The LA Rams experienced more lows over their first eight games than you might expect from a team that is one win away from first place, but that is nevertheless the case and head coach Sean McVay knows what it is like to win the division and take a bye week; it happened less than two years ago. So the only type of person who I believe would count the Rams out of being the best team in the conference over the next eight weeks is someone who’d fall under the category of “Fool” or “Dunce” or “a real Howie Mandel.”
The 6-2 Seattle Seahawks might have the NFL’s worst defense.
The 6-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers feature a 43 year old quarterback.
The 6-2 New Orleans Saints needed overtime to win two of their last four prior to Sunday night’s blowout and the other two wins were close contests against below average teams.
With a win over Seattle on Sunday, the Rams would improve to 6-3 and the Seahawks would fall to 6-3. That’s how close Los Angeles is to getting back on top, but they are going to need more from their roster than what they’ve seen up until now. The Rams are 21st in points per game and that number has only been dropping in the last four games. Since Week 4, Jared Goff ranks 21st in passer rating — below the recently benched Gardner Minshew and the recently benched Ryan Fitzpatrick — and is 23rd in adjusted yards per attempt.
These were not issues early in the season but weapons and options as weapons have seemed to subside, not appear.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams are second in points and yards allowed, first in net yards per pass attempt allowed and sixth in yards per carry allowed. They are also first in points per drive allowed. It is a good defense, but even in a year like 2020, giving up 28 to the Dolphins, 24 to the 49ers and 35 to the Bills is more than what a truly elite defense allows over an eight-game span of a season.
If we want to ask the question, “Do the Rams have a championship defense?” then we’d need to compare them to championship defenses.
The 2002 Bucs never allowed more than 26 points. Including playoffs, they went 3-4 when they gave up more than 14 points, but 12-0 when they didn’t. The Bucs held 11 of those teams to 10 points or less. This season, LA has held Football Team, the Bears and the Giants to nine or 10 points.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens held 15 of their opponents to 10 points or less. They only once allowed more than 23. The Ravens went 11-0 when holding a team to seven points or less. They did that 11 times.
The Rams are never going to do that in an era like today’s but they are second in points allowed. Does LA even have as good of a defense right now as the 8-0 Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that is fourth in points allowed but first in turnovers forced? The Rams are 14th in takeaways and they’ve only forced four turnovers in the last four games.
McVay needs more players to step up and while this could come via some veteran options (A’Shawn Robinson, as one example), the best scenario is that players from the Rams’ 2020 rookie class begin to consistently prove what made them NFL draft picks this year. The bad news is that LA has not had much help from them yet.
The good news is that means there is so much opportunity left on the table.
My curiosity today does not so much lie in the question of who do you believe has the best chance to contribute in the next eight games (and hopefully more) but who you think the Rams would need the most over the next eight games. Who is going to move the needle the most for McVay’s quest to win the most coveted prize in pro football’s regular season: the number one seed.
There are options.
Cam Akers, RB
Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown have combined for 170 carries and 772 rushing yards with six touchdowns, plus 24 catches for 199 yards and another score. They have yet to fumble the football. The Rams might be fine at running back, but they don’t have their 2017-2018 “Todd Gurley” back there yet.
Van Jefferson, WR
I can’t quite explain it but Robert Woods’ average total of yards per game is down more than 20 yards from the last two seasons. Cooper Kupp’s 7.4 yards per target is a career-low and he has too many drops. LA’s biggest need is not at receiver but contributions by a deep threat could change the dynamic for everything else.
Terrell Lewis, LB
Aaron Donald has nine sacks, Leonard Floyd has four and Troy Reeder still has those three he had in one game. Lewis stepping into a pass rushing role and succeeding in the second half could be what vaults the defense closer to “elite” territory.
Terrell Burgess, S
Unfortunately, Burgess will not be returning this season.
Brycen Hopkins, TE
It would be the most shocking if Hopkins became the difference-maker, but a weapon is a weapon and it’s not as though Tyler Higbee or Gerald Everett are making it impossible to consider putting him on the field. However, he’s fourth on the depth chart and maybe years away from contributing, if ever. The tight end class was not supposed to be good and thus far that has proven to be accurate. At least as receivers.
Jordan Fuller, S
Fuller already was the team’s breakout rookie. I can’t say when he will return from a shoulder injury but Week 10 has been floated as a possibility and Fuller could be the guy who makes things easier on everyone else; the Rams allowed 15 points per game in his three complete outings and 21 points per game without him.
Which rookie breakout do the Rams need the most in the second half of the year?
This poll is closed