The Los Angeles Rams entered Week 9 — officially the midpoint of the 2021 NFL season — having rattled off four straight wins. Unfortunately, a physical Tennessee Titans team stole the show on Sunday Night and handed the Rams their 2nd loss on the season.
It was a disappointing night for the offense, especially when the defense played very well. While the loss was not a soul-crushing loss, but it did raise concerns for a Championship-hopeful team. Can McVay & Stafford can get the offense to play at a high enough level against top defenses on a weekly basis? That question might not be able to be answered until a few more clashes with elite opponents, but the question is in the minds of fans.
Sean McVay’s play calling came into question and Matthew Stafford compounded mistakes which dug the Rams an early hole that they could not climb out of. We’ll discuss that more in detail below, along with:
- WR-room thins for third week in a row, is there concern?
- TE position becoming a major concern
- Why did the OL struggle despite being a Top 5 unit in the NFL
- Front 7 of the defense stock rising weekly
- Jalen Ramsey’s play and the rest of the Secondary when targeted
In addition, the grade next to the individual is his current PFF grade.
*The differential +/- in parenthesis reflects whether or not he improved or declined from the previous week. Lastly, based on my own study of the game, I hand out a grade to the position group based on their ability and impact on the game (as well as injuries, signings, or releases). This grade factors into the overall grade of the positional group for the season, and ultimately the trend of the unit moving forward.*
Matthew Stafford: 78.8 (-4.4), John Wolford: 39.2 (-1.1)
Welp. Safe to say this was Stafford’s worst performance of the season. 31/48, 294, 1 TD, 2 INT. The dominos started falling off on the Rams 4th possession when they were pinned against their own endzone. On 3rd & 4, Stafford was pressured by Jeffery Simmons near the goalline. Out of fear of being called for a safety, Stafford threw up a prayer while being taken to the ground.
The ball traveled a few yards into the hands of David Long Jr, with no Rams WRs in sight. 20 seconds later, the Rams had the ball again and this time Stafford was picked off by Kevin Byard; returning it for a house call. Now a lot of blame is on Stafford. He just simply can’t make the Goff-type mistake that McVay wanted to rid the team of. Stafford is a vet and needs to take better care of the football. On the other hand, there is some blame on the iOL and McVay, which we will get to later in those respective groups.
With that aside, it was easy to see that the 4 man pressure that TEN used was getting to Stafford. He had happy feet and didn’t seem as comfortable (felt rushed) going through his progressions. Credit Vrabel and the TEN DL for a great game plan and execution. Stafford also had multiple passes swatted down at the LoS, a similiar issue I mentioned last week against Houston. He wasn’t helped by some of his playmakers as Van Jefferson dropped a pass on a deep ball (free play for encroachment) and Tyler Higbee failed to stay in-bounds on a route where Stafford found him on a scramble. The TD was overturned for Higbee’s illegal touching.
Tyler Higbee managers when the TD gets overturned pic.twitter.com/wSxkCsjDg1— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) November 8, 2021
Where can Stafford improve going into Week 10? Regaining the composure he had when things started slow in games like IND, TB, SEA. Just because the deep shots aren’t there doesn’t mean the offense needs to panic. And again some of this is on McVay’s play calling. But Stafford should be able to audible to a better play call. Bubble screens to Kupp or quick slants to Higbee/Woods/Jefferson. Let that 4 deep shell start creeping to the LoS. McVay may not want to have a gameplan of long, methodical drives because there is risk of making offensive mistakes, but sometimes having those play scripts in the back pocket is okay, because the Rams offense is so dynamic that the short plays can turn explosive with guys like Henderson, Kupp, Woods, Jefferson, Higbee.
Last piece here is that obviously, we hope the ankle injury by Stafford is okay. We’ll need a bounce back performance against a SF team that has had McVay’s number the last two years.
Week 9 Grade: D+, Overall: B+, Trend: Moderate Downward
Darrell Henderson: 71.2 (+0,8), Sony Michel: 62.3 (+0.5), *Jake Funk: 63.6 (IR), Buddy Howell: 66.6 (N/A)
One of those weeks where you feel like the grade is incomplete. Henderson actually ran very well in this one: 11 carries, 55 yards. I mean a 5.0 avg against a good Vrabel defense is the first positive of what the offense did do well in this game. Yes, more Henderson carries would have been nice. But the Rams were down 21-3 at the end of the half, which doesn’t help your game plan going into the 2nd half.
