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Rams-Jaguars: 4 things I learned in the ‘mixed bag’ of victories

Sony Michel shines in his start, LA’s defense comes to life, and other things I learned in Week 13

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Rams Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams got back in the win column after a complete smashing over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13. The victory may not move the Rams up any leaderboards, but it sure does feel good to celebrate victory Monday after a month of its absence.

The game was a mixed bag despite a lopsided win. The first half saw the Rams offense struggling to convert and miss opportunities, while the defense gifted the Jaguars points with inexcusable penalties. Then Matthew Stafford got into rhythm and never looked back in the second half, while the defense would not allow another point to be scored.

Los Angeles will be traveling to the desert in Week 14 to take on the high-flying Arizona Cardinals at home as three point underdogs, but until then, here is what I learned in Week 13.

Special Teams was a mixed bag, but showed potential

The Good-

Matt Gay continued to show that he his the answer at the kicking position after making all three of his field goal attempts and all four of his extra points. Brandon Powell came off of the practice squad and turned his first opportunity into a 65 yard kickoff return and may have carved himself a roster spot with his performance. Robert Rochell made his second highlight on special teams in as many weeks when he pinned the Jaguars at the one yard line during a Hekker punt with an acrobatic effort. Against the Green Bay Packers he also recovered a muffed punt in similar fashion.

The Bad-

Despite stellar play from Gay during field goal attempts, his third kickoff of the game landed out-of-bounds and gave the Jaguars an opportunity to gain momentum with a short field at their 40 yard line. The defense bailed their kicker out by forcing the three-and-out following the mistake, but better teams will take advantage of those situations. Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5, Gay was penalized twice for his kicks falling short of the end zone and landing out of the field of play.

There is not yet an answer at the punt return position, though Powell may have a chance to take on the responsibility as he gets more reps in practice. Cooper Kupp got the nod once again to return punts, but is likely told not to attempt any returns in fear of injury. The Rams star receiver is too vital to the offense to have him continue to take on punt return duties, but anyone else who has lined up at the position seems to have a knack for fumbling the ball. Odell Beckham Jr. also has some availability to play the position, but that will not be until he his healthy.

Sony Michel takes over

With Henderson nursing a thigh injury, but still available for the game if needed, Sony Michel got the nod to start the game against Jacksonville. His 121 yard rushing effort may have earned him some extra opportunities on game day and possibly the starting role.

(29:54) “I think we did a great job staying efficient in the run game... Sony was running the ball really physical... a lot of those runs were downhill stuff and he was doing a great job at that,” Stafford explained in his press conference after the game.

Michel’s performance marked the first time this season that a Rams running back went for over 100 yards on the ground, though Henderson was close with 90 yards against the Houston Texans in Week 8. Michel may not have the breakaway speed that threatens a touchdown every rush, but he is a bruiser who is not afraid to run through the defense and fight for every down. That was evident in his touchdown early in the first quarter.

Head coach Sean McVay and his staff has continuously showed confidence in Henderson’s ability to be the starter all season, but Michel’s performance against the Jaguars may have been the catalyst needed for a change at the top of the depth chart. With Cam Akers reportedly having a chance to come back in the playoffs, Henderson may fall behind as the season progresses.

Receivers continue to miss opportunities

The Rams walk away with a re-assuring victory over the Jaguars, but against a better team it very much could have been a different tale. Other than Kupp, every receiver will need to improve going forward if the offense hopes to put away games for the remainder of the season.

(28:21) “We have to stay on the field on third down a couple more times...” Stafford said in his press conference, “Had a couple third downs that I could probably throw a little bit better ball on the first one to Ben. He’ll tell you probably he wishes he could have made that catch. Had one down in the red zone to Van as well... just opportunities that didn’t hurt us in this game but might hurt us in another one. We got to make sure we clean those up.”

Rookie Ben Skowronek missed an opportunity on a third down pass to move the ball deeper into Jaguars territory. His inability to make the play lead to a field goal early in the game.

Odell Beckham Jr. is obviously in a lot of pain due to his back injury. On a pass to the end zone from Stafford, Beckham appeared to half-heartedly jump to make the catch. A slow-motion replay showed his eyes coming off of the ball and turn instead towards a defender hunting him down. It would have been an insane catch, but we are talking about Beckham here. He made up for it later in the game when he high-pointed a ball over his defender for a one yard touchdown.

Kendall Blanton let a red zone attempt bounce off his hands on a beautiful throw from Stafford in the fourth quarter. The ball was placed only where the receiver could grab it but Blanton failed to reach far enough to make the play.

Van Jefferson could not make a third down catch that was thrown perfectly by Stafford at the end of the second quarter. Much like Skowronek’s dropped pass, Jefferson’s was the difference between a field goal and a possible score with the ball at the Jaguars 19 yard line. Despite the one dropped reception, Jefferson had a solid outing.

Defense pitches a shutout after mistakes lead to Jaguars only score

The Jaguars lone touchdown of the game might as well been wrapped and presented with a bow on top after the Rams continuously gifted Jacksonville yardage and first downs due to penalties and mistakes. Jalen Ramsey was called for taunting after he made a tackle that sent the offense back negative yardage. Two plays later Darious Williams got caught for defensive holding on an incomplete pass that gave Jacksonville a new set of downs and the ball at the one yard line.

For a second it looked like it would be a long day for the defense after allowing Trevor Lawrence to convert a fourth-and-2, but it quickly came apparent as the game progressed that it would not be the case. Instead, LA’s defense came to life. Lawrence was running for his life all day and finished with 145 yards passing and a QBR of just 71.3. Both backs for the Jaguars had fumbles that were recovered by LA, and both turnovers turned into touchdowns for the Rams offense.

Aaron Donald and the rest of the defensive line looked like themselves, despite a Jaguars game plan to get the ball out quickly. Donald finished with a sack but would have had two if not for a holding penalty called on Taylor Rapp. Ernest Jones continued to show progress as a starter and finished with a shared sack with Leonard Floyd.

Against better teams, the Rams penalties may have been their downfall on the defensive side of the ball. For at least this one game, however, they were able to overcome their early mistakes and cause enough turnovers to win the game.

What did you learn in LA’s victory over the Jaguars? Let me know in the comments below!