The Los Angeles Rams need to find the answers to their 3-7 start to the 2022 season after falling to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, 27-20. There’s no question that part of L.A.’s problem is a rash of injuries hitting the offensive line, Matthew Stafford, and their best offensive weapon, but many expected components to the team have been healthy all season.
The biggest concern may not be the health of the starters but just how wide the gap seems to be between L.A.’s stars and L.A.’s backups.
With seven games left on the schedule, the Rams need to do more than just win. Now the goal has to be to win while learning which players you want to keep moving forward and which areas of need become the biggest focus when reloading the roster in 2023.
The topic of whether the Rams should shut down Stafford for the rest of the season is one well covered. These five other areas should also by focused on by McVay for the next two months.
Devoted offense to Cam Akers, Kyren Williams
The first question that the Rams can address is “Do we like any of these running backs?” and we saw Sean McVay move in that direction on Sunday. The Rams gave 14 carries to Cam Akers, which gained 61 yards, and seven carries for 36 yards going to Kyren Williams. L.A. rushed for a season-high 148 yards, but unfortunately they do not seem to have a running back who they fully entrust to take over a game when necessary.
The Rams haven’t had that type of player since Todd Gurley and that was four years ago.
But with injuries to Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, McVay’s best (or only) option could be to build the gameplan around the ground game again. Bryce Perkins had five carries for 39 yards and he could start in Week 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Cam Akers led the Rams backfield with 56% of rushing attempts in Week 11.— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland) November 21, 2022
Kyren Williams led in snaps (55%) and route participation (68%). He took almost all of the long-down-distance (90%) and two-minute work (100%).
Yes, I realize no one cares. Rightfully so.
McVay has made it clear that Darrell Henderson (two carries) won’t be a priority in free agency next year. Will the Rams bring back Akers and could the entrust a significant role in the offense to Williams? Those should be high priorities for McVay moving forward.
Which offensive linemen should return next season
I can’t recall seeing a situation in the last 10 years quite like the Rams’ neverending nightmare of injuries on the offensive line this season. A defending Super Bowl champion not only loses their best offensive lineman to retirement, then the returning players start dropping like flies. Beginning with top pick Logan Bruss and continuing into Sunday’s loss with the loss of Ty Nsekhe and forcing Bobby Evans to play left tackle.
Evans is the fifth person to play left tackle for the Rams, going from February’s Super Bowl to today.
Rams left tackles, from Super Bowl to today:— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) November 20, 2022
-Andrew Whitworth (retired)
-Joe Noteboom (IR)
-AJ Jackson (IR)
-Ty Nsekhe (questionable to return)
-Bobby Evans (questionable to block)
We know that it is unlikely that L.A. will bring back Bobby Evans, a 2023 free agent. But should they bring back anybody? Other than A.J. Jackson, I’m not sure a single offensive lineman has had a season that should guarantee him a spot on the 53-man roster next year. Not Joe Noteboom, not David Edwards, who is a free agent, maybe not Brian Allen. Rob Havenstein could be saved by his contract terms.
But McVay has to evaluate every offensive lineman on the team and decide if that person should be back next season. Nobody has played like they should be safe, and if they have, they haven’t been available often enough.
Start rookies in secondary
In the last few years, we’ve seen a growing trend in teams getting massive value out of rookies, second-year players, and third-year players. Examples would include Chris Olave, the Saints rookie receiver who had 102 yards and a touchdown against the Rams on Sunday. But between Sauce Gardner of the Saints and Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks, there are examples from all over the draft order of rookie defensive backs having early career success.
McVay no longer has the luxury to say that rookies aren’t playing because they’re buried on the depth chart.
The Rams should be able to afford the risk of benching Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott for Quentin Lake and Russ Yeast. Do we need to see more of Troy Hill and David Long, Jr.? Is there good intel being learned there? The Rams could give more snaps to Derion Kendrick, Cobie Durant, and activate Shaun Jolly. The only snaps that Durant gets is photo opportunities after the game:
Former South Carolina State University Bulldogs postgame Jersey swap— HBCU Premier Sports (@HBCUSports1) November 17, 2022
* Decobie Durant LA Rams
* Antonio Hamilton Arizona Cardinals pic.twitter.com/tYveRvgVgz
And where the hell did Robert Rochell go?
After getting carved up by Andy Dalton, what’s the harm in trying?
Is there actual depth at WR, TE?
The Rams are not learning anything by throwing the ball to Tyler Higbee other than the fact that throws to Tyler Higbee continue to be as underwhelming as Burger King. Higbee was targeted eight more times on Sunday, bringing his season totals to 73 targets, 48 catches, 430 yards, and zero touchdowns.
That’s 5.9 yards per target. You know the offense is broken when Tyler Higbee is top-30 in targets in the entire league.
Watching Travis Kelce dominate the Chargers on Sunday night, it is a reminder that teams should be wary of committing to players who could potentially be blocking the franchise from finding better players. McVay has been hard committed to Higbee since 2017 and from Gerald Everett to Brycen Hopkins and Jacob Harris, the Rams haven’t found a tight end who can even steal 10 snaps a game from Tyler Higbee.
In the first game without Cooper Kupp, the Rams removed pass-blocking duties from Tyler Higbee.— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland) November 21, 2022
He saw a five-week high in route participation at 89% and led the team with a 31% target share.
However, the Rams are terrible.
L.A.’s tight end position is especially disappointing given McVay’s history as a tight ends coach and the Rams have to decide if Hopkins or Kendall Blanton are going to be on the roster next year. And how to find an upgrade for Higbee.
At wide receiver, the Rams have firm commitments to Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, but do they have any keepers between Tutu Atwell, Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell, and Lance McCutcheon. Why Skowronek can get four targets but McCutcheon can get zero is as baffling as anything else that happened on Sunday.
Do Rams need to completely start over at edge rusher?
Watch any Rams game this year and notice Justin Hollins or Terrell Lewis, I dare you. I double-team double dare you.
Is it Raheem Morris’s fault that Lewis has one sack and three total pressures? All that time that we said that “All Lewis needs to do is stay healthy” and it doesn’t seem like his health was the only hurdle. Hollins has 26 tackles and one sack in 10 games. These two linebackers are getting a lot of playing time. It’s not lack of reps.
Leonard Floyd had two sacks on Sunday to raise his season total to five. But sacking Taysom Hill on third-and-18 isn’t going to have the same impact as his second sack, which came on second-and-Goal and helped force a field goal.
In no case does Floyd seem to be having the type of impact you’d expect from a $22 million outside linebacker. Do the Rams want to bring back any of their edge rushers next season? Should Keir Thomas be given a chance off of the practice squad?