As the Los Angeles Rams showed in 2018, it’s not easy to make the Super Bowl. To make that special run, a team typically needs special individual performances. So far, the Rams are getting just that from Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp.
Last season, Tom Brady threw his most touchdowns in a season since 2007 to help lead the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl. The season before, Patrick Mahomes threw 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions and overcame huge deficits in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl.
Rams fans won’t forget 2018 either. Todd Gurley was the NFL’s touchdown leader and likely would have won the Offensive Player of the Year award if not for his injury. Jared Goff threw for a career-high 4600 yards and 32 touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, Aaron Donald had 20.5 sacks.
It takes special individual performances for a NFL team to make a Super Bowl run. The Los Angeles Rams got that in 2018 and Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are providing just that this season. Does that mean the Rams are going to win the Super Bowl? No.
However, what it does mean is that the Rams gambled in the offseason with the thought process that this was a Super Bowl caliber roster. That gamble seems to be paying off as Stafford, Kupp, and, Leonard Floyd, etc. are all having career-type years.
It’s not just about the individual performances either. Role players like Sebastian Joseph-Day, Terrell Lewis, and Brian Allen are also doing their part. Those are the things that need to happen for the Rams to make a run at the Super Bowl. It’s very rare that all of the stars align. The stars could be aligning for the Los Angeles Rams.
On Sunday, the milestones kept coming for the Los Angeles Rams and their playmakers.
Let’s start with Matthew Stafford.
With his 18th touchdown pass of the season, Matthew Stafford threw his 300th career touchdown pass. It’s almost a fairytale that it happened against his old team. He’s just the 12th quarterback in NFL history to throw 300 career touchdown passes.
“It means a little bit. I grew up watching John (Elway) and I was a huge fan,” said Stafford. “I wore No. 7 in high school and college because of John. And I was a huge fan of the way he played the game, the way he threw the ball, all of that. It’s pretty cool.”
Added McVay, “You know, pretty special for him to go over 300 career touchdown passes. Speaks to the resumé of work that he has.”
That’s not where it ends for Matthew Stafford, however. Through seven games this season, Stafford has career-highs in completion percentage, touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, and QBR. His 310 yards per game are just four yards shy of his 314 yards per game pace in 2011 when he threw for 5,000 yards. He’s also outpacing his 2011 pace of 2.5 touchdowns per game with 2.7 this season.
On a per game basis, Stafford is outpacing Kurt Warner‘s 1999 and 2001 MVP seasons. Stafford’s 310 yards per game lead Warner’s 301 and 272.2 yards per game. He’s also set to beat Warner’s 41 touchdowns in 1999. Stafford’s 114 passer rating would also be a franchise record.
The quarterback is arguably the most important position on the field. The fact that the Rams quarterback is having a career year, bodes well for a special season.
Now, let’s move on to Cooper Kupp.
Kupp was in for a special season in 2018 before he got hurt. This year, he might be on his way to Offensive Player of the Year status along with Derrick Henry. On Sunday, Kupp hit two very impressive milestones.
Cooper Kupp is just the fifth wide receiver to record at least nine catches, 125 receiving yards and two touchdowns in consecutive games. He joins a list that includes Drew Bennett, Antonio Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Rison.
Additionally, the Rams wide receiver is 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. The only other receivers to hit this mark are Steve Smith Sr. (2005), Torry Holt (2003) and Marvin Harrison (1999).
“Cooper (Kupp) did some great stuff,” said Stafford. “I think we spend a lot of time together, we spend a lot of time talking about the game of football.”
Kupp is currently on pace for 136 catches, 1,964 yards, and 21 touchdowns. These would all be franchise records at the end of the season. Even on a per game basis, Kupp is outpacing Isaac Bruce‘s 7.4 receptions and 111.3 yards per game in 1995. We’re only through Week 7 and Kupp is three touchdowns shy of Bruce’s Super Bowl era record of 13 receiving touchdowns. Elroy Hirsch holds the all-time record of 17 that he’s held since 1951.
As Thanos would say, the connection between Matthew Stafford and Kupp is inevitable. Nobody has been able to stop them. When the Rams have needed a big play, Stafford has looked in Kupp’s direction. That was on display as the Rams faced 3rd-and-12 from their own 22 while trailing 19-17 to begin the fourth quarter.
I think those two are so on the same page, they understand the intent of the plays that we’re trying to run,” said McVay. “He and Matthew’s rapport is special. Cooper and Matthew have done an outstanding job but I think a lot of other guys have as well and that’s why we’re able to be 6-1 right now.”
