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Rams Mailbag, playoffs edition: 5 burning questions as LA prepares for the postseason

Matthew Stafford confidence? Rams’ weaknesses? It’s all right here

Los Angeles Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams currently have a 12-4 record and are sitting in the number two spot in the NFC conference standings. The team is preparing for the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under young head coach Sean McVay, but this year things feel different.

The Rams bet big on Matthew Stafford when they made the quarterback swap this offseason - and LA’s offense is again one of the most explosive units in the NFL. The mid-season acquisitions of Sony Michel, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Von Miller are paying dividends for Los Angeles, and not many teams in the NFC tournament boast the same amount of star power.

Our Turf Show Times writing staff put together some thoughts on how the playoffs could shake out for LA, and what the biggest threat to a Super Bowl campaign may be.


1 - What is one thing you learned about the 2021 Rams during the regular season?

Steven Ridings

This is a very cheesy answer, but that the team has grown/showed growth and in a multitude of ways. This is a team that was often criticized for its depth, yet look at what depth players have stepped up: Sony Michel, Joe Noteboom, Alaric Jackson, Coleman Shelton, Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell, Matt Gay, Ernest Jones, Greg Gaines, etc. All of those players have gotten better since Week 1 and that’s what you want to see out of your football team going into the playoffs.

This team also showed that it can win in ugly fashion (3 turnovers against MIN). In the beginning of the year, 2 turnovers usually sunk this team. And my last growth point is the cohesion the team has forged. Sony Michel is a very confident runner now in Week 16 and we are seeing the results of that. OBJ has 4 TDs after being acquired mid-season and learning a new offense. Von Miller is beginning to round into his best form as we near the playoffs.

Dylan Deines

General manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay have put together a team that can fight through adversity. When the Rams went to the Super Bowl in 2018, they were one of the healthiest teams in the league, but this year they lost their starting running back before the season even started, moved on from DeSean Jackson, lost Robert Woods, Tutu Atwell, and Sébastien Joseph-Day to injury in the middle of the season. They have had one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the league but still defeated two playoff-caliber teams without many of their key pieces during that time and sit currently at 11-4 on the season.

The Rams do not get enough credit for what they have overcome this season.

Chris Daniel

During the 2021 season, I learned the Rams are a deep team, not just a top-heavy team in terms of star power. They have proven to have quality depth at basically all positions groups. I also learned that I must have more faith in General Manager Les Snead and the personnel staff that has constructed this team... I am not going to use this time to have you guys imagine that the starting lineup and depth could be even better had they selected center Creed Humphrey. That is not what we’re here for.

Evan Craig

The most notable to me was how strong the character of this team was while they were dealing with their COVID outbreak. They didn’t roll over and die. Instead they won crucial road games against the Cardinals and Vikings en route to currently being atop the NFC West. It was a testament to strong coaching and having the personnel to step up when needed and that’ll come in quite handy during the postseason.

JB Scott

The Rams seem more flexible this season and are better at counterpunching when they don’t get the initial look they were anticipating. I think this is the most well-rounded team in the playoffs out of either conference.

There’s really nothing LA is limited by offensively. If defenses want to take away the deep ball, the Rams have shown they can pound the rock with Sony Michel and complete underneath passes to Cooper Kupp or Tyler Higbee. If you creep up to stop the run, the ball is going to sail over your head to someone like Van Jefferson.

On defense the Rams have been effective as of late in the run game, and the pass defense has come on especially strong. They are well-suited to harass pocket passers and mitigate the athleticism of scrambling QBs.

