-yard-line, setting up a Mark Ingram touchdown run on the next play.

“The guy is a game-changer,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “That’s speed you don’t see often, if ever. I played against Michael Vick a few times, and obviously, they’re very similar players. When the pocket breaks down, they make something happen.”

In a two-minute drill late in the first half, a composed Jackson carved up the Rams from the pocket on a seven-play, 60-yard drive that was capped with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead.

“It’s tough,” Rams cornerback Troy Hill said. “He’s elusive. He’s a different player back there. When you think about it and look at it, if you do play man and have your back to the ball, then he’s got the ability to take off and run and make you pay that way. When you play zone, he’s throwing the ball and finding the zones. They’re making it easy on him to find the reads.”

Jackson didn’t throw an incompletion until the third quarter. The Ravens’ offense — which also bullied the Rams at the line of scrimmage, leading to a whopping 285 rushing yards and 5.9 per attempt — wasn’t kept out of the end zone until its seventh drive, when Jackson was mercifully removed in favor of backup Robert Griffin III midway through the fourth quarter. The Rams’ defense looked defeated long before then.

“A lot of times, I wouldn’t know for a few seconds after if he handed it or if he still had it,” safety Eric Weddle said of Jackson. “Imagine the whole defense, you’re trying to play your rules, play your guy, and these guys are just coming downhill and doubling and getting extra gaps. You’re trying to figure out what’s going on.”

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The Rams aren’t the first team to be ravaged by the Ravens’ Jackson-led offense, which is leading the league in scoring. But it is the first time since the Rams’ flurry of trades — which included the arrival of Ramsey — that they have been so thoroughly overmatched.

Entering Monday, the Rams hadn’t allowed more than 17 points in their previous four games, keying a 3-1 streak that lifted them to the cusp of playoff contention. Now 6-5, they sit two games behind the Minnesota Vikings for the second NFC wild-card spot.

“It’s obviously about the next game, but at this point in the season, with five games left, you’d be a fool not to look at it and see the big picture here,” Matthews said. “We’ve got to start winning now.”

To do that, their defense will need to recover and ensure Monday’s disaster doesn’t completely derail their season.

“What you can’t do,” coach Sean McVay said, “is you can’t allow the Ravens to beat us twice.”


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