1. Matthew Stafford Everything We Imagined
Three plays. That’s how long it took for Matthew Stafford to throw his first touchdown pass as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. The offense ran a play action boot that had Stafford rolling left. With solid protection, Van Jefferson broke free on the back side and Stafford hit him in stride.
“You know, just a play action on the first one to Van (Jefferson),” said Stafford. “He did a great job of getting behind the defense. Our guys up front did a great job on that one. I had all day. And I was able to shoot that one down to the field to him.”
Stafford finished the day with a stat line of 20/26 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Maybe more importantly, he threw zero interceptions. Stafford is the first player in NFL history to win his team debut while passing for 300 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
2. Coaching Staff Doing a Great Job in Preparation
The Los Angeles Rams improved to 5-0 under Sean McVay in Week 1. That speaks to his ability, and the coaching staff’s ability to prepare their players. What’s more impressive is that while Tony Dungy and the Sunday Night Football crew were talking about the importance of playing starters in the preseason, the Rams don’t play their starters in the preseason.
Additionally, some thought that it might take a few games for the Rams offense to get rolling. While the offense certainly isn’t firing on all cylinders, they did put up an impressive 34 points. Again, that speaks to how well this coaching staff prepares its players and puts them in a position to succeed.
3. Creating Explosive Plays Through the Air
Did the Rams maybe get a little lucky here? It’s possible. Cooper Kupp came open on a broken coverage to open up the second half to score. However, in one week, Matthew Stafford completed more 50 yard throws that Jared Goff did all last season.
Stafford consistently pushed the ball down the field. On balls that traveled 10 or more yards through the air, Stafford was 7/8 with three touchdowns. Last season against the Bears, Goff was 3/7 with zero touchdowns.
The Rams lacked explosive plays in the air last season. What’s interesting is that Sunday’s big plays didn’t even come from DeSean Jackson and TuTu Atwell who are the speed threats on the roster.
4. Offensive Line Pass Protected Well
There were a lot of question marks surrounding the offensive line this offseason. That was especially the case after the team opted to move Brian Allen back at center and start the 2018 draft pick who hadn’t played in over a year. However, the offensive line rose to the occasion.
“I was really pleased with the offensive line as well,” said McVay. “To go against that defense, those guys, that personnel, when you’re talking about Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn. I got a ton of respect for Akiem Hicks. And so for those guys, to come away with just that one sack when we were backed up is a real credit to them and I was very pleased with them as a whole.”
The offensive line gave up just one sack and it can be argued that Stafford held on to the ball too long on that play. Outside of that, Stafford had all day to throw which bodes well for the Rams offense.
5. Jalen Ramsey Dominant as Usual
Throughout the offseason, Bears fans and Darnell Mooney showed one clip in which the Bears wide receiver beat Ramsey. It’s hard to imagine that the play didn’t run on a loop in Ramsey’s mind this offseason. The leading wide receiver for the Bears was Marquise Goodwin.
Allen Robinson had six receptions for 35 yards and Mooney had five receptions for 26 yards. To say that the Rams shut down the duo would be a giant understatement. Ramsey solidified himself as the best cornerback in football and Mooney learned you don’t give Ramsey a reason to show up to play.
6. Defense Needs to Tighten Up
While Ramsey played well, the rest of the defense needs tightening up as we get closer to the Week 3 clash against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It seems odd saying that as well considering that they gave up a total of 14 points.
However, the Bears seemed to be able to run at will and pick up 5-6 yard chunks. While that’s fine when leading by 13 points late in the game and chews up clock, that won’t be fine when it’s a better team. The Bears ran 69 plays to the Rams’ 50 and almost were doubling them up in the third quarter. Chicago also held the ball for 35 minutes while the Rams had 25 minutes in time of possession.
A good team isn’t going to throw an interception in the red zone on the first drive of the game and a good team isn’t going to go 0-4 on fourth down. The defense played well in areas, but they need to get better.
7. Little evidence of a run game
In my weekly gameplan, I had one of the keys being “don’t run the football for the sake of running the football.” The Rams did well achieving that, because through three quarters, there was not a lot of room in the run game. It wouldn’t have mattered if it were Cam Akers instead of Henderson, the holes simply were not there.
McVay was able to design screens that took the place of running plays, but it will be interesting to see how this develops as the year goes on. The Bears ranked fourth against the run last season. Next week, the Rams will go up against the Colts who ranked ninth against the run last season and then Tampa Bay who picked up right where they left off as the top run defense.
The Rams also did something that they haven’t done under McVay – run out of shotgun. In 2020, the Rams ran the ball 9% of the time out of shotgun. If the Rams increase their tendency here, they’ll be able to run play action out of shotgun as well. This could benefit Stafford as it allows for play action without turning his back to the defense.
8. Darrell Henderson Icing The Game
While the Rams were unable to run the ball through the first three quarters, that changed in the final 15 minutes. Darrell Henderson iced the game in the fourth quarter. The Rams running back had nine carries for 58 yards, averaging more than six yards per carry. More importantly, he picked up four first downs during that stretch.
Henderson picked up a lot of criticism this offseason for being someone who couldn’t carry the load. Henderson finished the game with 16 carries for 70 yards which is a respectable 4.4 yards per carry. Additionally, Henderson looked very good in pass protection. It was Henderson who stepped up in the a-gap late to give Stafford time to find Woods on a third-down conversion.
8. Justin Hollins Solidifies Himself as a Starter
The Rams signed Justin Hollins off of waivers as someone they thought could transition to inside linebacker. However, Hollins has found a home on the edge and looks good. Hollins had two of the Rams’ three sacks on Sunday Night and forced a fumble on forth down.
Over the last few years, the Rams have struggled to find consistent pressure opposite the premier pass rusher. Whether that was Leonard Floyd or Dante Fowler, the Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, etc. have not gotten the job done. Hollins seemed to be a consistent threat and is someone to watch this season.
9. The Fans Were Loud
Los Angeles Rams fans get a lot of criticism for not showing up and not being loud. However, throughout the evening, “Rams House” chants could be heard on the broadcast. It was clear that is was a heavy majority Rams crowd which is good to see. Fans are excited for this year and as the team keeps winning, and winning in exciting fashion, that’s only going to grow.
10. The NFC West is Good
This should be no real surprise. The NFC West is really good once again this season. The Arizona Cardinals blew out the Tennessee Titans on the road. Seattle decimated the Colts also on the road. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers were leading big against the Detroit Lions before a late comeback attempt.
The NFC West won its games on Sunday by an average of 16.3 points. The next closest was the AFC West with an average of 7.3 points. It’s quite literally not even close. This division is going to be a bloodbath this season and the Rams will get their first taste in Week 4.