Well, that was not the performance by Matthew Stafford or the Los Angeles Rams that I expected. The Rams lost to the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 37-20, but were long since blown out before the final seconds ran off the clock.
Legends from Motown about Stafford’s faults as a quarterback were thought to be just that: fables told by Lions fans to scare away teams that wish to steal their franchise player away. Except that Stafford wasn’t in any apparent danger on Sunday when he was throwing balls well over the heads and well under the feet of many of his supposed targets.
Now if you really want to talk about a scary story, let’s turn our gazes to the Rams defense.
The 37 points allowed is more than in any Rams game of 2020 — a fact that might make people go “The problem is Raheem Morris” but I assure you that the problems run much deeper than a change at coordinator.
That and more in eight immediate thoughts in reaction to the Rams game.
Matthew Stafford’s worst game as a Ram
He only had three starts with the Rams prior to Sunday, but Stafford was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL during that stretch. The only quarterback ahead of him was probably Kyler Murray and then Week 4 decidedly went to Murray.
Stafford was an equal opportunity inaccurate passer — he was both over-throwing and under-throwing his receivers — and he finished 26-of-41 for 280 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. But some of that was stat-padding.
People have come to expect some bad games from Stafford, but in reality he’s been one of the most consistently-good quarterbacks in the NFL since 2019. This one will go down as one of his worst since 2018.
The Rams perceived weakness at linebacker is also real
We always knew that LA was going to be taking risks with their linebacker corps when it became clear that Sean McVay was going to have a competition between incumbents, most of whom had not proven to have considerable value as NFL starters. But because McVay also kept these players sidelined during the preseason, we kind of all just forgot about it and assumed that Troy Reeder and Kenny Young must have been focused, locked in, and ready.
The Rams linebackers were not ready for the Cardinals.
Kyler Murray freezes Kenny Young to pick up a crucial 1st on 3rd and 16. Cards get the TD shortly after. pic.twitter.com/oIAsBEQEAi— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) October 3, 2021
Kenny Young looked lost at times. Reeder is a non-factor. Third round rookie Ernest Jones is nowhere to be found. With Justin Hollins on short-term IR, it becomes less likely that LA will get the help at linebacker that it needs.
On the bright side, Terrell Lewis had a sack and basically helped Leonard Floyd get a sack where he barely had to move at all. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo returned from IR and had one tackle for a loss.
But the fact that Micah Kiser couldn’t win a roster spot over these options is telling of how far the Rams have fallen at inside linebacker of the last few years.
David Long, Jr got posterized
The last time that A.J. Green faced Jalen Ramsey, he put him in a headlock. Well, there was no lock possible that could help David Long against Green — and trust me, tried.
.@K1 airs it out to @ajgreen_18 for a 41-yard @AZCardinals touchdown! #RedSea— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2021
: #AZvsLAR on FOX
: NFL app pic.twitter.com/E1mepMvDtp
The Rams have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey and that’s what makes the defense good, usually.
But the Rams also appear to have a number of holes now around them in the linebacker corps and secondary and the Cardinals had the weapons and ability necessary to just go after them instead of the two elite players. Arizona had 34 points before the fourth quarter, and the Rams defense hadn’t allowed that to happen since 2019.
LA’s offensive line seemed to do a good job
One bright spot could be the Rams offensive line. Though center Brian Allen had a holding penalty and David Edwards had a false start, Stafford’s issue didn’t seem to be protection. And Darrell Henderson had lanes to run through.
Darrell Henderson’s best game with the Rams?
I may be alone on this one. Henderson had 12 carries for 89 yards and didn’t get as many opportunities as he would have if the passing game was accurate, but mostly I just liked the way that he ran the ball; Henderson made a few good decisions out there and found extra yards, picking up tough gains just one week after missing a game with a rib cartilage injury. Hopefully with more Rams wins ahead, he will get more opportunities.
Sony Michel fumbled away his chance
It only took three carries for Michel to lose a fumble. That probably cost him a chance at getting more snaps. LA traded valuable draft picks for Michel and three carries for 11 yards with a fumble is hardly going to be an acceptable return — especially given the holes on defense.
The Cardinals are legit Super Bowl contenders
With Kyler Murray at the helm, Arizona is a threat to win the NFC West, to get the number one seed, and to reach the Super Bowl.
Send all the blame to LA’s defense that you want, Murray made a lot of those headaches happen and now he’s got the weapons around him to execute their routes, get open, make catches, and create after the reception.
The Cardinals defense probably should have given up more than 13 points but Matthew Stafford was not making the plays necessary to take those yards and those points. But Arizona’s defense is talented, with emerging playmakers like Byron Murphy — who picked Stafford, his third interception in the last two games — and Isaiah Simmons.
However, it is Murray that is the difference between Arizona being “fine” and taking the NFC’s lunch money, including a key third-and-14 conversion that happened after McVay accepted a penalty rather than letting it be fourth down. Of course, if McVay had declined the penalty, Murray probably would’ve converted that too. And that wasn’t even his only long third down conversion on the day.
99.9% of QB’s in NFL history don’t gain a 1st down on this play. Kyler Murray does. He’s QUICK pic.twitter.com/bcTSp5763k— Andrew (@AndrewLeezus) October 3, 2021
He can run, he can pass, he’s got weapons. Murray is going to make life difficult for the other NFC West teams and turning McVay from 8-0 against the Cardinals to 8-1 is what AZ hopes is just the beginning.
A flying Aaron Donald was thissss close to crush Kyler Murray but he made him misspic.twitter.com/BAm6wYze8e— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 3, 2021
Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the division. After four games, they’re 4-0 and in first place. Next week: they play the 49ers.
Did Rams make draft mistakes with offensive selections?
We know that Les Snead doesn’t like using late first round picks on players, and that might be a good strategy, but what about the picks that he does make? Many of them also turn out to be quality players too — and yet days like Sunday make it apparent that LA has holes on the roster that could have been filled with more shots at defensive picks instead of depth on offensive skill positions.
The Rams chose Darrell Henderson in the third round in 2019. Then Cam Akers and Van Jefferson in the second round in 2020. Then Tutu Atwell in the second round in 2020.
That might be a normal amount of offensive picks on day two for any team, and Snead did draft some defensive talent in there too, but Atwell and Jefferson seem like toppings to a salad that is already quite loaded, while Akers and Henderson have predictable injury issues. And LA is still left wanting for defensive prospects.
Drafted since 2019 are Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, David Long, Robert Rochell, Terrell Burgess, Greg Gaines, Bobby Brown III, Chris Garrett, Ernest Jones, Terrell Lewis, and Nick Scott. Of those, Fuller is the only one who has really grabbed a probable long-term spot on the defense, Lewis is coming on of late, Rapp has been a liability in coverage, as has Long, Brown is a healthy scratch, Scott is a special teams asset, Rochell doesn’t seem to see the field much, and the rest seem to be stuck on the depth chart.
The Rams have let many players leave in the last few years. Robert Quinn has 4.5 sacks in four games. John Franklin-Myers has three sacks in four games. Morgan Fox is a starter with the Carolina Panthers. Alec Ogletree seems to be doing well in Chicago so far. John Johnson III and Troy Hill are playing for the Cleveland Browns.
It’s tough to keep the band together, which is why you need to draft well. On Sunday, it was apparent that LA has done neither recently with regards to its defense.