We all heard the outcry during the Los Angeles Rams’ three game losing streak in November. After a string of frustrating performances, there were many questions. Should Raheem Morris be fired? Is Matthew Stafford exactly who some analysts thought he was? Will all these stars develop the necessary chemistry to win games?
Fast forward to now, and the Rams are riding their superstars to a five game winning streak for the first time since 2018.
Let’s start with the defense. On Sunday in Baltimore, the Los Angeles Rams didn’t give up a single touchdown. Once again, the defensive front wrecked havoc.
Due to the lack of sacks, many were starting to wonder if the Von Miller trade was worth the two draft picks. However, a deeper look would tell you that since the bye, Miller ranks sixth among edge rushers with 26 pressures. That’s two fewer than TJ Watt. Miller is also the fourth-highest graded run-defender according to Pro Football Focus.
On Sunday, Miller surely quieted the naysayers with a monster game. He registered give tackles with three of them coming behind the line of scrimmage, and two sacks. The latter, coming in the most important part of the game for the Rams.
Miller along with Leonard Floyd, played with reckless abandon and harassed Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley. Floyd and Aaron Donald split a sack on Huntley while Jordan Fuller came up with a huge interception that led to a Rams touchdown. The Rams defense was aggressive and opportunistic in Sunday’s game, and gave them a shot to win a contest that they probably shouldn’t have.
Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was given a lot of criticism early on in the season. However, credit must be given where it’s due. Morris has this defense playing lights out in the last five games, surrendering more than 20 points twice during that span. He has changed this group around, and has them firing on all cylinders heading into the most important part of the year.
Enough about the defense though. The Rams invested a lot into their offense for 2021. They traded for Matthew Stafford and signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. After losing Cam Akers in the offseason, the team traded for running back Sony Michel.
Since the beginning of December, Michel is second in rushing yards among all running backs with 497. He trails only MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor. However, during the month of December, Michel was the NFL rushing leader. The former Patriots running back has been a tough, downhill runner who keeps the Rams ahead of the chains. Michel has at least two yards after contact on 71% of his carries. This ability has significantly opened up the Rams offense.
Running backs that gained 2+ yards after contact on at least 70% of their carries (PFF)— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 4, 2022
A.J. Dillon (77%)
Tony Pollard (73%)
Jamaal Williams (73%)
Joe Mixon (72%)
Elijah Mitchell (72%)
James Robinson (71%)
Sony Michel (71%)
Ezekiel Elliott (70%)
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has faced a lot of criticism in recent weeks for his turnovers. Turnovers are one thing, but Stafford’s turnovers have been extra costly. He leads the NFL in interceptions returned for touchdowns this season. However, in the midst of the struggles, Stafford has reminded the Los Angeles Rams of two things: he is resilient and has a clutch gene that you cannot teach.
In the first half, Stafford looked unsettled and threw two costly interceptions to help give Baltimore the lead. In the second half, he was simply lights out. Matthew Stafford went 14-for-14, throwing for 162 yards and a late game sealing touchdown. In the fourth quarter alone he was 8-for-8 which included going 6-for-6 on the game-winning drive.
He also posted a second-half passer rating of 138.7. Those numbers are absurd to say the very least. He continued his reign of being one of the best fourth quarter quarterbacks in football.
Are the turnovers frustrating? Sure. But Stafford has shown an uncanny amount of resilience. He continues to come through in the most important moments. This isn’t a trait that the Rams had at quarterback in the past. This is a trait of a championship level quarterback.
Stafford’s heroics however, would not have been possible if not for one man.
Odell Beckham Jr, who signed a $1.25 million contract in November caught the two most important passes of the game. The objective of signing Beckham Jr. was to take this offense to the next level. After the injury to Robert Woods, he suddenly became a necessity rather than a luxury. Since arriving, he has posted five touchdowns in seven games.
With only a minute remaining, the Los Angeles Rams faced a 4th-and-5 from the Baltimore 12 yard line. It was now or never for the Rams offense. An incomplete pass was as good as game over. Going through his reads, Stafford zipped a ball into a tight window for Beckham, who hauled in the tough catch with incredibly strong hands – one yard ahead of the marker.
The very next play, Beckham hauled in what would be the game winning touchdown, putting the Rams on top 20-19.
You see, moments like these are why the Rams brought Beckham in. Big time players make big time plays in big time games. Beckham is a big time player. It was only a matter of time before his play became a difference maker for these Los Angeles Rams.
Over the course of the last five games, the Los Angeles Rams have become incredibly battle tested. They battled COVID for four weeks straight and didn’t miss a beat. The difference between the Rams team from now and a month ago? The ability to bounce back. And they have done it on the backs of their talent, and specifically their 2021 star acquisitions. Stafford, Michel, Beckham, and Raheem Morris have all been key cogs in this winning streak.
The stars are finally aligning in Los Angeles. The Rams are learning to win in different ways, doing such in the most important time of the year. The 12-4 squad sits atop the NFC West with a matchup against the San Francisco 49ers looming. A win Sunday would make the Rams NFC West champs, and secure them the second seed in the NFC.