The Los Angeles Rams played a game with a lot of emotions on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. It may not have looked how some fans wanted or been dominant, but the Rams came out with a win. After seven weeks of football, the Rams are 6-1 and remain one game behind the Arizona Cardinals. Let’s get to our 10 takeaways.
1. Not Special Special Teams
Let’s get the negativity out of the way right away shall we?
The Los Angeles Rams special teams unit is the achilles heel of this team right how. Against an 0-6 Lions team on Sunday it almost cost them. After an opening drive touchdown by Detroit, Dan Campbell called an onside kick in which his team recovered. The Rams defense got a stop, but a fake punt continued the drive once again, leading to three points.
Early in the second half, the Lions called another fake punt. This time, the defense got a fourth-down stop to hold the Lions scoreless.
“They ended up creating a bunch of momentum and you end up having two fake punts and a surprise onside kick. Both of those things are things that we did anticipate and expect. But we didn’t execute and they did,” said Sean McVay after the game. “That wasn’t good and there’s a lot of things that we can learn from.”
While those gaffes are frustrating, it doesn’t end there. Ben Skowronek returned kicks on Sunday and struggled getting the ball past the 20-yard line. DeSean Jackson lined up to return punts as well as Cooper Kupp. This is all despite drafting a player in the second round in April who was supposed to make an impact in the return game.
It makes zero sense for Skowronek to be back returning kicks. It makes even less sense for DeSean Jackson to return punts given that they’re trying to keep him healthy. Good teams will capitalize on these special teams errors.
2. Rams Need More From Run Game
The Detroit Lions came into Sunday, ranking 26th in run defense DVOA. Some of those numbers may be skewed because teams play the Lions from ahead and therefore run the ball more. However, the Rams need more than 2.8 yards per carry from their running backs.
This isn’t necessarily a Darrell Henderson issue as Sony Michel struggled to find space as well. Henderson has ran the ball well this year at times, specifically the last three weeks. However, we are almost halfway through the season and the Rams have yet to have a 100-yard rusher. Stafford and the passing offense have been able to carry the load, but there could come a game when the Rams are going to need to run the ball to win, and how much confidence is there that the Rams could do so?
3. Defense Needs to Tackle Better in Space
The defensive numbers for the Los Angeles Rams don’t look too bad if you take away the 63-yard screen to start the game. Take that play away and Jared Goff finishes 21/35 for 203 yards and two interceptions. Still, the play happened. The Rams struggled in space on Sunday and it led to some large chunk plays. Those are the plays that the defense is going to need to make against San Francisco.
Troy Reeder missed four tackles and as a team, the defense missed 10. The inability to tackle in space led to a running back draw play on 3rd-and-11 that went for a first down. It also led to wide receiver Khalif Raymond getting into Rams territory in the fourth quarter on a catch and run.
The defense isn’t perfect, but this is certainly an area in which they need to improve. Mistakes are going to happen when Nick Scott, David Long Jr., etc. are taking large portion of starting reps. Still, tackling comes down to executing fundamentals.
4. Defense Answers When Number is Called
Alright, now the positives!
The Los Angeles Rams defense has gotten a lot of criticism from the fan base this season. I would say that it’s warranted, except it’s really not. The defense has continuously made plays when their number is called. Against Indianapolis in Week 2, Jalen Ramsey intercepted Jacob Eason to clinch a win. Two weeks ago against Seattle it was Nick Scott coming up with an interception to clinch the win on the road in primetime.
Just last Sunday, the defense forced four turnovers to give the offense short fields when things weren’t clicking on all cylinders. Yesterday? The Lions went 0-for-5 in the red zone and again it was Ramsey who came up with the game-changing interception. This defense has yet to give up a fourth-down conversion this season after making another stop in the second half against Detroit.
“You talk about big time players stepping up in a moment. We had to have it from our defense and those guys delivered in a big way,” said McVay. “That’s why Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are who they are.”
Yards don’t win football games. This defense may not be the best in the league, but by some of the reaction, you would think they were playing at the level of the defense in Kansas City. The defense was put in some difficult spots against the Lions due to special teams errors. All they did was make plays to keep the offense in the game.
5. Stafford-Kupp Connection is Inevitable
Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are starting to get even more in sync and that is a scary thing for the NFL. Kupp had his third game this season with 130 yards and two touchdowns. Cooper Kupp is having a special season. It’s the type of season the Rams needed from him if they were going to make a Super Bowl run. ‘
On Sunday, Kupp became just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era with 50-plus catches, 700-plus receiving yards and eight-plus receiving touchdowns in his team’s first seven games. He joins the elite company of Steve Smith Sr. (2005), Torry Holt (2003) and Marvin Harrison (1999).