While all of the focus has been on Matthew Stafford and Kupp, other guys are stepping up as well. Brian Allen has been proving doubters wrong and is having a great season. We’re through seven games and Van Jefferson has already outproduced his rookie season in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
Defensively, guys are stepping up to the plate as well. Aaron Donald is having a down year statistically. However, Leonard Floyd is leading the team with 4.5 sacks. To emphasize how special that is, Donald has led the Rams in sacks in every year since his sophomore season.
In just his second season, Jordan Fuller leads the defense in tackles. With that said, Jalen Ramsey has provided good support in the box for the Rams. The star cornerback is on pace for a career-high in tackles and his most interceptions since 2017. Kenny Young has also stepped up as he leads the team in tackles for loss.
It takes special individual performances and for a group to come together as a team to hoist a Lombardi in February. It’s a long road ahead, but the Rams are giving themselves a chance.
Three Word Review: Stafford Stifles Goff
It’s not that Jared Goff played poorly, but Matthew Stafford played very well. Sunday marked the fourth time this season that Stafford has recorded 250 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of over 100. That’s more than Goff over the last two seasons in a Rams uniform. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Matthew Stafford drove 90-yards and made throws to convert on 3rd-and-12 and 3rd-and-10 to win the game. Jared Goff threw an interception.
The Turning Point
After the Rams took the lead early in the fourth quarter, the Detroit Lions started marching down the field. The Lions kept the drive alive by converting on 3rd-and-11 with a draw play and were looking to re-take the lead with five minutes to go in the game.
Big players make big plays in the big moments.
Goff dropped back to throw and stared down TJ Hockenson running a post. Aaron Donald burst through the line and hit Goff as he threw. As a result, the throw was short and Jalen Ramsey was there to cut off the pass and come away with an interception.
The Rams with Matthew Stafford then marched down the field to kick a field goal to take a 28-19 lead and all but win the game. Donald and Ramsey teamed up when the Rams needed them most.
It’s not easy to go up against your former team that you’ve built a special relationship with over the past decade. While the game wasn’t in Detroit, it must have been weird for Matthew Stafford on Sunday. However, he responded to the occasion and played well.
He threw his 300th career touchdown pass and completed his 33rd career fourth quarter comeback. The Rams spotted the Jets 10 points last year and lost. This year, the Rams re-gained the lead and control by halftime. Stafford deserves this game ball for his performance and ability to lead the offense.
1. Not Special Special Team
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. 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 finished 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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, led by Matthew Stafford, they continually made plays when they needed to and got a well-earned win. Enjoy it!
Downtown Rams Mailbag
Do you think the rams make any deal before the deadline or do they roll with what we have now?
— 🇦🇱 Pablo (@PissedAlbanian) October 25, 2021
My guess is that the Rams will roll with what they have right now. They have a lot of confidence in their players in-house. It makes more sense for the Rams to roll with what they have rather than spend draft capital on a likely role player. The Rams restructured Rob Havenstein‘s contract on Saturday. I believe it’s much more likely that they sign a player on the street or off another team’s practice squad before they use capital to bring in someone.
Here’s the current situation: The Rams are thin at cornerback. However, this is a team that will play Houston, Tennessee, and San Francisco before a bye week in Week 11. That bye week will allow them to get healthy. They’re going to get Darious Williams back. Justin Hollins could come back late in the year as well. The Rams could see those players as giving them a late season “boost” over making a trade.
How come Tutu isn't returning kicks? Didn't we draft him for that?
— YY Jenko – (@RAGING_RABBI) October 25, 2021
TuTu Atwell not returning on Sunday was very confusing. There’s no reason Ben Skowronek should have been back returning kicks considering he wasn’t getting the ball close to the 20. The Rams signed DeSean Jackson in the offseason, but with his health, he shouldn’t be returning punts.
This was my concern when the Rams drafted Atwell. He didn’t return punts or kicks in college. The Rams signed Jackson, making Atwell the fifth wide receiver on the team. Was it necessary to draft him over someone like Jabril Cox or Creed Humphrey?
Meanwhile, you look in Cleveland and Demetric Felton is having success with the Browns returning kicks and having a role in that offense as a running back – an area the Rams are thin. Felton’s 9.68 yards per punt return ranks sixth in the NFL right now.
The Rams typically don’t play rookies and so I wouldn’t get too concerned just yet. However, it’s a decision that is certainly worth questioning.
The Los Angeles Rams sit at 6-1 heading into Week 8 against the Houston Texans. It’ll wrap up the Rams’ easy three game stretch against the Giants, Lions, and Texans. Houston lost to the Cardinals, 31-5 on Sunday and haven’t won since Week 1 against Jacksonville. The Rams open as 14-point favorites and should get their fourth straight win before heading into matchups against Tennessee and San Francisco.