The Los Angeles Rams are 4-1 and second in the NFC West. The most optimistic projections and predictions of the Rams season may have had them winning the division, but those moments felt rare, especially as they compared to how people felt about the San Francisco 49ers.
How long ago was five weeks ago?
Through five games, Brandon Staley’s defense is one of the best in the league and Los Angeles has a number of other things to be proud of, including on their opening drive, their first half offense and their second half defense. When it all comes together, the Rams have a passing offense, rushing offense and passing defense that appears good enough to compete with any team in the NFL.
What they’ll be most focused on in the regular season is being the best team in the division. Here’s an update on those other three teams, including the one they face on Sunday.
It feels like the 49ers had their one chance with Jimmy Garoppolo and the moment has passed. San Francisco went 2-1 when scoring 20 or less last season but they’re already 0-3 in those games this year. The most concerning part for Kyle Shanahan being that they’ve already matched the number of times they scored 20 or less, not including their Super Bowl loss.
And all of this despite the fact that they’ve played one of the easiest schedules in the NFL.
Will the 49ers come back from this start and be better over the next 11? Potentially. But they are also not far removed from a season in which they went 4-12.
The Rams play the 49ers this Sunday night and Garoppolo’s presence under center will be in question all week. He returned from an injury and played some of his worst football, getting benched for C.J. Beathard at halftime. Shanahan can say it was to protect him, and to some degree that is true, but it does separate Garoppolo from another tier of quarterback when the coach says, “You can’t help us win a game when we’re down 23 at halftime.”
We know that’s a rare comeback, but we can all think of quarterbacks in the league today who would be up for the challenge. Jared Goff didn’t get pulled against the Buffalo Bills and the Rams were in an even worse situation.
Underrated storyline: Defensive lineman Kerry Hyder is off to a career-best start, totaling 3.5 sacks and nine QB hits in five games. Four years ago, Hyder had eight sacks and 19 QB hits with the Lions but a torn Achilles in the 2017 preseason bumped him off his development curve. He has emerged as DeForest Buckner’s productive replacement this season, putting up numbers every week so far.
5-0 Seattle Seahawks
At least we know what’s working for Seattle and it’s simple: Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf.
Were it not for Wilson-to-Metcalf, I’d question if the Seahawks could even be 3-2 right now. They haven’t beaten a single opponent by more than eight points and while they’ve had some high-profile matchups, their opponents records are 0-5, 2-2, 2-3, 2-3 and 1-4.
In all five of those games, Metcalf had at least four catches and over 90 yards. In four of those five games, he scored a touchdown, including two on Sunday night against the Vikings; the second of those touchdowns gave Seattle their fifth win. Metcalf leads the NFL with 22.5 yards per catch and he’s averaging 12.7 yards per target.
I believe the Seahawks have focused on and nurtured this relationship between Wilson and Metcalf specifically because it would both help Wilson win MVP and give Seattle an opportunity to hang with offenses that feature Tyreek Hill, Michael Thomas, Davante Adams and so on. It’s working on the win-loss record but while some teams invest their efforts on the offensive side of the ball, others put money into mitigating the return on those stock purchases.
The Rams traded two first round picks and spent over $100 million Jalen Ramsey and he’s been talked about as the best cornerback in the NFL through five weeks. The matchup between him and Metcalf will garner a deserving amount of attention when the teams meet for the first time in Week 10 at SoFi Stadium.
Underrated storyline: The Seahawks are second in turnovers forced. Though Seattle also traded two first round picks for a defensive back, Jamal Adams has missed the last two games due to a groin injury. Prior to that, Adams led the team in pressures both because he is talented and because the Seahawks have failed to produce many pass rushers for this season. What they have produced is takeaways: though Seattle ranks 32nd in passing yards allowed, they are third in interceptions. Two each for Shaquill Griffin and Ryan Neal, one apiece for KJ Wright, Quandre Diggs and Quinton Dunbar. The Legion of Boom was both a shutdown defense and a creator of turnovers (first in 2013); this is not the Legion of Boom, but they’ve got the second part working and that’s the biggest danger of Seattle’s current defense.
Those who were promised a successful air raid passing attack in Arizona are mostly still waiting for their returns. Those fans were offered at least a glimmer of that reality on Sunday in the form of the New York Jets defense.
Kyler Murray went 27 of 37 for 380 yards and a touchdown, plus another touchdown on the ground. Murray threw an interception but it was his best game of the season, by far.
Only Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins have thrown more picks than Murray this year. He’s 20th in yards per attempt and 22nd in adjusted net yards per attempt. His numbers were heavily boosted by his play against the Jets and throwing a couple of short yardage touchdowns while trailing the Panthers by multiple scores in the second half of a Week 4 loss.
I remain optimistic about Murray’s future. He has 296 rushing yards and five touchdowns and that does alleviate some of the pain of a mediocre passing attack. He’s not even halfway through his second season and he’s not bad. But he also carries the burden of being the first overall pick and we know that Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes both recently won MVP during their second year in the league. Arizona added DeAndre Hopkins and they know the bar has been raised. This week he faces the Dallas Cowboys, so he’ll have an opportunity to raise his stats once again.
The Rams and Cardinals don’t meet until Week 13.
Underrated storyline: 2nd in red zone defense, 4th in third down defense. Vance Joseph is in his second season as Arizona’s defensive coordinator and though their “stars” don’t seem to be performing up to their expectations right now, they’ve done a few things right. Chandler Jones only has one sack. Patrick Peterson has the team’s only interception. Isaiah Simmons, the eighth overall pick in the draft, is a liability on the field at this stage in his career. Budda Baker has never had an interception. But they have 14 sacks as a team and rank fourth on third downs and second in the red zone. The Cardinals also have the number two red zone offense. Their best games of the season could be on the horizon.