Sony Michel didn’t have as great as a performance running the ball - 7 carries, 20 yards (2.9 avg). But he did manage 2 rec, 6 yards, 1 TD. It was in garbage time, but both these RBs have shown ability as pass catchers. It means Stafford can rely on the screen game more if pressure is becoming an issue.
Week 9 Grade: B-, Overall: B+, Trend: Neutral
Robert Woods: 75.7 (+1.9), Cooper Kupp: 89.4* (-0.8), Van Jefferson: 63.0 (-3.0), DeSean Jackson: 72.5 (RELEASED), *TuTu Atwell: 60.7 (IR), Bennett Skowronek: 71.2 (-2.6), *Jacob Harris: 58.7 (DNP),
For a position group that was loaded at the start of the 2021 season. This group has seen its depth thin out considerably over the last 3 weeks. DeSean Jackson and the Rams mutually agreed to his release. TuTu Atwell suffered a season ending shoulder injury at Houston. And now Jacob Harris has suffered an ACL & MCL tear vs. Tennessee. This leaves the Rams with 4 wide receivers that I would label: “reliable” for game day.
Cooper Kupp continues to hold down the #3 position for WRs in PFF. His individual grades include: a 89.8 receiving grade, 56.2 for rushing grade, 70.0 for pass blocking, and 64.9 for run blocking. Despite having a quiet game for Kupp’s standards. He was still able to pile up: 11 rec (13 targets), 95 yards. A lot of targets came later in the game when TEN played even softer coverage.
Cooper Kupp is a CHEAT CODE. pic.twitter.com/r9p2Y82RmI— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 31, 2021
Robert Woods collected 7 rec (10 targets), 98 yards. Van Jefferson added 3 rec (7 targets), 41 yards. His deep ball drop was the worst part of the night for the WR group. And he failed to haul in two redzone targets (1 back of endzone & 1 fade).
I did use Pro-Football-Reference to look at this group and so far Kupp/Woods/Jefferson have combined for:
- 218 targets out of 325 pass attempts (67% of the team)
- 146 receptions out of 220 completions (66%)
- 2008 rec yards out of 2776 passing yards (72%)
- 18 TDs
- 765 YAC
- 11 drops
- 102 first downs
Maybe one of the more shocking stats is that Cooper Kupp has 7 of the 11 drops.
I’ll be curious to see if the Rams add anyone to the WR room in the coming weeks. The playmakers that Stafford originally started with are thinning by the week. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the extremely concerned), I am probably a 4 or 5 right now. Reasoning being - it seems that McVay is pigeon-holed to moving forward with 11 personnel because of Mundt’s injury. With no TE2, he has to call more 11 personnel. And with that being the case, if one of these guys gets hurt is JJ Koski on the practice squad really getting promoted to see time?
Week 9 Grade: B, Overall: A-, Trend: Neutral
Tyler Higbee: 62.8 (-2.0), *Johnny Mundt: 64.7 (IR), Brycen Hopkins: DNP, Kendall Blanton: 41.1 (-5.2)
So while I thought this position group could just coast by with the surrounding offensive talent, I am beginning to think less and less that that can be the case. Johnny Mundt’s injury looms larger now against stronger competition like TEN. Against NYG, DET, HOU, Stafford was able to sling the ball around with ease. But what happens when 11 personnel isn’t clicking? The Rams need that versatility of 12 personnel. They had that with Mundt in the first 5 games of the year. It strengthened the OL; allowing a guy like Brian Allen to help his OGs with vicious chip blocks. And I’ll touch more on that below in the OL group.
I hope its recognized and there is variation moving forward, but I do worry that McVay might fall back into a habit of 11 personnel. I just do not like that idea, because it allows defenses to game plan to one scheme. The Rams offense is special with its playmakers. Make defenses respect that plus the personnel packages that the Rams implement to change the flow and style of the game. Yes, Stafford and the WRs/TEs provide a Top 10 air threat in the league, but this team is also very good at running the ball with Henderson & Michel (and maybe even Akers later this year). Why not make teams respect the 12 personnel we have.
