By Cedric Williams
When the 2017 NFL schedule was released last spring, no one would’ve thought the Week 6 matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars would be a big game between two teams battling for first place in their respective divisions.
But that’s exactly what happened on Sunday when the Rams traveled across the country to take on the Jaguars. Both teams had 3-2 records, which for LA, meant it was tied for first place in the NFC West. Jacksonville—to the surprise of just about everyone—came into Sunday’s matchup with sole possession of first in the AFC South.
Sunday’s contest at EverBank Stadium really was a showdown between two first place teams, but only one of those teams played like it—and that was the Rams. LA turned big plays on defense and special teams into a convincing 27-17 victory, which is why we’ve got high marks all around for the now 4-2 Rams.
The numbers weren’t great for the offense, especially in the passing game, where QB Jared Goff completed just 11 passes for 124 yards on Sunday. But he did throw a touchdown and he didn’t throw any interceptions, which allowed the Rams to take and keep control of the game.
Once LA got control, they turned everything over to RB Todd Gurley, who powered his way to 116 rushing yards on 23 carries (a 5.0 yards per carry average). Sunday was a day where LA didn’t need its offense to be special. They just needed it not to mess anything up, and the Rams offense obliged to help preserve the victory.
Both teams made huge plays in the first quarter that helped the clubs grab and relinquish the lead. But once the Rams took the lead for good late in that first quarter, the defense held Jacksonville to a measly three points over the final three quarters.
Jacksonville finished the day with 389 total yards and 19 first downs, but the Rams forced a key turnover early in the fourth quarter, just as the Jaguars were getting close to LA’s red zone with a chance to possibly tie the game at 24.
Jacksonville’s standout rookie RB Leonard Fournette finished the day with 130 yards on 21 carries. But he got 75 of those on his first carry of the day—a brilliant touchdown run on Jacksonville’s first play from scrimmage.
After that play, the Rams held Fournette to just 55 yards on his remaining 20 carries, which forced the Jags to rely on their often shaky QB Blake Bortles to try to win the game. He couldn’t do it, and that’s why the Rams walked away from Sunday’s game with their fourth win of the season.
Special Teams: A+
You’d be hard pressed to find a better day from any team’s special teams than what the Rams delivered on Sunday. WR/KR Pharoah Cooper began the day with a spectacular 103-yard return on the opening kickoff, which gave LA its first lead.
Then after Jacksonville battled back to make the game close, the Rams blocked a punt just before halftime, which was returned for a touchdown by Malcolm Brown, to give LA its biggest lead of the day.
And just for good measure, K Greg Zuerlein banged home all five of his kicks (two FGs and three PATs) to make sure there would be no room for any type of Jacksonville comeback. LA’s special teams were truly that on Sunday.
Most football fans would probably say using the ‘we didn’t mess it up’ plan is not usually how they want to measure how good or bad their team played on any particular day. But Sunday’s game did turn out to be a contest where the team that made the fewest mistakes (and capitalized best on its opponents’ mistakes) was going to win.
That seemed clear almost from the outset and the Rams coaches seemed to recognize that early on as well. So instead of trying to prove themselves as the league’s best and hottest new coaching staff, the Rams decided to just do what they needed to win Sunday’s game.
Up Next: Huge plays on special teams and great in-game adjustments (especially on defense) proved to be the key. Now the Rams are heading into a key divisional matchup against the Arizona Cardinals next week as the lone holders of first place in the NFC West. After so many bleak seasons in a row, and almost as many predictions for more of the same this year, that ranking has to feel good.