Fans were in attendance for the first time in SoFi Stadium on Saturday to watch the Los Angeles Rams take on the Los Angeles Chargers in a preseason game with little meaning beyond injuries and finding out what players fighting for roster spots are made of under the bright lights.
There are many things that Sean McVay’s coaching staff took away from Saturday’s 13-6 loss, but these are five things that we learned from the outside looking in:
#1 - Tutu Atwell is fast, like really fast
Atwell looked like the fastest player on the field on Saturday, and it was not close. On a first-and-10 play, Devlin Hodges dropped back and delivered a strike to Atwell on the right side three yards past the line of scrimmage—which Atwell then put on the jets and took up the field for 20 yards.
There goes @tutuatwell pic.twitter.com/rgcE30fHmX— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 15, 2021
Atwell also had a great punt return that got called back due to a penalty, but it showed the elusiveness and speed when he outran the Chargers coverage team to the sideline. The addition of Atwell brings a whole new dimension to this Rams offense—he can easily take the top off of the defense, be used in end-rounds and screens, and also set up his team with electric punt returns.
(01:46) “You can see the explosive playmaker that has us excited about his potential and what we are looking forward to seeing him do for us this year,” Sean McVay explained.
McVay may not give fans or other teams a glimpse of his true plans with Atwell quite yet as he reserves his playbook for the regular season, but in the meantime it is safe to say the Rams plan this offense to play very fast football. Defenses will have to pick their poison against LA’s pass catchers, and that will open up some big plays for Atwell.
#2 - Jacob Harris has some developing to do, but could be the steal everyone was hoping for
Look at Sean McVay already using Jacob Harris just like Gruden uses Darren Waller on the outside as a mismatch pic.twitter.com/LbDRmQeR4w— Steven Padillas (@Falcons_Pad) August 15, 2021
Harris is a mismatch nightmare with his size and speed, especially in the red zone, but with only a couple years of experience playing football he is very much a raw talent. Harris was targeted seven times, four of which were completions, good for 43 yards.
Though he was the leading receiver for LA on Saturday, Harris showed some ball control issues when a defender easily knocked the ball out of his arms on a catch and run that could have led to a Rams turnover but luckily was scooped up. He will also need to work on his field-awareness which was apparent when he caught a pass from Hodges out-of-bounds in the end zone, though Harris came down with the ball there seemed to be little effort to get his feet in the lines.
Time will tell what the future holds for Harris on this team, but his intangibles are off the charts. With two preseason games left the speedy tight end will have plenty of practice. On Monday, McVay had this to say about Harris,
(00:31) “I thought we saw a lot of good things. Him being able to make some plays. Think he can learn from somethings as well in terms of just cleaning it up—ball security. I did like some the ability to break tackles, you can see the catch radius... he did a lot of good things he can learn from it. I thought overall it was a positive experience for him tonight.”
#3 - Kickers are just volatile, man
After Greg Zuerlein’s departure in 2020, the Rams held a three-way kicking competition that was eventually won by Sam Sloman, then they signed Kai Forbath when that didn’t work, then moved onto Matt Gay after Forbath.
On Saturday night both kickers on the team missed attempts—Matt Gay missed an extra point that was made longer thanks to a Rams penalty, and Austin MacGinnis missed from 40 yards out. MacGinnis is no longer in the running for the job, as he was cut from the team on Monday during the first round of cuts.
Gay may be safe for the meantime due to his performance last year for LA; he was good for 87.5% of his kicks in 2020 and did not miss an extra point, but the Rams may add competition like they have in years passed.
“There’s a couple times where you just miss a kick. It seemed like the operation was pretty good—good snap, good hold. I know Matt is going to want that one back,” McVay said iterated when asked about some of the special teams play.
#4 - The offensive line reserves are backups for a reason
The Chargers lived in the Rams backfield. The team went into the offseason with some questions about the line’s depth, but it had seemed McVay and coaches were content with what they had in house and chose not to add an offensive linemen in the 2021 draft. Now, after just one preseason game, the questions of depth at the offensive line position have been answered—and it doesn’t look good.
If the starters can stay healthy like they did in the 2018 season when the team went to the Super Bowl, LA may never have to face the reality of their depth, but if injuries begin to manifest there may be some issues for pass and run protection this season.
For more on the offensive line’s performance, including who played the most, the struggles of Bobby Evans, and why Joseph Noteboom is too important to risk in the preseason, read our breakdown of the o-line from the weekend.
#5 - Punt/kick returning is going to be fun to watch this season
Making it look EASY, @king_calais! pic.twitter.com/vFMroCZRpD— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 15, 2021
If the first preseason game is any indication of what kick/punt returning is going to be like this season, it is going to be fun to watch. Tutu Atwell took the first punt of the game 30 yards before being pushed out of bounds—but the gain was unfortunately called back due to a Rams penalty.
Raymond Calais also looked very confident in punt returns when he returned a punt 46 yards and set the offense in great position. Whoever is back there fielding punts, LA has some great candidates that have the ability to take it to the house at any point in the game on special teams.