Now, I know that the TE2 spot is now down to Blanton & Hopkins. I guess I ask/wonder - are neither ready to play 10-15 snaps a game? We don’t need either to hold down a 50% snap share per game. But being able to get on the field and run block + pass block via PA would be nice!
Last but not least, I want to challenge Tyler Higbee. WE NEED YOU. This guy must step it up as 1) as the #4 target; winning his matchups 1:1 when teams double Kupp or use a shell to prevent deep passes, and 2) run & pass block with purpose. Put some guys on their backs! I WANT THE HIGBEAST, not the soft guy from the Fisher era. 5 rec (10 targets) for 51 yards isn’t good enough if 10 targets are coming your way. And a TD was wiped off the board for not having better field presence of where he was in the endzone. A back breaker for a team struggling to score through the first 3 quarters.
Week 9 Grade: C-, Overall: C-, Trend: Moderate Downward
Andrew Whitworth: 81.8 (+3.2), Joe Noteboom: 68.2 (DNP), David Edwards: 65.1 (-0.8), Brian Allen: 74.0 (-1.6), Coleman Shelton: 47.8 (N/A), Austin Corbett: 69.9 (-0.2), Bobby Evans: 58.8 (N/A), Rob Havenstein: 77.3 (+0.8), Alaric Jackson: 37.9 (N/A)
Two different sides to the coin for the OL. Andrew Whitworth & Rob Havenstein, the vets, were very reliable. In the run game, they were both in the Top 5 for run-block win rate for Week 9. As for pass pro, Whitworth didn’t allow any pressures, and Havenstein allowed 2 on 48 pass attempts.
But on the flip side, the iOL struggled...mightily. Jeffery Simmons took David Edwards for a walk for 4 quarters. Brian Allen seemed a step slow adjusting to the TEN DL stunts, as did Corbett. Now, I do think this is just one game. And a great learning curve for Edwards/Allen/Corbett to handle a good defense like TEN that uses stunts well. I do think those three guys are more finesse iOL, they aren’t suited for dropping back 48 times/game and playing 1:1 with another team’s DL. They play really well when Allen is delivering chip shot blows to help out D. Edwards & Corbett. And maybe, again, they just had an off night and didn’t communicate those stunts well. I’m looking forward to seeing their response against SF’s strong DL and other top DL units later on.
Week 9 Grade: C-, Overall: B+, Trend: Slight Downward
Aaron Donald: 92.4* (+0.2), *Sebastian Joseph-Day: 62.4 (IR), A’Shawn Robinson: 76.6 (+7.4), Greg Gaines: 78.4 (+1.8), Jonah Williams: 66.3 (Waived), Mike Hoecht: 47.8 (+0.2), Bobby Brown III: 62.8 (+0.4), Marquise Copeland: 72.4 (N/A)
After 9 weeks, Aaron Donald is now tied with Cam Heyward as the #1 iDL for PFF. His run defense comes in at 84.8, with his pass rush grade at 91.7. AD99 was in the TEN backfield from the start of the game. He posted 4 tackles (2 solo), 1 TFL, 1 sack, and 2 QB hits. He was flagged for a roughing the passer call that was absurd. The referees are going to need to start calling some more holding penalties on the OL trying to block him. Do we really believe that there wasn’t one single holding situation on AD in the first half? Come on now NFL - do better.
Aaron Donald. See attached: https://t.co/AwItjp4e92 pic.twitter.com/zqEfgEuToI— E. Mufasa Walker (@Carl_noWinslow) October 28, 2021
It looks like SJD is out for the year with a torn pec. I am saddened by his injury, but maybe this is a blessing in disguise for a few ways: 1) Greg Gaines is playing really well and deserved more time, 2) A’Shawn Robinson is starting to make some progress, and 3) maybe the Rams are able to resign SJD for 2022 on a 1 year prove it deal so he can rebuild his stock. I imagine the only two other teams bidding for him in FA would be LAC (Staley) and DET (Brad Holmes).