Kenneth Arthur

I think any time you have a player emerge as arguably the best player at his position, that is worth recognizing and praising because we witnessed Cooper Kupp’s emergence among the greats in real time this season. I’m sure that Kupp has made improvements to his game this year, certainly “I never want to stop getting better” is basically his mantra, but I believe that what we’re really seeing is what would have happened years ago if Kupp had been the featured player with the right quarterback all along. The fact that you can feed Kupp 11-12 targets every single week, when teams know it’s coming, and there’s nothing they can do about it... I don’t know how long this ride will last, but Kupp crossed over from “Why isn’t this guy in the Pro Bowl yet?” to “Is there even a better receiver in the league?” and now we’ll be talking about him for years just as we have for Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Elroy Hirsch, Henry Ellard, etc. Think of how awesome Robert Woods is, then consider that over his first two seasons with the Rams, Woods had 142 catches for 2,000 yards and 11 TDs. Kupp already has 138 catches for 1,829 yards and 15 TDs, in 12 fewer games than what it took for Woods to get those numbers. On almost 30 fewer targets.

Robert Finn

Sean McVay is even more impressive as a head coach. As much shit as I give his play-calling sometimes, the turnover he deals with on his coaching staff every offseason has to be difficult. Yet, the team remains highly competitive.

Venie Randy Soares

The Rams roster is deep. I’m not talking star quality players, but rather a supporting cast that plays hard, can be coached up to fit in, and produces in tough situations. If or when the depth starts to get shallow, Les Snead and Company are not afraid to restock with not only big-time stars, but situational and small-role contributors as well.


2 - How confident are you that Matthew Stafford can win in the playoffs?

Kenneth Arthur

Less confidence than I’d have in Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers, but more confidence than Kyler Murray, Carson Wentz, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr, Jalen Hurts, Jimmy Garoppolo. I’d put him alongside Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert... I think that’s exactly where you’d expect him to be and never before has Stafford had a greater opportunity to win a playoff game or multiple playoff games.

Robert Finn

After two games in a row with 3+ turnovers, not very. However, I do have confidence in Raheem Morris and that defense. If the Rams can get back to 2018 mode - where the passing game is set up by a strong rushing attack - they can beat anybody.

Venie Randy Soares

90 percent. Nine times out of ten, the Rams overall talent can overcome a bad game by their QB. When the Rams lose, it’s usually because of struggles in multiple facets of the game. I don’t really care about his playoff record in Detroit, this 2021/22 LA team should be favored in every playoff game.

Chris Daniel

I believe the Rams can win with Stafford but he does have to play better than he has during his down moments. Stafford must remember he is no longer on a team where HE had to make every play in order to even give his team a chance at victory. The Rams quarterback just needs to play within the system and trust his teammates. That’s also on head coach Sean McVay to call a few extra runs. Pound the rock, screens, and take your shots on play action passes. It’s worked with less at the position.

In fairness to Stafford’s recent struggles, he has been in football purgatory for twelve seasons. He’s not going to forget some of those bad habits in 16 games. It hasn’t truly been “Stafford can’t win the big game.” It’s more so the Detroit Lions could barely win any games before, during, or after the Stafford era. Stafford missed 27 games during his Lions career. They went 5-22; Detroit has mostly had bad teams around him. In the last 25 years the Lions are 55-178-1. That franchise just can’t win with or without the former Georgia Bulldog.

JB Scott

With Stafford under center the Rams are never completely out of a game. We’ve seen his penchant for remarkable comebacks both in Detroit and now in Los Angeles. I have near-100% confidence that LA can win a playoff game with Stafford.

With that said, can Stafford be trusted to put together four straight outings without performing like he did in the three-game losing streak in the middle of the season? The margins of victory are too thin to turn the ball over and spot the other team points in the playoffs, especially in places like Green Bay where the wintery conditions could limit the overall effectiveness of your offense.

Evan Craig

I’ll feel even more confident in him if he doesn’t have to do everything himself. I believe he has greatness in him if he can maintain some level of consistency which as we know has been hard to come by throughout his career. This year is setting the stage for his potential in LA. I don’t see a deep playoff run in him this season but that’s not to say it won’t happen in the near future.

Dylan Deines

Stafford will finish the season doubling the amount of touchdowns that Jared Goff had in the 2020 season. Stafford has not hit his peak yet, but I fully expect him to in the playoffs. I can’t remember a time a QB got so much scrutiny for his play in individual games and ignored when he plays some of his best. Stafford is quietly putting together an amazing season that has him in the top 5 in nearly every meaningful statistic, and is about to have a huge hand in helping Cooper Kupp have one of the greatest years by a receiver in NFL history. He is still developing in this offense, come playoff times, he will get Akers back and truly show what he can do.

