The Baltimore Ravens ran all over and sliced up the Rams. So did the Dallas Cowboys.
Throw in a 55-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and half of the Rams’ six losses this season came in games in which they surrendered 44 points or more.
Inconsistent defense is just one reason why the Rams, less than a year removed from playing in the Super Bowl, will be playing for their playoff lives on Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. To avoid missing the postseason for the first time in coach Sean McVay’s tenure, the Rams (8-6) must defeat the 49ers (11-3) and the Arizona Cardinals — and the Minnesota Vikings (10-4) must lose home games against the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
“We’ve been inconsistent overall,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Wednesday. “We’ve had a couple clunkers, and if I knew the reason, we wouldn’t do it.
“But, we have fought back every time.”
The Rams rebounded from their 45-6 defeat by the Ravens with victories over the Bears and the Seattle Seahawks.
But in last Sunday’s 44-21 loss to the Cowboys, the Rams missed multiple tackles, gave up big plays and allowed running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to each rush for more than 100 yards.
“To have that game happen at that point of the season is not a clunker,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s embarrassing the way we played in all three phases.
“That should never happen.”
If the Rams repeat their poor performance against the 49ers their season essentially will be over.
“Those are outliers,” McVay said of the defense’s performances against the Ravens and the Cowboys. “You want to be consistent week in and week out, but I am confident that we are a very good defense.”
Phillips, 72, has been coaching in the NFL since 1976. He directed a defense that helped the Denver Broncos reach Super Bowl XXIV at the end of the 1989 season, and in another stint with the team helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50 to cap the 2015 season. Last season, he helped guide the Rams to Super Bowl LIII.
After the season, the Rams released linebacker Mark Barron and let lineman Ndamukong Suh become a free agent. Then they signed Weddle and veteran linebacker Clay Matthews.
In October, they traded cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib in separate deals, and traded for cornerback Jalen Ramsey in another.
The defense has played well during stretches and has been dominant on occasion. Lineman Aaron Donald, the two-time defensive player of the year, and Ramsey were voted to the Pro Bowl. (Peters, now with the Ravens, also was voted to the Pro Bowl).
So was there a specific reason for the Rams’ lack of defensive consistency this season?
“Like I said, if I knew, I’d change it — or I’d change something going into it,” Phillips said of the run-up to the game against the Cowboys. “We practiced well, we thought we were going to play well, and we didn’t. We thought we were going to coach well, and we didn’t.
“That one’s gone — we’ve got to go to the next one.”
The 49ers, under third-year coach Kyle Shanahan are making a bid to win the NFC West title the Rams won the last two seasons, and possibly earn the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs. The 49ers rank sixth in the league in offense, averaging 383.2 yards per game, and second in rushing (147 yards per game) and scoring (29.9 points per game).
To defeat the 49ers and remain in the playoff hunt, the Rams need good performances from offense, defense and special teams, Weddle said.
“We’ve played really well in games and we haven’t in other games,” Weddle said of the defense. “The games that we haven’t played [well], we haven’t played good as a team.
“And there are times where we needed to get picked up – one side of the ball needs to pick the other side up. It just so happens this year, when we haven’t played our best, we’ve struggled.”
Quarterback Jared Goff, who suffered a right thumb bruise against the Cowboys, was a full participant in practice and showed no signs of discomfort during the portion open to reporters. Tight end Gerald Everett (knee), who sat out the last three games, was a full participant. Cornerback Troy Hill (thumb) and kicker Greg Zuerlein (thigh) did not practice. ... Edge rusher Dante Fowler said he was absent from voluntary offseason workouts last spring in part because he was busy attending to a grievance the NFL Players Assn. filed on his behalf for $700,000 in fines the Jacksonville Jaguars levied against him in 2018 for missing offseason appointments with a team trainer or physician. An arbitrator affirmed that the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement does not allow teams to require rehabilitation or medical appointments be held at team facilities during the offseason. “I’m just glad he was able to look into it and see where I was coming from and was able to let me get everything back and stuff,” Fowler said. “So I really appreciate him and the NFLPA for helping me out.”