Again, I think Greg Gaines insertion into the starting lineup (98% snap share) gives the defense a little bit more versatility to defend the run but also get after the QB. He’s already tied his season-best in sack production at 1.5, but I think with his motor as of late, that number will continue to climb; especially with guys like AD99, Floyd, and the addition of Von Miller.
A’Shawn Robinson also deserves credit for his improved play the last two weeks. He saw 66% of the snaps Sunday Night and he was the root cause in the first turnover of the game. Jalen Ramsey made a great play as a DB, but A’Shawn’s pressure on Tannehill was what help force the reckless throw. A’Shawn shot down through the OL and that managed to get straight/upfield to the QB; getting his big hand in Tannehill’s face to cause some disturbance.
Week 9 Grade: A-, Overall: A-, Trend: Neutral
Troy Reeder: 51.7 (+3.3), Ernest Jones: 61,1 (+0.9), *Travin Howard: 61.6 (IR)
This is where I don’t think I necessarily agree with PFF. Yes, Reeder & E. Jones were fine in run defense. That’s evident by TEN’s 2.7 avg per carry. It’s two other areas that need addressing:
- Tackling. Troy Reeder has missed 11 tackles this year. And a number of them have been near the LoS from my recollection. Jones has only 1 missed tackle, but a guy that I will mention here is Taylor Rapp who has 7 missed tackles. Rapp was a sure tackler his first year. He only missed 3 in 15 games played, with 100 comb tackles.
- Pass coverage. The SNF broadcast highlighted Reeder’s “near INT” on a Tannehill slant. Yes, Reeder was close. But it also showed that Reeder just doesn’t possess the natural pass coverage ability that Ernest Jones has (as shown against HOU).
Week 9 Grade: C, Overall: C+, Trend: Slight Downward
Leonard Floyd: 77.6 (+0.1), Von Miller: 85.6 (DNP), Justin Hollins: 71.4 (IR), Terrell Lewis: 54.1 (+0.9), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: 83.5 (+6.6), Chris Garrett: 53.8 (DNP), Justin Lawlar: 63.8 (DNP), Jamir Jones: 55.2 (DNP)
How frustrating is it that Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is now playing his best football when Von Miller is likely to take a large snap share in the next game? Obo is mainly used in pass rush situations (31% snap share), but he’s really taking advantage. He has 5 QB pressures in 6 games played (148 snaps). Him and Terrell Lewis will continue to battle for the first Edge rusher off the bench with V. Miller’s looming insertion into the starting lineup.
Leonard Floyd added another sack. And if the Aaron Donald effect isn’t enough. There could be bigger trouble for opposing QBs with V. Miller coming from the other side. I’ll be interested to see how Raheem Morris aligns the front 7 along with how teams slide their protections.
Week 8 Grade: B+, Current Grade: B+, Trend: Slight Upward
Jalen Ramsey: 83.9* (+2.5), Darious Williams: 60.1 (-1.2), David Long Jr.: 62.1 (DNP), Robert Rochell: 68.2 (-0.9), Donte Deayon: 69.0 (-2.1)
Jalen Ramsey is officially the #1 CB according to PFF ratings. He carries a run defense grade of 84.9, a pass rush grade of 63.6, and a coverage grade of 84.9. Co-DPOY with AD99!
As promised, here is how the CBs perform in coverage...
- Ramsey: 33 rec allowed on 54 targets, 3 INTs, 61.1 Comp %
- Williams: 27 rec allowed on 40 targets, 0 INTs, 67.5 Comp %
- Long Jr: 19 rec allowed on 29 targets, 1 INT, 65.5 Comp %
- Rochell: 12 rec allowed 21 targets, 1 INT, 57.1 Comp %
- Deayon: 16 rec allowed 27 targets, 0 INT, 59.3 Comp %
There was obviously disappointment in David Long Jr not stepping up to claim the 3rd corner spot. But Rochell and Deayon have provided depth there. Darious Williams played 60% of snaps vs TEN; coming off of IR with an ankle injury. Rochell claimed 36% and Deayon had 62%. It’ll be an interesting battle moving forward as to who McVay/Morris thinks is the best three CBs, if DWill isn’t playing up to his 2020 play.