Steven Ridings

10/10. It’s not a matter of Matt Stafford winning in the playoffs in my opinion. The 0-3 narrative is a very poor argument by critics. He played for Detroit. I think the bigger question is Stafford can win 4 in a row. To which my reply is 6.5/10. I think he needs to keep his turnovers to 3 or less in order to win 4 in a row. I think he’ll have a playoff game where he turns it over twice and it’ll be whether the defense can support him.


3 - What is LA’s biggest weakness heading into the playoffs this year?

JB Scott

The secondary, and particularly the second cornerback spot.

Jalen Ramsey has somehow improved on his strong play in 2020, but the Rams desperately need someone to emerge in complement with the shutdown corner. Darious Williams has not lived up to the expectations he set for himself a year ago - though he has battled injuries at times this season. The emergence of Dont’e Deayon is a welcome sight, but there will be teams he does not match up well against due to his lack of size. The team was counting on David Long, Jr. to step up this season; however, outside of the second Arizona game he has largely been a disappointment.

Robert Finn

Quarterback play, without question. Too many stupid turnovers. Every single loss this season has come because of self-inflicted mistakes. If they lose in the playoffs, this will be why.

Evan Craig

The secondary, specifically the corners opposite Ramsey. David Long Jr. was excellent against the Cardinals but he hasn’t been targeted enough in coverage over the course of the season. Darious Williams is targeted more frequently but has been too inconsistent to trust. Overall, I feel the linebacking unit is the Achilles heel of this unit, however, issues with a shaky and largely unproven secondary could be the death of a promising year.

Kenneth Arthur

Pass defense against elite quarterbacks. I worry LA hasn’t been tested that much this season and that’s making their overall defensive numbers look better than what I will expect them to do in the playoffs. That game against the Bucs was so long ago and even then, Tom Brady went 41-55 for 432 yards. Kyler Murray beat the defense once. Aaron Rodgers beat the defense. Brady, Murray, Rodgers... that’s just if you want to get to the Super Bowl, at which point you could be facing Mahomes, Allen, or Burrow. These are not games that I think would have been competitive without a quarterback of comparable talent. The Rams need to play keep up/flyers up and now they have a chance to do that, but I worry that the defense may have inopportune lapses in the postseason.

Venie Randy Soares

The soft two-deep coverage, particularly in the middle of the field. Short and mid-range passes have been regularly completed since the opening game. Playing too far off the WR’s on 3rd and short or medium just drives me to drink.

Steven Ridings

Offensively - the interior OL. Allen has been banged up. Edwards and Corbett can be up & down. Defensively - if Ernest Jones does not play in the playoffs it would be the ILB spot. If he does play, I would say the cornerbacks. DAL has multiple weapons and I’m not sure LAR has the secondary talent to stop Cooper/Lamb/Gallup.

Dylan Deines

LA’s biggest losses have come against teams that are physical at the point of attack. Luckily, there aren’t many teams heading to the playoffs that are in that category other than the San Francisco 49ers, who the Rams may have a chance to keep out of the playoffs in Week 18.


4 - Which first round playoff opponent would give the Rams the most difficulty?

Dylan Deines

The only opponent that scares me is the 49ers, who have show time and time again they are Sean McVay’s kryptonite.

Venie Randy Soares

It’s no secret that teams that can stay disciplined with the run game and short passing game will give the Rams fits. All the current, possible wild card teams can run the football but have questions at the QB position,

Chris Daniel

The San Francisco 49ers. It’s not even close. I don’t even think an elaboration is needed.

Steven Ridings

San Francisco. I think if they have to play San Francisco in Week 18 and turn around and play them again, it creates some benefit for SF. SF’s style just gives LA a lot to handle. They have big OL, a good pass rush on Defense with rangy linebackers.

