The playoff hopes for the Los Angeles Rams came crashing down around them Dec. 15 like so many missed tackles and errant passes from Jared Goff.
The Rams needed to win the rest of their games and hope someone knocked off Minnesota once in the last three games to clinch a wild card berth. With the Chargers hosting the Vikings in Carson, the Rams thought they might get some help from the team they will share a stadium with next year, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Vikings annihilated the Chargers, 39-10, and the Cowboys, with a 6-7 record going in, defeated the Rams, 44-21.
It was the third time the Rams have allowed 40 or more points this season. When they have a bad defensive game, it’s usually because the offense is having a bad game.
In all three losses — 54-40 to Tampa Bay Sept. 29, 45-6 against Baltimore Nov. 25 were the others — the offense could not establish a running game and Goff threw crucial interceptions.
In the three games, Goff was intercepted six times. On the year, he has 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, a lousy ratio for a player in his fourth season.
But the Rams inability to get their running game going is the perplexing thing abiout a perplexing season. In those three losses, the Rams gained 28, 22 and 22 yards rushing.
Running back Todd Gurley used to have runs that long each game.
When the Rams don’t move the ball on the ground, it has a negative effect on Goff and the passing game. The play action fake to freeze rushing linemen doesn’t work and Goff, like every other quarterback in the NFL is not a good passer when he is being hit nearly every time he drops back to throw.
And while the Rams couldn’t get their running game going, the Cowboys ran inside outside and through the Rams defense. All-pro running back Ezekiel Elliott gained 117 yards in 24 carries, a 4.9 yards per carry clip.
But the Cowboys were better when Elliott was on the sideline. His backup, Tony Pollard, gained 131 yards on only 12 carries, averaging 10.9 yards every time he carried the ball.
The Rams inability to move the ball on the ground can be traced to the offensive line, which isn’t as good as it was last year. Part of it is continuity,
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is the only player to start every week on the line. Center Austin Blythe has started 13 games, but guard Dave Edwards has started only eight of the 14 games this year and the other guard, Austin Corbett, has started five of the eight games he has played in.
Right tackle Bobby Evans also has started five times.
Injuries are a factor, but the Rams aren’t as deep up front as they were last year and that has hurt them.
It’s a situation general manager Les Snead will have to address in the offseason.
The Rams play the 49ers Saturday night in a game that is meaningful only to the 49ers, who fell out of first place in the NFC West last week with a last-second loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The division will probably be decided the last week of the season when the 49ers battle the Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams, unfortunately, will be watching the playoffs on television this year.
SIX DAYS AWAY: Los Angeles basketball fans are anxiously awaiting the Christmas night game between the Lakers and Clippers at Staples Center.
ABC will televise the game across the nation, starting at 5 p.m. It will be the first time the Lakers dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis face the Clippers duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
George didn’t play in the season opener, won by the Clippers 112-102. Since then, the Lakers have gone 24-3 and are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks at 24-4 for the best record in the league.
The Lakers face the Bucks Dec. 19 in another nationally televised game on TNT, but the game everyone wants to see is the Lakers and the Clippers. At 21-8, the Clippers are just behind the Lakers in the Western Conference standings.
Leonard and George have been everything Doc Rivers was hoping for, and the Clippers have a deep, balanced team that can outscore you or beat you up defensively.
And when Leonard and George aren’t beating opponents, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are coming off the bench to light up opposing defenses.
Davis and James have meshed well together for the Lakers, but the team lacks a third regular contributor offensively.
Kyle Kuzma was supposed to fill that role but he has been bothered by nagging injuries this year and hasn’t found a rhythm when he has been on the court. Dwight Howard has been a pleasant surprise at center, teaming up with JaVale McGee to give the Lakers a tandem that can protect the rim defensively, rebound the ball and score points down low.
The Clippers and Lakers have never had a real rivalry because, over their history in Los Angeles, one team has always been a lot better than the other. For years, the Lakers dominated the games between the two teams, but the Clippers have been the dominant team the last several years
It will probably take a playoff series to make this a full-blown rivalry and that is something we could see five months from now.