they really added Von Miller to *this* pic.twitter.com/7YcLQmKPcl— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) November 4, 2021
One other point. Dont’e Deayon can you please just play football. Leave the talking to guys like Ramsey. It just irked me seeing Deayon trying to get under AJ Brown’s skin. Why? Just play man. You are fighting to be getting consistent playing time. Instead you forced Ramsey to come to your defense and Ramsey ends up getting blamed for a penalty; defending you. And this wasn’t the only instance either. Deayon jawed all throughout the 1st half. Sorry bro, but you need to earn your title in this league before the trash talking starts. It doesn’t mean I don’t love his play. I thought he made a great read and got downhill quick on a WR screen to blow it up. Make plays like that for the remainder of the year, week in & week out to get yourself to be a starter for 2022, then maybe some trash can be talked. For now - be Ramey’s wing man.
Back to Ramsey. His INT was just pure athleticism and ability to read the QB. His hips flipping in conjuction with the WR breaking his route was beautiful watch on replay and then over and over again on the All-22 film.
Week 9 Grade: B-, Overall: B, Trend: Neutral
Jordan Fuller: 76.4 (+5.1), Taylor Rapp: 63.4 (-0.6), Terrell Burgess: 79.4 (DNP), Nick Scott: 42.5 (+0.9), JuJu Hughes: 35.5 (DNP)
Jordan Fuller is just playing better football every week. He’s allowed 23 completions on 34 targets (67.6%), but he has been phenomenal as an open field tackler; only missing 2 tackles on the year. A 2.9% missed tackle percentage.
I still wait for Terrell Burgess to get the promotion, but we continue to wait...
Taylor Rapp: 20 completions on 30 targets (66.7%)
Nick Scott: 8 completions on 12 targets (66.7%)
Week 9 Grade: B+, Overall: B, Trend: Neutral
Johnny Hekker: 69.2 (-1.0), Matt Gay: 72.5 (+2.3)
I’ll start with this play. Ben Skowronek MUST do a better job at downing Hekker’s first punt inside the 5. That punt needs to be touched down at the 3. Instead, Skowronek got cute and tried to down it at like the 6” line. It resulted in a Hekker touchback; hurting Hekker’s overall numbers.
Hekker still managed a 49.8 avg on 4 punts. None were downed inside the 20; emphasizing the Rams struggles on offenses.
Matt Gay knocked through 3 field goals, with a long of 54.
Kick coverage only allowed two 25 yard returns by TEN.
The punt coverage team allowed an 11 yard return by Chester Rogers.
The kick return game is still searching for blocking and returners, as Buddy Howell returned two kickoffs for an avg of 17.0/return.
I will say that the Rams might have something in Koski as a Punt Returner if they want to abandon Kupp. Koski had the presence to pickup a skipping punt. Yes, it was only for a return of 7 yards, but instead of starting at their own 17 or worse (if the football continued to roll), Koski’s play helped start the drive at their own 24. More manageable and friendly for play calling.
The Rams lost Jacob Harris as a ST gunner; tearing his ACL & MCL.
Week 9 Grade: C, Overall: D+, Trend: Neutral
MCVAY AND CO.
It was a head scratching game for McVay. He admitted on Monday/Tuesday that he got impatient and tried to force the ball downfield more often, instead of taking what Vrabel/TEN were offering underneath. With that being said, it’s one thing to admit and it’s another to be conscience of that in the next game where a defense presents the same scheme. Will McVay make the proper play calling adjustment? And as I mentioned earlier in the TE/OL segment - are we going to see 12 personnel return? I believe its necessary to have and use. I hope McVay doesn’t abandon it like he does with the run game. Use Henderson more too.
The other frustrating element of the game was the penalties. Yes, there were some absurd ones called. But the atypical ones for the Rams really kept breaking their own backs time and time again. It was out of character for the least penalized team going into that game.
At the end of the day, the Rams now have a sense of what’s in front of them. They need to start winning these premier matchups with other Top 10 teams in the league if they want to create some noise in the later weeks and beyond. The easy part of the schedule is in the past. Time to “prepare in the present and produce in the future” as our HC often says.
7-2. Onto a Monday Night showdown with San Francisco. Pay back is overdue.
Week 9 Grade: McVay: D- / Morris: B+ / DiCamillis: C, Overall: B, Trend: Slight Downward