Said McVay, “I think those two are so on the same page, they understand the intent of the plays that we’re trying to run. He and Matthew’s rapport is special.”
Kupp came up with a big catch on 3rd-and-12 in the fourth quarter on what would be the game-winning touchdown drive. While Kupp had a big game, Robert Woods also had six receptions for 70 yards. The offense is starting to click.
6. The Defensive Line Continues to Get Pressure
The Los Angeles Rams pressured Goff 17 times, hit him four times and hurried him 15 times on Sunday. The defensive line and edge rusher on this defense are relentless. It was Donald’s pressure on Goff that forced a short throw and led to Ramsey’s game-changing interception.
For all of their flaws, the Rams defense does the important things well. They keep offenses out of the end zone, they force turnovers, and they pressure the quarterback. The Rams only sacked Goff twice, but they made him uncomfortable all afternoon as he finished with a QBR of 39.6 and passer rating of 70.1. The former Rams quarterback also completed just 61.6% of his passes which was his second-lowest mark this season. A lot of that can be credited to the pressure created by Donald, Joseph-Day, Floyd, and co.
7. Stafford Hits Milestone
Sunday could not have been easy for Matthew Stafford. While this game wasn’t at Ford Field in Detroit, this was still a game against his old team. He responded very well to the occasion. He became just the 12th player in NFL history to throw 300 career touchdown passes – on the same day Tom Brady threw his 600th.
Not only that, it was Stafford’s third game this season with 300 yards, and his fifth with a passer rating over 100. This season, Stafford has thrown for 250 yards, three touchdowns, and had a passer rating over 100 four times. That’s more than Goff had in the last two years combined and Stafford has done it in seven weeks. Stafford also threw his 19th touchdown pass on Sunday which puts him one short of Goff’s total in 2020.
Stafford beat Detroit for the first time in his career on Sunday on a day when he threw his 300th touchdown pass and completed his 33rd career fourth-quarter comeback. He didn’t play a perfect game, but again, he saved his best football for the fourth quarter when it mattered.
8. Rams Fans Got What They Wanted
Coming into this game, if you would have asked a Rams fan what they wanted, it would have been a Rams win and Jared Goff having a good game. That’s exactly what happened. The Rams came out with a win and Goff played admirably. Goff’s 268 yards were the most he’s had since October 3 against the Chicago Bears and he had a chance to take the lead late in the game and was one throw short of possibly ending McVay’s perfect record when leading at halftime.
It’s impossible to compare Goff and Stafford given their two situations. However, Goff fell to 0-14 on Sunday without McVay as his head coach. Matthew Stafford made the throws in the fourth quarter to win the game while Goff turned the ball over twice. Last season, the Rams spotted the 0-13 New York Jets 10-points to start the game. The Rams lost. This year, against another winless team, the Rams re-took the lead by halftime.
9. A Win is a Win and The Lions Are a NFL team
The win might not have been as dominant as some fans would have liked. I had the Los Angeles Rams winning 35-13 and this game certainly was not that. Any NFL player or coach will tell you that you don’t get style points in this league. At the end of the day, the Rams came out with a win and they ended the day 6-1.
The Lions are still a NFL team and while they are 0-7, they are very competitive. This was a team that lost on the final plays to Baltimore on a 66-yard field goal and another 52-yard field goal to the Minnesota Vikings.
“I think it’s a huge credit to their coaching staff, their players, their leadership,” said McVay. “Coach Campbell did an excellent job. And you can see, there’s a belief. Any given week, you got to be ready to go. Fortunately, we were able to weather the storm today.”
Dan Campbell threw everything and the kitchen sink at the Rams and they handled it. It could have been very easy to get frustrated after giving up three special teams plays. The Rams could have panicked trailing 19-17 and facing 3rd-and-12 at their own 22 yard line to begin the fourth quarter. Instead, they continually made plays when they needed to and got a well-earned win. Enjoy it!
10. NFC West is a Two Team Race
The Seattle Seahawks fell to 2-4 after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football last week. This week on Sunday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers fell to 2-4 with a loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts. The NFC West started hot and looked like the best division in football, but the bottom half have fallen off and the cream has risen to the top.
As it stands, the Rams and Cardinals look to be the two teams with any chance to win this division. Arizona remained undefeated after winning 31-5 to the Houston Texans – they’ll play Green Bay next week. The only thing separating the Rams and Cardinals is the Week 4 matchup from earlier in the season.