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6 things I choose to believe about the LA Rams in their MNF loss to the 49ers

Sean McVay chooses to believe that the Rams are better than this, and so do I

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Following LA’s 31-10 loss to the 49ers on Monday, Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters that he chooses to believe that the team is better than their last two performances.

“I choose to believe these last couple of weeks are not who we are,” McVay said. “I refuse to believe that, even though you’re only as good as your last game.”

The Los Angeles Rams were 7-1 headed into Week 9’s Sunday night game against the Titans and they’ll be 7-3 when they face the Packers at Lambeau Field in two weeks. There’s something undeniable about McVay’s belief in the Rams: it’s hard to win seven of eight games.

Can LA win most or all of their remaining seven games? Here are some things that I choose to believe about the 2021 Rams.

I choose to believe that Matthew Stafford is not at fault for the 14-0 deficit

Facing second-and-8 on the fourth play of the game, Matthew Stafford took a shot to the end zone from LA Rams territory. The result was a Jimmie Ward interception at the SF7.

A) To claim that this is Stafford throwing a pick as he “targeted OBJ” will again prove that even “advanced stats” are intentionally misleading. This interception had nothing to do with Odell Beckham, Jr.. He’s just the famous name you add in the Tweet.

B) While not excusing Stafford for the decision or the throw, both of which read as bad looks on national television, this is about as uncostly as interceptions should get.

If Stafford had thrown the pass away, LA was facing a third-and-8 and as we would find out, they weren’t converting those opportunities nearly as well as the Niners. That’s a bigger problem than the interception.

At the time of the pick, I had no idea that San Francisco could drive 93 yards down the field against the Rams defense so I wasn’t concerned with Stafford’s pick; it should have only been a box score blemish.

On the fourth play of the next drive, Stafford threw a third-and-11 pass to Tyler Higbee, who bobbled the pass long enough for Ward to steal it away and run it into the end zone. Stafford falls no better than third in line for responsibility, behind Sean McVay’s play call and Higbee’s poor excuse for execution.

It’s easy to look at a box score and see a 14-0 deficit with two picks by Stafford, one of which is a pick-six, and pitch a narrative that this game falls on the quarterback. We should choose not to be that lazy.

On Stafford’s third drive of the game, he went 4-of-5 for 68 yards and a touchdown.

When the 49ers got the ball back, it was the LA defense that allowed a 91-yard touchdown drive by Jimmy Garoppolo, including two more third down conversions. This put the 49ers up 21-7 and when Stafford came back out, the Rams were able to drive to the SF15. At that point, center Brian Allen’s false snap penalty set back the offense to second-and-11 and with the first half winding down, it was McVay who elected for a fake field goal.

If not for that, at least the Stafford offense would’ve been able to produce 10 quick points as an answer. If not for a bend-and-break defense that kept Stafford off of the field for over 11 minutes in the first quarter and a nearly eight-minute drive in the second quarter, the Rams offense also would have had more than those four opportunities.

I choose to believe that Matthew Stafford remains a monumental upgrade at QB

Many times after a win or when Stafford has done something good, and it is compared to how this same offense performed with a different quarterback—an opportunity for study of the QB position that is rarely so rich and juicy with potential findings—there is a backlash to “stop bringing up Jared Goff”.

And yet, given the opportunity to criticize the Rams coming off of back-to-back losses, those same backlashers are less withholding of bringing up the past.

“Well, this is just like it was the last two years!”

Right now, Matthew Stafford is in danger of not being the MVP. At the same time, Jared Goff is facing a whole different set of challenges and questions about his future. The 0-8-1 Lions must consider what to do at the quarterback position, given that Goff has one touchdown, four interceptions, two fumbles over his last five games, getting sacked 16 times.

I choose to believe that the running backs wouldn’t have mattered

Contrary to social media beliefs, I know that running backs do matter. However, the complaint about not using Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel more often on Monday Night Football makes less sense to me than say, asking why the defense is so abusable.

Henderson finished with five carries for 31 yards, but his 6.2 YPC average is meaningless; any running back might gain 30+ yards on five carries against any defense. It’s only five carries. The reason that 49ers back Elijah Mitchell “only” rushed for 3.4 YPC is because he had 27 attempts. The reason he had 27 attempts is because Kyle Shanahan was using McVay’s bend-don’t-break defense against him:

Crush time of possession. Pick up just enough yards for first downs. I recently heard someone repeat the phrase “Good offenses don’t face third downs” and nothing could be further from the truth. That’s a terrible philosophy in football, as it would be in life. The key is not to avoid third down; the key is to not fear third down.

A good offense is not simply an offense that scores 50 points. A good offense is oftentimes the offense that scores more points than the other team. That’s it. A 17-0 win is just as good as a 41-17 win—both go in the same column—and the 17-0 win might be a perfect execution of a gameplan.

McVay could have chosen to run the ball on the third or fourth play of the game—the fourth play being the first interception—and that’s a debate worth having, but if you can’t overcome an arm punt two minutes into the contest, you were never going to win.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

McVay may have chosen to run on the second drive, but a first down penalty on Andrew Whitworth turned would-be second-and-4 into a first-and-19.

McVay could have chosen to run on the third drive, but instead Stafford led a quick touchdown score with his arm, so what’s the complaint? It’s better to be 14-7 quick than to wait and hope you’re 14-7 later down the line. The Rams weren’t in the same position as the 49ers to run the ball. Midway through the third quarter, LA was down 24-7. The run game was over.

I choose to believe there were no good opportunities to run the ball after the first drive.

I choose to believe that now is not the time for judgment with regards to Von Miller and Odell Beckham, Jr.

It’ll be fine. They aren’t even close to being integrated into the offense or defense. Veterans know better than to overrate the outcome of a single game or a two-game losing streak.

I choose to believe that there are only two playoff seeds: 1 and “2 through 7”

The Rams are 7-3 and the Cardinals are 8-2. If LA comes back and runs the table to go 7-0 down the stretch, they will have beaten both Arizona and 8-2 Green Bay. They already have a head-to-head win over the 6-3 Bucs. The only team that the Rams can’t directly deliver a blow to are the 7-2 Cowboys.

Yes, being the one seed is an advantage, but then you have to execute in the playoffs. Last season, the Packers went 13-3 and then failed to execute in the playoffs as the one seed. Win or lose on Monday, the Rams would’ve remained the five seed. They’re as much in the mix now as they would have been with a win, even if we can’t excuse the loss entirely. It’s not good—but let’s not get carried away.

It’s the playoffs that matter.

I choose to believe that the defense is in trouble

I think some people will say, “You’re just defending everything the Rams do”—which would sure make me not at all like the Rams defense.

I believe that the clear issue to take away from this game is not the offense, but how easily upended the defense was on obvious third down passing situations against Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s not so much the run game that was concerning—though that is worrisome too—it’s that Garoppolo could easily complete third down conversions in tight passing windows against the same linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties who will be tasked with helping the Rams win a playoff game or four.

The 49ers rushed for a season-high 156 yards and Garoppolo’s 141.7 passer rating is the second-best single game mark of his career. He went 15-of-19 for 182 yards and two touchdowns. In his previous start vs LA, he went 23-of-33 for 268 yards with three touchdowns.

In the playoffs, there will be even better QBs than Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy Garoppolo. How will Raheem Morris and this defense answer to them?