Coming into the season, the Rams had a major weakness at linebacker. That weakness faced further exasperation with veteran Mark Barron out with a heel injury. Barron is hardly Khalil Mack, but for the Rams he’s at least a veteran body. The Raiders didn’t appear to be the team to exploit the young linebackers, but they definitely made life hard for them. The Raiders rode former Rams tight end Jared Cook to 180 yards. They also utilized Marshawn Lynch very well in the first half before the Skittles wore off.
Cook’s performance shocked fans not just because he made it look so easy but because it was antithetical to his time with the Rams. Derek Carr found Cook early and often, and if not for Derek Carr’s eye liner causing him to throw three picks, it could’ve been worse. The reason Cook found success was because the Rams’ linebackers couldn’t tackle him. What’s worse is that Cook often wore Ram defenders on his way to big gains. At a certain point, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips put corner Aqib Talib on Cook because Talib hits above his weight class.
Fortunately, second year linebackers Samson Ebukam and Cory Littleton looked like future position leaders. Ebukam struggled early and only had four tackles, but as the game wore on he looked more comfortable in coverage. Littleton lead the defense with 13 tackles. He also picked off Carr in the third quarter. Aside from them, the rest of the linebackers struggled to make an impact. Fortunately, once Barron returns they have Ebukam, Barron, Littleton to start, and everyone else can rotate in and earn their spot in Wade Phillips’ 3-4.
The reason Cook found success was because the Rams’ linebackers couldn’t tackle him.
Next week presents another opportunity to get better, as the Rams host a rebuilding Cardinals team. Still, once the schedule gets tougher teams such as the Vikings can burn them with tight ends all day. The run defense should get better as Aaron Donald gets his hold out rust off, but physical backs should be able to get up the middle. Right now, the linebacker position remains a major work in progress. There were enough positive signs on Monday to indicate that it’s only a matter of time before they put it all together.