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Five Takeaways: Rams Defeat Jaguars 27-17

Posted Oct 16, 2017

From two special teams touchdowns, to defensive adjustments, to the offense's challenges in moving the ball, Rams insider shares his five takeaways from Sunday's win.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — After Sunday’s 27-17 victory over the Jaguars, the Rams are 4-2 for the first time since 2006 and 3-0 on the road for the first time since 2001. Though the club’s offense had trouble putting up points, special teams contributed two touchdowns, providing what head coach Sean McVay called the difference in the game.

Here are five takeaways from the win.

1) Special teams are special

The Rams’ special teams unit has been one of the club’s strengths since coordinator John Fassel arrived in 2012, but Sunday marked a particularly strong performance. For the first time in franchise history, the Rams scored a touchdown on a kickoff return and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the same game.

“It’s huge,” McVay said of the two special teams touchdowns. “It ended up winning the game for us today.”

Kicker Greg Zuerlein also connected on a 56-yard field goal — his longest of the season so far. He continues to have an outstanding year so far in 2017, as he leads the league with 17 field goals.

By scoring two non-offensive touchdowns, the Rams built an advantage that was too much for the Jaguars to overcome.

“[I]t’s very difficult in the NFL — when you give up that many points on [special] teams — it’s very difficult to win the game,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “So I thought were trying to battle our way back in there, but obviously that hurt. We weren’t able to overcome that, which is difficult to do in this league.”

Through six games, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper leads the league in kickoff returns (15), return yards (476), and return average (31.7 yards). He also has the longest kick return in the league this year (103 yards) and its only touchdown return.

2) Defense tightens up

Running back Leonard Fournette rushed for a 75-yard touchdown on the Jaguars’ first play from scrimmage. Jacksonville had a four-play, 75-yard drive result in a touchdown midway through the first quarter.

But after that? The Rams’ defense surrendered only three points — and that was off a sudden change where the offense fumbled.

“We can’t take away that first play, but we played a lot better after that play,” said outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who recorded his third sack of the season on Sunday. “We knew their offense was going to try and run the ball with Fournette and that’s what we focused on all week.”

In the Rams’ last three games, the defense has allowed just 15 second-half points combined to the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Jaguars — six against Dallas, six against Seattle, and three to Jacksonville. It’s a sign that things are beginning to come together well for the unit.

“We are encouraged to get the win today and there’s still a lot of things we want to do better and get fixed,” Barwin said. “But it’s encouraging that we seem to be playing better every week and that’s the most important thing.”

3) Robey-Coleman makes a big play in a big moment

Down 24-17, Jacksonville had an opportunity to draw closer with a drive that made it well into Los Angeles territory early in the fourth quarter. But cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman put a stop to it with his second interception of the season.

On 3rd-and-13 from the Los Angeles 31, Jags quarterback Blake Bortles fired a pass to his right for tight end Marcedes Lewis. But the ball was just outside of Lewis’ reach, as he tipped the ball off his hands. Robey-Coleman was in the right place at the right time to end Jacksonville’s scoring threat.

“I had vision on the quarterback and Marcedes Lewis came underneath. When Blake threw it, I just broke on the ball,” Robey-Coleman said. “I thought Marcedes was going to catch it.  He tipped the ball and it just landed in my hands.”

With the pick, Robey-Coleman has tied his career high for interceptions in a single season. The former Buffalo corner set the mark last year, coincidentally, with two interceptions against the Rams in October.

4) Gurley reaches 110 again

Running back Todd Gurley was in a familiar setting at EverBank Field — the site of the annual Florida-Georgia matchup. Gurley improved his personal record to 3-1 in the facility with the Rams’ win, and did it with a lot of tough yards.

Gurley finished with 116 yards on 23 carries — good for an average of 5.0 yards. His longest run of the day was 14 yards, which means he was able to get plenty of gash runs to help keep L.A. ahead of the chains.

Six of Gurley’s first-down carries went for six to eight yards — a fact that illustrates his effectiveness and how well the offensive line was blocking.

“You definitely have to earn everything, especially the 3rd-and-1s,” Gurley said of facing the Jaguars. “Those big boys up front, the receivers, and tight ends — everybody — has been able to do their jobs. We have been able to go out and execute.”

Gurley has now reached at least 110 yards rushing in three of the Rams’ last four games. He had 113 against San Francisco and 121 against Dallas before reaching 116 on Sunday.

5) Offense sputters, but was effective on final drive

Los Angeles’ pass game had a tough time getting going on Sunday, as quarterback Jared Goff finished just 11-of-21 passing with 124 yards and a touchdown. The signal-caller was under heavy pressure for much of the contest, as he was sacked three times and the Jaguars registered five quarterback hits.

“I missed a couple. I think I missed Sammy [Watkins] down the field there and Tyler [Higbee] on the one down the sideline,” Goff said. “I think I made a couple bad decisions there and made a couple bad throws. For the most part, I was happy I didn’t turn the ball over. I think against a good defense like that and a team that you know they are waiting for you to do that if anything.”

The numbers were noticeably down across the board, as L.A. ended the contest with 249 total yards, 12 first downs, and 4-of-31 in third-down efficiency. Two of those third-down conversions came on the Rams’ five-minute drive midway through the fourth quarter, which took 5:08 off the clock and induced Jacksonville to call all three of its timeouts.

McVay said that if L.A. could put a drive together like that toward the end of the game, the team felt it would be in good shape. And that’s exactly how it turned out.

“To [the offense’s] credit, they made the plays when they had to, and churned some clock off,” McVay said.

There’s plenty to correct from an offensive standpoint — McVay said, bluntly, “Offensively, it was not good enough” — but the Rams were still able to get a 10-point victory on Sunday.

“There was a lot of plays that we’d like to have back offensively. I do not want to get away from giving credit to Jacksonville for forcing us into not being able to make those,” McVay said. “There were some situations that we’ll look at. We think that we can get better. We can create some of those explosives that you see us doing earlier on in the year.”