It was a rough day for quarterback Matthew Stafford but an opportunity to see the team rise up around him to get the win. The Los Angeles Rams (11-4) beat the Minnesota Vikings (7-8) 30-23 on Sunday to secure a spot in the playoffs and take the lead in the NFC West.
Here are the breakdowns by position and the resulting letter grade.
Let’s hope this is Stafford’s last multi interception game for the remainder of this year that will require the Rams to fire on all cylinders. Against the Vikings Stafford connected on 21 of 37 pass attempts for 197 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Apart from the interceptions were some missed throws to open receivers and bad spots that spoiled first down conversions. What Stafford did do on the positive end were the few throws that he did connect on in critical situations to keep the game from slipping away, like a 37 yard third down conversion to Cooper Kupp and then a touchdown to Odell Beckham Jr.
Sony Michel ran for 131 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown and was the cog that kept the offense moving as the pass game endured some costly turnovers. Michel averaged 4.9 yards per carry, while demonstrating patience and vision running behind the best efforts of a banged up offensive line.
Cooper Kupp had his fourteenth game of the season over 90 yards receiving which is a new National Football League record. Kupp had 10 receptions or 109 yards. OBJ had 4 catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. The receiver group also gets credit for another game of good blocking to help Michel reach over 100 yards rushing.
Tyler Higbee was back after a two week absence and got to work with five receptions for 41 yards. This group also had success blocking for the run and pass game to keep things moving for Michel and keep Stafford from taking any sacks.
Depth was tested again for the offensive line as Andrew Whitworth and Joe Noteboom were both inactive and Brian Allen was taken out early in the game with an injury and did not return. AJ Jackson and Coleman Shelton stepped in and helped the unit provide push for 159 yards rushing and zero sacks allowed. While sacks were avoided, breaks in the pass protection seemed to contribute to turnovers.
Aaron Donald is better than every other player in the National Football League as he reminded everyone once again on Sunday against the Vikings. Donald had five tackles, three tackles for a loss, and a sack in yet another game where he was needed to make up for the teams inactive players list and a quarterback gifting the opponent three turnovers. Greg Gaines also had a sack. In terms of run stoppage the defensive line led the charge capping the Vikings rushing total at 66 yards.
Ernest Jones suffered an ankle injury early in the game and did not return. The update Monday morning says that his availability will be determined week to week. Travin Howard stepped in for Jones and almost immediately impacted the game with a red zone interception. Troy Reeder had one of his better performances with six tackles, on tackle for loss, and a pass deflection.
First career INT for @TravinTheGreat.— x - Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 26, 2021
Jalen Ramsey versus Justin Jefferson was a key matchup in this game and Ramsey won decisively. Per PFF, in 21 snaps covered by Ramsey, Jefferson was targeted five times and made three catches for 24 yards.
Justin Jefferson vs Jalen Ramsey this week— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 27, 2021
21 cover snaps
24 yards pic.twitter.com/3plLaO8wUk
Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller kept the lid on the Vikings offense not allowing any passes to get deep behind them and contributed to the run stoppage. The pair combined for 13 tackles.
Brandon Powell set fire to the game with a 61 yard punt return for a touchdown when the Rams needed it. Pro Bowl Kicker Matt Gay was again perfect on his three field goal attempts. The hands team was tested again in the final minute’s onside attempt and this time Van Jefferson secured the ball and the win.
HUGE 61-yard punt return from Brandon Powell!— x - Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 26, 2021
BP to the crib for 6️⃣ | @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/P2P2oKml4h
Once again coaching gets graded on a curve based on the irregular difficulties of Covid inactive lists and preparation protocol limitations. Based on those issues, being able to pull out a win on the road is not to be overlooked. McVay and staff had to first have their depth players prepared well before the game started but when it did, they rolled without two of their main offensive lineman and lost another one during the game. On offensive play calling, it seemed like while Michel did get 27 carries and over 100 yards rushing, perhaps a few more run calls in third quarter situations would have controlled the game a bit better and avoided the interceptions. With a ten point lead, it would have been great to see series of runs instead of consecutive pass plays especially since the run was working so well and the passes were going to the other team. The defense was facing a quarterback throwing on point and the second best receiver in the National Football League all while making up for an offense giving it away three too many times. In doing so, the secondary held up and the Donald led rush kept Cousins uncomfortable and unable to make up for the absent run game.