The Los Angeles Rams hold a 7-3 record through the first 10 weeks of the 2021 NFL season, but after dropping two straight games there seems to be more doom and gloom in the air than reasons for optimism. There are probably around 20 teams in the NFL that would be thrilled to take LA’s place in the standings. While the last two weeks have thrown a damper on the team’s red hot Super Bowl expectations, it is also important to keep perspective.
The success of this season for Los Angeles hinges on whether the team is able to peak at just the right time. The star acquisitions of Odell Beckham, Jr and Von Miller don’t necessarily need to pay dividends Weeks 10-15, but the Rams do need them to be difference makers as they gear up for a playoff push. There remains plenty of time to return the offense to their early season form, and Raheem Morris’ defense still has the opportunity to gel and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
The past is our best tool when predicting future outcomes, so what common threads tie together the Rams three losses through the first ten games?
Week 4 - Cardinals 37, Rams 20
Week 9 - Titans 28, Rams 16
Week 10 - 49ers 31, Rams 10
1 - The losses have come at the hands of good teams
The Rams have lost to the 8-2 Arizona Cardinals, the 8-2 Tennessee Titans, and the 4-5 San Francisco 49ers.
The Cardinals may actually be better than their record, as they are 1-1 since Colt McCoy has been starting in place of star Kyler Murray. The Rams will need to gain ground on Arizona if they want to take the NFC West divisional crown this season, and this will be interesting to watch playout over the second half of the year.
Tennessee has taken down some of the best teams in the NFL this year. After their victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 10, the Titans became the first team in league history to win all seven matchups against teams that made the playoffs the previous season. The Rams are just one of the notches on Tennessee’s belt that also includes the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, and Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers on the surface don’t seem worthy of being called a “good team”; however, coming into the season San Francisco was expected to compete for a division championship and a Super Bowl run. The 49ers are a very up-and-down team, but after suffering injuries to starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and quarterback of the future Trey Lance, the team is getting healthy and trying to turn their season around.
I'm not saying the #49ers got right, but man, a home win like last night's against a good Rams team has to be a shot of adrenaline for that locker room. Could be the turning point of the season with a host of favorable games to close out the year. Have to string them together.— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) November 16, 2021
2 - Matthew Stafford needs to take better care of the football
Professional football has changed significantly over the last twenty years - rule changes have made playing defense difficult, teams have gotten incredibly good at passing the football, and points have never been easier to put up; however, one important thing has not changed - there’s no quicker way to lose a football game than turning the football over.
In the Rams three losses this season Matthew Stafford has a touchdown to interception ratio of 4:5, which suggests that he’s at least a part of the problem. Turnovers are one of the biggest reasons why LA felt compelled to upgrade over Jared Goff. When Stafford takes care of the football - in LA’s seven wins Stafford has thrown only three interceptions - the Rams are among the best in the league.
In order for Los Angeles to live up to their Super Bowl expectations this season, Stafford needs to take better care of the football and help keep the offense on schedule.
3 - The defense needs “complementary pieces” to step up
LA’s defense that features Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, and Leonard Floyd has more high-end talent than any other unit in the league; however, the other seven individuals on the field have not proven reliable so far in 2021.
In his Tuesday press conference recapping the Week 10 loss to the 49ers, Sean McVay indicated that the Rams are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the deployment of Ramsey. One of the major questions after this loss was why LA did not use Ramsey to mitigate the threat of Deebo Samuel and/or George Kittle, but the real issue is that the Rams don’t have the “complementary pieces’ in the secondary to use Ramsey’s skillset in an ideal way.
Sean McVay agrees he'd like to see Jalen Ramsey checking the opposition's top playmakers more often, but "there are a lot of layers to it." Says the Rams are running low on "complementary pieces" who can hold it down elsewhere and allow Ramsey to play more at the point of attack.— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) November 16, 2021
Second-year safety Jordan Fuller has been reliable, but he’s not necessarily a difference-maker. Darious Williams seems to have taken a step back after playing at a high level in 2020. David Long, Jr. was benched in favor of rookie Robert Rochell after being exposed in Week 4 versus the Cardinals - and Rochell had an especially rough outing in San Francisco. The Rams only have one Ramsey and they desperately need someone else to step up and work in tandem with the star corner.
The Cardinals and Titans losses also demonstrated that LA needs a formidable rusher opposite Floyd, but the Rams seemingly filled this need by acquiring Miller ahead of the trade deadline.