The Los Angeles Rams Rams opened up what they hope is a Super Bowl season, with a 33-13 interconference win over the Oakland Raiders. The scoreboard shows a dominating win, but Los Angeles looked like anything but in the first half of the game. It was not supposed to be a contest because of the significant gap in talent between the two rosters, but the Raiders played them close during the first 30 minutes.
Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff finished the game completing 18 of his 33 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns, but he went 4-10 with 60 passing yards in the first half. In addition, running back Todd Gurley rushed for just 19 yards in the first two quarters, and that was because he received just only five touches to open the game. One of them was a 19-yard touchdown reception, but he totaled just 38 total yards heading into halftime.
And on the other side, Oakland’s offense was able to move the ball on the Rams’ defense quite comfortably, headlined by a 75-yard game-opening touchdown drive that was capped off by a vintage “Beast Mode” run by Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders scored 13 points in the first half, but it could have easily been 16, or even 20, if not for an end zone interception of Derek Carr by cornerback John Johnson near the end of the second quarter.
Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh did not create much pressure on Carr, so he was given time to find his tight end Jared Cook who ate up the Rams for 180 receiving yards and showed that the linebacking corps is the closest thing Los Angeles has to a weakness and that they could stand to improve there.
But Los Angeles picked it up in the second half as the talent gap finally showed. They controlled the ball for 20 minutes, compiled 267 total offensive yards, and score 23 points, while the Raiders had the ball for ten minutes, totaled 141 yards, and was shutout.
Defensive coordinator Wade Philips let the Raiders continue to feed Jared Cook, instead opting to take out Raiders’ receivers out of the equation, and that is what happened, as Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson were rendered ineffective. Peters and Talib shut down whoever they were covering, and the defense picked off Carr twice more, including a pick-six by Peters to ice the game.
And on offense, Jared Goff grew into the game and became more comfortable as the time went on and he had all night to throw because the Raiders could not initiate any sort of pass rush. Every time he dropped back, Goff had time to read a book, call home, and order takeout before even thinking about throwing it. And their new head coach Jon Gruden pointed that out, which is ironic considering they traded away Khalil Mack last week.
Goff totaled 173 passing yards and a touchdown while completing 61% of his passes in the third and fourth quarters. This included a near-perfect third quarter, going 6-8 on throws for 101 yards, a touchdown, and five first downs. And the offense finally began to utilize their superstar running back more, feeding him 16 handoffs for 89 yards and two receptions for 20 yards. Gurley finished with 147 total yards (108 rush on 5.4 yards-per-carry) and a score.
One thing to keep in mind is that the team did not play their most significant starters during the preseason, so they were extremely rusty to start the game. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters hardly played during August’s exhibition games. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley sat out of the entire preseason. And Aaron Donald’s holdout meant he did not even have a proper training camp, appearing in just six practices before Monday’s game.
The first half was merely their preseason. And Jared Goff was not shy to point out the rust factor when speaking postgame with ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry.
“I think just any first-time games at the beginning of the year, you’re dealing with some of that,” quarterback Jared Goff said of the rust. “You saw it around the league, and it’s no different for us. Just the first drive or two you can kind of get those jitters out and move on.”
Star cornerback Marcus Peters echoed a similar sentiment.
“That’s just the first game jitters man,” cornerback Peters said after the game. “You know how things go.”
Quite frankly, it was less about the Raiders playing better than expected and Jon Gruden outcoaching Sean McVay than it was the Rams warming up. The first half is a small sample size, and as time goes on, talent will eventually show out, and you will regress to the mean, and that is what happened. 23-0 in favor of the Rams is the more accurate depiction of the teams than the 13-10 advantage the Raiders held.
And McVay’s playbook was just starting to open up. There are a lot of new wrinkles in the offensive schemes that will slowly get ironed out, including the deep throws from Jared Goff to Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, which Goff failed to connect on all game. But after another week or two, you can expect the Rams to be running at full speed, and same with the defense. They have elite ‘A’ talent on that side of the ball, and once Suh, Donald, Peters, and the other stars start to get into game shape, look out.