By Nick Shook
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A fireworks-filled first half ground to a second-half slog in Jacksonville, with both teams combining to score just six points in the final two quarters of the Los Angeles Rams‘ 27-17 win over the Jaguars. Find out what we learned from Los Angeles’ emphatic road victory over Jacksonville and its ferocious defense:
1. The Rams are 4-2. The Rams are 4-2!! Who’d have thought, at the end of 2016’s miserable campaign, that we’d be stating this fact after six weeks? Los Angeles has found a way to combine a run-first offense on the back of Todd Gurley, branch out from there in an offense that is much more comfortable for second-year passer Jared Goff, and rely on its defense to do the rest. We got an extra wrinkle that proved to be a huge point in the game when the Rams‘ punt return unit pinched and overloaded a gap, with Cory Littleton breaking through for a textbook punt block recovered by Malcolm Brown, who was surrounded by a mob of Rams and pulled into the end zone for a touchdown. It brought a new meaning to the Mob Squad slogan the Rams have been riding for the last few years.
2. The Jaguars (3-3) have taken the Jekyll and Hyde approach early in the season, but make no mistake — this is a statement win for the Rams. Los Angeles got off to the quickest start possible, with Pharoh Cooper taking the opening kick 103 yards for a touchdown, and then had to weather an immediate response — Leonard Fournette‘s 75-yard sprint to pay dirt — 11 seconds later. The Rams did just that, riding Gurley (23 attempts, 116 yards rushing) and heady play from Jared Goff (11-of-21 passing, 124 yards, one touchdown) to a 24-14 lead into halftime and holding onto it with a vice grip in a grind-it-out second half. In an uninviting environment (with a questionable playing field) against a tenacious Jaguars defense, the Rams exited unscathed and with their fourth victory in six games. Quite a start for Sean McVay.
3. A game that was bursting with points screeched to a halt in the second half, thanks to halftime adjustments made by two of the league’s stronger defenses and a flurry of turnovers. Calais Campbell was again the star of Jacksonville’s unit, with his second sack forcing Los Angeles into a third-and-long that essentially stopped cold a promising drive after a Jason Myersfield goal cut the Rams‘ lead to seven. Not to be outdone, L.A. defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman picked off Blake Bortles on the ensuing possession, extending the stalemate deep into the fourth. Prior to that exchange of turnovers, Jaguarslinebacker Telvin Smith, in the midst of a breakout season, made a spectacular play when he forced Robert Woods to fumble. That turnover led to the Myers field goal. Even in the loss, Jacksonville has to be encouraged by the opportunistic play of its defense, which kept the Jaguars within striking range.
4. Speaking of defense, credit is due to the Rams‘ unit, which was gashed by Fournette on the 75-yard touchdown run but held him to just 55 yards on his other 20 attempts for a miniscule average of 2.75 yards per carry. Jacksonville’s formula isn’t complicated for opponents to neutralize, as long as those teams have the personnel capable of shutting down the running game. Los Angeles has it, was able to contain Fournette (though Chris Ivory found success in the short passing game, including on a screen pass for a touchdown) and also harassed Blake Bortles, sacking him five times. That method will work against most teams.
5. The tale of two halves ended up sinking the Jaguars, who were within 10 with two minutes left, but with Bortles under center it was as good as over. For a Jacksonville team that is ready to compete at every position except quarterback, this is easily projectable to be their downfall when things get close in the future. The Jaguars‘ formula works against teams that struggle against the run, but in order for them to win, they need leads late. It’s too much to expect Bortles to throw the team to a win, especially under pressure.