Evan Craig

The 49ers because they have been Sean McVay’s kryptonite for the last five meetings. Plus, the Niners’ 31-10 win over them in their first meeting is what catapulted SF into the playoff hunt. Overlooking them is (almost) as dumb as leaving Aaron Donald unblocked or Cooper Kupp wide open.

Robert Finn

Until the Rams prove they can beat the 49ers, I’m going to say San Francisco. That said, I’m here for it. I WANT a first round match-up with them. The confidence Los Angeles would get from bouncing the Niners in the first round may be exactly what they need to go all the way.

Kenneth Arthur

If the Rams beat the 49ers and hold onto the two-seed, that should be a great opening game. Anything else is a lot worse, but I think Dallas is plenty beatable. The Cardinals would be the toughest.

JB Scott

This probably won’t be a popular answer, but I’d say the Philadelphia Eagles. The Rams defense is built to rush the passer and stop the pass, but Philly has pivoted to a smash mouth running game that is antithetical to LA’s identity. This is similar to the 49ers, but I view the Eagles as more dangerous than San Francisco due to stability at the quarterback position and a lack of such for the 49ers.


5 - Do you believe that LA is the NFC team most likely to win the conference?

Steven Ridings

It depends on how the matchups go. If LA can avoid DAL then yes. If they have to play TB, DAL, and GB - I’m not sure they can survive all three.

JB Scott

I think the Packers should be the favorites to win the conference. It is still important for the Rams to finish with the number two seed, which would create an opportunity for another team to first knock off Green Bay. LA has lost their last two matchups to the Packers, and the most recent game was decided in familiar fashion for the Rams - early Stafford turnovers that created an insurmountable deficit.

Kenneth Arthur

If “most likely to reach the Super Bowl” isn’t the guy with 11 career Super Bowl appearances, I don’t know who to pick. Setting Brady aside, I think obviously Rodgers has a huge advantage in any home game against the Rams or anyone else. But that also hasn’t worked out for Green Bay in a long, long time. I think the Rams are maybe number three, but you couldn’t have said that about the Bucs going into the playoffs last year as a wild card.

Dylan Deines

I would argue that the Green Bay Packers are more likely to win the conference, but just slightly. Their home field advantage is big and they most likely will get a week off. They have proven to be beatable the last couple of weeks, but when healthy they do pair up with LA well. Aaron Rodgers has the ability to get the ball out fast, and that seems to be Raheem Morris’ biggest issue in his defensive scheme. It might come down to a revenge game in the conference championship, Aaron Donald will be healthy this time around and may be the difference maker.

Evan Craig

While this year’s NFC is the most wide-open I’ve seen in quite some time, I don’t believe the Rams are most likely winning the conference. No one really stands out to me which is why I can’t choose. Green Bay looks legit but hasn’t been a dominant team as of late, the Bucs are the defending champs but are hurting and Dallas has a lethal offense but Mike McCarthy will blow their season somehow. I wouldn’t be surprised if LA won the conference but I think the NFC is too close to call at this time. Ask me this question again around the Super Bowl.

Robert Finn

Nope. I’d love to say “yes” but with the way Aaron Rodgers is playing, they have to be the favorite. Dude just does NOT turn the ball over. Keep your defense out of bad situations and you win. Simple as that.

Venie Randy Soares

I’m pretty confident in the Rams’ abilities, but the road to the Super Bowl runs through Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers directs the traffic.

Chris Daniel

I would love to say LA is the team to beat but if I’m being honest, that would be the Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay Packers. Heading into Week 17, he has 81 touchdowns and 9 interceptions since the beginning of the 2020 season. The Packers have a dynamic duo at running back with Aaron Jones and a 247-pound grown damn man in A.J. Dillon. There is not a defense in the league that wants to repeatedly hit him in the fourth quarter in frigid temperatures. On top of that, they have cornerback Jaire Alexander coming back for the playoffs. Oh, did I mention they’ll have homefield advantage in Green Bay in January and February?