Turnover Battle Haunts Rams in Loss

Posted Nov 18, 2012

After perhaps their most spirited performance in a tie against San Francisco, the Rams had an energetic, enthusiastic week of practice leading into Sunday’s game against the Jets.

The Rams felt confident, like things were moving in the right direction in all phases and like they might just be on the verge of a breakout. What they got instead was a disappointing, turnover-prone 27-13 loss in which not much of anything went right, according to coach Jeff Fisher.

“We got outplayed today,” Fisher said. “We got outcoached today. Anytime you turn the ball over – I don’t care who you play in the National Football League – three times, you have a hard time if you don’t get the ball back yourself and to overcome those things and basically that was it.”

The loss drops the Rams to 3-6-1 on the year and makes hope of landing a postseason bid that much more difficult while the Jets move to 4-6 with the win.

Of course, figuring out what went wrong in Sunday’s loss might be as simple as saying just about everything but the reality is that the answer is a bit more cliché and slightly more nuanced than all of that.

In the NFL, it’s a well-known fact that winning the turnover battle goes a long way in determining a game’s outcome. You hear it repeated over and over again, almost ad nausea but that’s because of the very simple fact that it really is one of the most important keys to every game.

On Sunday, the Rams lost the turnover battle in decided fashion and it was no coincidence that the scoreboard reflected as much.

“They forced turnovers, we didn’t,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “That’s the tale of the ball game.”

The offense turned it over three times with quarterback Sam Bradford throwing an interception early in the second quarter, coughing up a fumble when he was sacked by Jets end Muhammad Wilkerson and running back Daryl Richardson losing a fumble late in the game.

The Rams escaped trouble following Bradford’s interception when Janoris Jenkins blocked a 26-yard field goal. They weren’t as lucky on the other two, however.

After Jets linebacker Bart Scott scooped up Bradford’s fumble and returned it to the Rams 28, New York claimed the lead and never looked back on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Chaz Schillens.

Richardson’s fumble came early in the fourth quarter with the Rams trailing 20-7 and attempting to get back in it. Seven plays later, Jets running back Bilal Powell scored his second touchdown, this time from 11 yards out to make it 27-7 and essentially the Rams’ hopes of a comeback.

“I know it’s really hard to win a game when you have minus-three turnovers,” running back Steven Jackson said. “It’s just really hard to overcome that and we’ve got to help our defense out, we’ve got to help our special teams out. We have to score on offense and we’ve all got to lean on each other.”

For the most part, turning the ball over hasn’t been much of a recurring problem for the Rams this season. The defense, however, is a bit of a different story.

After a hot start in which the Rams defense came up with nine takeaways in the first five games, the Rams have been on a five-game drought without a single takeaway. No interceptions, no fumble recoveries, nothing.

Even though it’s been a point of emphasis in practice with extra efforts to knock the ball loose and have everyone run to recover it on every repetition, it still hasn’t quite translated to games yet.

On Sunday, the Rams actually knocked a couple of balls loose much like they did last week against the Niners. But once again, they were unable to come up with the ball.

“It’s completely frustrating,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “I think we forced one or two (fumbles) but we have got to get to the ball. That’s something we have been stressing in practice for the last couple of weeks, stressing forcing turnovers but obviously we are not running to the ball when we are forcing (fumbles). So that’s something we need to police ourselves as a defense: when that ball is on the ground in practice, go get it, all 11 men go get it.”

Despite the turnover differential, the Rams seemed poised to find a way to win the game or keep it closer on multiple occasions. None of those opportunities was more golden than the 98-yard kick return for a touchdown by receiver Chris Givens that was called back for holding on safety Rodney McLeod.

The touchdown would have given the Rams a 14-13 lead near the end of the first half with a possession awaiting when they came out of the locker room. Instead, the questionable flag came out and the play came back. 

“I thought I had my hands inside,” McLeod said. “I thought I made a great block to set Chris Givens free but the ref thought otherwise. That was just a big play in the game that we didn’t get.”

That play could have served as a spark for the Rams offense, which was in desperate need of one after a hot start.

For the third game in a row, the offense scored on its opening possession as Bradford hit Brandon Gibson on fourth-and-goal from the 1 for an early 7-0 lead. That marked the first time the Rams have scored on their opening possession in three straight games since 2002.

Unlike San Francisco, where that opening drive meant an offensive outburst, this one signaled a long offensive drought more similar to what happened against New England.

The offense finished with just 281 yards of total offense, scoring only once more as Bradford hit Gibson for a 2-yard score for the final margin.

“It’s pretty tough after that opening drive,” Bradford said. “I thought we came out, we executed, and we did a lot of things well that first drive. Kept ourselves in third and manageable, which is what we wanted to do. We had a few big third down conversions then scored on fourth down, which is huge. Then after that it seems like we lost all rhythm that we might‘ve had. If you don’t have rhythm it’s tough to get things going.”

The defense did its best to keep the Rams in the game, allowing the Jets to gain just 289 yards of total offense but once again it was the lack of a big play by the defense that ultimately stood out in their minds.

“We need to do that,” end Chris Long said. “It’s been too long since we’ve created turnovers. We’ve got to do our part. If the offense is struggling a little bit, you have to be able to try to negate that advantage for the other team. We didn’t do that today. We were close on a couple of plays, but it just didn’t happen.”