Happy Friday one and all.
Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.
Enjoy and thank you to Evan for his time.
1. Matthew Stafford is back, and the Rams win games. It seems like an easy, but what does his presence, especially without Cooper Kupp, mean for the team and especially McVay.
The presence of Matthew Stafford means everything. If you saw how crappy the offense looked without him in the lineup, you’d see how much he means to McVay and the offense.
By no means has this been a memorable or even quality season for Stafford. He hasn’t played anywhere close to his 2021 form and I doubt we’ll ever see him play that well ever again. However, his veteran presence helped steer the ship without Cooper Kupp in the first four games and then last week against Seattle. Most quarterbacks would panic without their top target but like the majority of his career, Stafford has been unflappable. It hasn’t been perfect or remotely close to what the fanbase was spoiled with in his first season in Los Angeles, but I have to give Stafford his due for managing to help keep his young teammates together and on the same page during this rollercoaster of a year.
2. The running game seems to be missing Kyren Williams, as he has been out since his massive day against the Cardinals in week six. The rumbles are he may play this week, but if not, are the Rams basically relying on Stafford and Puka Nacua?
The rumblings have proven to be true as McVay announced that Williams has been activated off IR and is on track to play this week. LA should be quite thankful to see him return. Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson (who was released to make room for Williams) performed well, yet neither was as dynamic or as explosive as the second-year running back.
Given how the passing game performed until late in the fourth quarter, I would prefer the Rams not to rely on Stafford. He was having a rough outing until clutching up near the end of the game. Puka Nacua was making some huge catches on the final scoring drive for the Rams which allowed them to eventually kick the game-winner to put them up one. If LA feeds Puka, great things happen and he was finally able to produce more consistently in Week 11 after a couple quiet games.
No matter what, McVay has to be cautious about giving Williams too many carries as his high production likely landed him on IR to begin with. Either way, McVay has to rely more on the running game, probably by committee to ease Williams back into the offense. Even though Stafford helped guide LA to a win last week, I’ve lost trust in his ability to produce at a high rate consistently.
3. Since the Cardinals game, the defense has seemed to not be playing as well until this week. Again, is that the Stafford effect, was it knocking Geno Smith out of the game, a combination of things?
Throughout Sean McVay’s tenure, the Rams have always had the Seahawks’ number. Geno Smith being sidelined for a couple series helped but once he returned, he was nearly able to lead Seattle to a comeback. LA was truly fortunate Jason Myers missed a potential game-winning field goal and escaped with a win. Keep in mind that the Rams were trailing 16-7 entering the fourth quarter for a reason. Prior to taking a monster hit of his own, Matthew Stafford was awful, having completed just 10-of-20 passes for 80 yards. The crushing hit to his midsection must’ve unlocked Stafford’s clutch gene as he finished the game 7-of-11 passing for 110 yards while leading a pair of scoring drives.
Defensively, LA did everything they possibly could to keep the game within reach which allowed for the fourth quarter comeback. The offense and Stafford had played so poorly leading up to the final frame that it was a little surprising the Rams were able to come back in the first place. The defense struggled in games versus the Steelers and big time against the Cowboys because they couldn’t match the physicality in the trenches. Also, the secondary was already stretched thin prior to the Cowboys matchup and Dallas exploited their weaknesses to perfection.
4. Who has emerged since the last game six weeks ago?
I’m unsure how much I talked about rookie linebacker Byron Young ahead of the last game and it doesn’t matter, his name bears repeating. Young actually had his breakout game against the Cardinals as he forced a key fumble off then-Arizona QB Josh Dobbs to help put away the game.
In the weeks after, Young exploded with 10 total tackles with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble in Green Bay. That was the game that officially solidified that the Tennessee product was a superstar in the making. For all the deserved attention surrounding Nacua, Young is just as deserving of the national spotlight. In my mind, he should be the front-runner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Prior to Week 11, Young was leading all his rookie counterparts in sacks, QB pressures and forced fumbles. He likely isn’t getting as much attention due to the Rams’ dismal start to the season but that shouldn’t take away anything from all he’s done. Young is a game changer.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Rams as slight favorites, the smallest line of the season for a Cardinals game. Is this more about the unknown of the Rams injuries, belief in the Cardinals with Kyler Murray back, or a mix of all of it?
I think it’s a mix between belief in Murray and uncertainty surrounding the Rams’ injuries. This should be a tightly contested game between two rivals who have been anything but pushovers this year. With or without Kyler, Arizona was doing enough to stay in games, they just couldn’t close them out. When these two played the first time, it was a close game before halftime until LA pulled away in the second half. In this matchup, I see the offensive struggles the Cardinals had after the break against the Texans carry over into this one. Once a lost season for the Rams is turning into a glimmer of hope as they inch closer to an improbable playoff berth. LA will do enough on offense with the return of Kyren Williams to come away with a sweep of the season series.
My prediction: Rams 20-13