The Los Angeles Rams are two games away from closing out the 2022 season. It’s been a challenging year for Sean McVay’s team - one that has brought constant change and adversity. The unparalleled swarm of injuries started in Week 1 and have been unrelenting since.
A defense that has failed to come up with turnovers or stops at some of the most crucial moments this season forced four interceptions - three by Russell Wilson and another by Brett Rypien. A ground attack that has been among the most anemic in the NFL turned into their first 100-yard rusher of the year: Cam Akers churned out 118 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, and he added another two receptions for 29 yards.
Players that have disappeared when the team needed them the most were standout performers on Christmas evening. Tyler Higbee caught 9 passes for 94 yards and 2 touchdowns. Leonard Floyd earned a sack. Jalen Ramsey picked off Wilson in the end zone. Third-year tight end Brycen Hopkins also added three receptions for 57 yards.
It was a total team effort to take down Denver in a resounding way - and here’s who stood out:
Sean McVay, Head Coach
While Nathaniel Hackett sits atop one of the hottest seats in the head coaching ranks and watches his team spin apart from the sidelines, the Rams rallied around Sean McVay and turned in an impressive team performance in all facets: offense, defense, and even special teams.
Injuries aren’t the only reason why Los Angeles failed to live up to their lofty expectations this season, but what seemed to be a lost season has allowed for development opportunities for younger players and placed the head coach in adversarial conditions for the first time in his career - he will emerge from the storm as a better leader of men.
Broncos lose 51-14, have players fighting among themselves on the sideline, quitting & not playing hard on the field & fighting with Rams players after the game. What an embarrassment for this franchise & if Nathaniel Hackett isn't fired their fans should boycott the games.— dave smith (@davesportsgod) December 26, 2022
Baker Mayfield, QB
Last week against the Green Bay Packers wasn’t pretty for really any player on offense, but Mayfield has been impressive in two of the three games he’s played in royal and sol. After an outing where he completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and 2 TD’s, there will seemingly be suitors who will offer him a starting role in 2023 - but his best option is to return to the Rams and backup Matthew Stafford.
With the score out of hand, LA didn’t run their offense for the last quarter and a half. This probably limited Mayfield’s passing production, and the numbers don’t really do this performance justice. The quarterback was efficient and impressive on Christmas night.
Rams HC Sean McVay asked if QB Baker Mayfield is living up to his expectations for him or better:— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) December 26, 2022
Cobie Durant, CB
Durant started the interception fest off by making an athletic grab on an overthrow by Wilson, and he later picked off Rypien for the first pick-six of his NFL career.
Now with three interceptions on the season, it seems curious why the Rams did not deploy Durant sooner - it took an injury to David Long to thrust the fourth-round rookie into the lineup. Durant should have been playing over Derion Kendrick earlier in the year.
While Durant has been solid in pass coverage and has flashed ball skills, he still needs to improve in the tackling and run defense departments.
Larrel Murchison, DT
After joining the Rams via waiver claim from the Tennessee Titans just a few weeks ago, Murchison was disruptive as a pass rusher and notched 2.5 sacks on Russell Wilson. His sack total already surpassed what the former starting edge rushers were able to produce this season - Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis combined for 2.0 sacks before getting released by the team.
Murchison left the game early with a neck injury. The final two games could be an opportunity to shine, though he probably has done enough already to return in 2023.
Cam Akers, RB
Aside from Mayfield’s turnaround, Cam Akers is the next best redemption story on this year’s Rams team. He’s come back from the brink of being released or traded to surpass 100 scrimmage yards each of the last two weeks.
He’s producing in both the run and pass game, and could be earning the lead back role for next season.
That’s ANOTHER touchdown for Cam Akers.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakDTR) December 26, 2022
Not sure it’s a coincidence that Akers had turned it around ever since Thomas Brown took a larger role again coaching RBs.
Tyler Higbee, TE
We’ve seen Higbee put up this level of impressive production at various stages of his career, but it still remains a mystery why he can’t string together nights like these more often. It seems McVay made an conscious effort to involve Higbee early and often, and this was probably the correct game plan against Ejiro Evero’s defense - and Higbee will probably be featured again next week against Brandon Staley and the Los Angeles Chargers.
But when the offense has stopped and sputtered all season long, why did it take 16 weeks for Higbee to have a breakout, multi-score game?
Mayfield had time to go through his progressions and find his second and third read at times - the QB wasn’t sacked once. While Akers created yardage after contact, the offensive line also created room for him to operate on the ground.
This was probably the OL’s best overall performance in 2022, and it came against the league’s third ranked scoring defense and pass rushers such as Randy Gregory, Brandon Browning, and Dre’mont Jones.
It was a mild surprise that Matt Skura and Oday Aboushi started at left and right guard respectively despite the team activating Chandler Brewer ahead of the game. The starting lineup is worth keeping an eye on over the final two weeks.
Riley Dixon, P
Dixon mentioned after the game this was the first time in his career that he didn’t have to punt. Perhaps he should be a “winner” for earning a game check without having to do much work. I personally think I’d be bored standing on the sidelines for three hours.
Detroit Lions & Brad Holmes
It’s no secret that the Lions own the Rams’ first round draft pick this spring, but LA winning this game caused a notable dip in that pick’s value. If LA were to lose, the pick would have been in the top three of four overall selections - but after the game it now is penciled it at number eight. This is a significant value considering the cost of moving of and down the draft board in this range.
With an impressive win over the Broncos, the Rams seem to have momentum heading into games against the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks. Can they finish 7-10 and devalue the Lions pick even further?
When your season is as finished as the Rams is, you take solace in seeing:— Jake Gould (@jakegould10) December 26, 2022
1) A re-energized Akers running wild
2) Michael Hoecht shining
3) Cobie Durant continuing to demonstrate playmaking ability
4) Baker rebuilding his stock
5) Higbee returning to his TD-scoring ways