The Arizona Cardinals play their second division game of the 2023 season and they... Well they have an uphill battle even against the likely third best team in the division.
We chatted with Evan Craig of Turf Show Times to discuss the Los Angeles Rams, how they are looking, what their present and future looks like and more.
1. The Rams have looked competitive in almost every game, including against the top two teams in the NFC... Is it playoff or bust this season?
I wouldn’t really say this is a playoff or bust team. The Rams have been too average to be considered a playoff contender but I guess good thing they play in the NFC where average should get you into the postseason. LA was going to be competitive this season despite the roster they were fielding heading into the year. It would be very unlike a Sean McVay team to not put up a fight regardless of talent or skill level.
What should be expected out of this team shouldn’t be a playoff spot but rather visible growth from the rookie class and second-year players over the course of the season. If the Rams can get substantial playing time from most of their rookies, I would consider this season a success whether or not they make the playoffs. Given all the talent that LA parted with in the offseason, growing pains were always going to happen, especially with such a young team. This team has stood up to a challenging opening slate and survived. Assuming they become more consistent as the season progresses, a playoff spot won’t be all that surprising in the end.
So while this isn’t necessarily a playoff or bust team, I fully expect the Rams to be in playoff contention until the final weekend of the season. They’ve been making a believer out of me.
2. Matthew Stafford hasn’t looked great, but he hasn’t looked bad either. Is this the twilight of his career?
Uh...yes and no.
Matthew Stafford can still sling the ball. He hasn’t lost any zip on his throws and he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the conference even if his stats aren’t impressive. In both of LA’s wins, that’s where Stafford was at his best. The season opener in Seattle was his first game back after missing half of 2022 and he managed the offense with ease. Forget that he didn’t throw a touchdown pass, he didn’t turn the ball over and guided the offense up and down the field to perfection. It was a vintage Stafford performance, similar to the Rams’ other win against the Colts. Stafford took a beating in that one and was clearly hurting. However, he stepped up in the clutch and made all the throws that mattered, sealing a overtime win.
As for LA’s three losses, Stafford was mostly set up to fail. Yes, he threw a total of four picks against the 49ers and Bengals but in that Cincinnati game in particular, McVay’s gameplan did Stafford and the offense zero favors. The Rams went all pass happy which led to Stafford taking a lot of unnecessary hits. The Bengals knew LA was throwing the ball and the lack of a run game that had been working let the defense down despite a solid performance. It’s not that Stafford can’t carry an offense anymore, he’s proven he can with a balanced gameplan. Stafford is clearly in the twilight of his career, yet he’s got quite a bit left in the tank.
3. The Rams are really average in nearly every category, but they still have game breakers in Aaron Donald and now Puka Nacua. Is getting Cooper Kupp back going to change things moving forward?
Getting Cooper Kupp back is obviously a huge deal for the offense. Puka Nacua held down the fort in his absence with a record-breaking start and I believe it’s just the beginning for him. Kupp will be a major focal point of opposing defenses moving forward which should open up additional opportunities for young pass catchers in Nacua and Tutu Atwell. LA felt comfortable enough with their receiving corps to part ways with Van Jefferson. I never thought I’d see the Rams feel comfortable with their crop of receivers this early despite the depth chart looking very underwhelming to start the year. Kupp is crucial to elevating the passing attack so that aspect of the offense gets much more dangerous now.
4. Give me one player to watch that we don’t know about on either offense, defense or both.
I’ll get defensive here and say rookie linebacker Byron Young. This guy is a speed demon and has been one of the most consistent pass rushers on the team. He only has two sacks on the year but has registered a QB hit in all five of LA’s games. In fact, Young has nine QB hits this season. While the sack numbers might not be all that great right now, you’d think a breakout is coming fairly soon. Clearly the rookie is getting to the quarterback in some form and that’s the first step to getting to the QB. His closing speed is rather insane as well. The clip below shows Young chasing down Jalen Hurts last week which forced the Eagles’ signal caller to throw the ball away before Young could bring him down.
Rams rookie Byron Young flashing that ridiculous closing speed to chase down Jalen Hurts and force the incompletion.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) October 8, 2023
The third-round pick out of Tennessee has been among the best defensive rookies this season pic.twitter.com/rPwcue2Kxc
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has a weekly special already where Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua are +200 to combine for over 185 yards... That seems like easy money, but would love to get your insight.
If it sounds like easy money, then I would definitely take that bet. The Eagles game was the first time LA fans have seen Kupp and Nacua on the field at the same time and they delivered. Kupp was back to his All-Pro self when he had 118 yards on eight catches. Puka had a “quiet” game by his standards with 71 yards but has gotten over 50 receiving yards in each of his first five games. Both players combined for 189 yards in the game and there’s reason to believe they will repeat their strong outings against the Cardinals. Matthew Stafford has remarkable chemistry with Kupp and Nacua which should be too much for Arizona’s secondary to handle.