The Los Angeles Rams are dealing with a rash of injuries early in the 2022 season, and the stakes were high in Week 3 against a familiar NFC West rival in the Arizona Cardinals.
Kyler Murray worked his off-schedule magic to lead Arizona back from a significant deficit last week, but it was Raheem Morris and the Rams’ defense that mystically turned unheralded players - such as Derion Kendrick and Grant Haley - into key contributors.
It took all three phases to pick up this total team win, though there were some individual contributions that stood out - both in positive and not so positive ways:
Raheem Morris, DC
At every press conference where Morris speaks, it comes off as an interview for a future head coaching position. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a way of saying that Morris has a knack for getting the most out of his players and it’s only a matter of time until he gets his do-over as the leader of an NFL franchise.
The Rams lost four key contributors in the secondary since last week - Troy Hill, David Long, Cobie Durant, and Jordan Fuller. LA was forced to insert young players Derion Kendrick, Grant Haley, Russ Yeast, and Robert Rochell in key moments. Even with a short-handed receiving corps, it was fair to expect Murray and the Cardinals to have success but ultimately their contracted passing game ended up suffocating itself.
Morris’ defensive game plan worked to perfection on Sunday afternoon.
The Rams defense without their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th CBs and their starting safety didn’t allow a touchdown today. That is great work from Raheem Morris. Kyler Murray was held to 5.4 yards per attempt. Great work!— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakDTR) September 25, 2022
Jalen Ramsey, CB
With a number of unproven contributors forced onto the field in the secondary, Ramsey stepped up in a big way and was consistently the best player on the field in this game.
Ramsey was heavily involved in exemplarily timed pass breakups, physical tackles to stop the ball carrier short of the yard to gain, and even chased Murray as an edge rusher at times.
After a disappointing start to the season, the star corner was filing on all cylinders in this one.
Jalen Ramsey had two first-half pass breakups, both of which came on third down. Third PBU won't show up on stat sheet on a long pass to Brown bc of a hold on the OL. Also had a TFL.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) September 25, 2022
Rams D held AZ to 22 net yards before a 19-play, 65-yd Q2 drive that ended in a FG.
Derion Kendrick, CB
Sure, there were times that speedster Marquise “Hollywood” Brown got behind the sixth-round rookie; however, Kendrick clearly looked the part of an NFL cornerback.
Even on passes where he allowed completions, Kendrick was in lockstep with opposing receivers - and he even deflected a fourth down pass late in the game to force a turnover on downs.
It was quite a debut for the rookie corner, but it’s just the start.
The @RamsNFL get a 4th down stop and DC Raheem Morris is loving it— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2022
: #LARvsAZ on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Vr11sqlsAh pic.twitter.com/WYBkW5HkAB
Ben Skowronek, WR/FB
The Rams expanded their usage of the big receiver in the backfield, and he even caught a pass for chunk yardage from the fullback position. Skowronek also added another 32 yards on a catch in run - totaling 4 catches for 66 yards on Sunday.
The second-year receiver is gaining confidence - and it shows.
Cam Akers makes it a two-possession game. @thereal_cam3— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2022
: #LARvsAZ on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Vr11sqlsAh pic.twitter.com/dRYLEr2Tpz
The Rams OL was already missing key players in center Brian Allen, Logan Bruss, and Tremayne Anchrum, and then the veteran leader of the group - Rob Havenstein - went down for a bit against Arizona.
Havenstein’s injury easily could have turned into a disaster for LA. Bobby Evans replaced him at RT for a few series, and while he was in Sean McVay leaned heavily on the running game. It was a good way to help out a short-handed unit instead of asking AJ Jackson and Evans to block JJ Watt in pass protection.
Matthew Stafford was sacked only a single time, and the Rams amassed 100 yards on 20 carries for an average of 5.0 yards per attempt.
Tyler Higbee, TE
Without any individual receiver taking ahold of the WR#3 slot in Van Jefferson’s absence, and with Allen Robinson struggling to stake flight as WR#2, Higbee has stepped up in a big way in order to become the secondary option to Stafford behind Cooper Kupp.
Higbee caught 4 passes for 61 yards in Arizona - a few of these were screen plays that went for chunk yardage. The veteran also recovered the Cardinals’ onside kick attempt to close out the game.
Terrell Lewis, OLB
Lewis earned a sack on Murray early in the game, and he was also a plus defender in pass coverage. His size and athleticism just stands out on defense, and he’s really stepped up for LA now that he’s healthy.
Here’s to hoping that remains the case for him for the foreseeable future.
Terrell Lewis gets home for the sack! #RamsHouse pic.twitter.com/43VzWgp11Z— Pro Football Culture (@proftblculture) September 25, 2022
Michael Hoecht, DT
Not many interior defensive are as involved as Hoecht on special teams, but week after week he’s been one of the Rams’ more important contributors in the third phase. Hoecht blocked a punt on the Cardinals’ first offensive series to set up a Matt Gay field goal.
Another week, another big time play made by @BrownU_Football alum Michael Hoecht ‘20— James Perry '00 (@BrownHCPerry) September 25, 2022
GREAT JOB 9-7!! pic.twitter.com/ymbR2Mjepf
Allen Robinson, WR
It was a missed opportunity that never came back to bite the Rams, but Allen Robinson had a Stafford pass on the goal line sail off his hands. It should have been an easy completion to score a touchdown.
Robinson has failed to assert himself into the Los Angeles offense - despite the Rams making a concerted effort to get him involved. Even when it seems McVay is dialing up plays to take advantage of Robinson in the pass game, the veteran receiver often comes up just short.
The big ticket free agent addition was hauled in 2 receptions on 5 targets for 23 yards. He now has just 7 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown through threw games.
Cam Akers, RB
There was a point in the fourth quarter that Cam Akers was taking over the game on the ground; however, just as it has been for most of his time since his miraculous return from an Achilles injury last season, it was two steps forward and one step back.
After multiple costly fumbles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in last year’s divisional round playoff game, Akers put the ball on the ground on the ground at the goal line against the Cardinals.
Sure, Akers accumulated 61 yards and a touchdown score on 12 carries, but he’s still not fully out of the doghouse.
Fumble alert— NFL México (@nflmx) September 25, 2022
Cam Akers perdió ese balón cuando estuvo a nada de anotar⁰‼️
@TUDNMEX por @ElNueveOf #NFLMX | #BirdCityFootball pic.twitter.com/xwtWCQW4gP
The other LA team
In many ways the Los Angeles Chargers have attempted to emulate the Rams as they attempt to build a fan base in the City of Angels. McVay was tasked by the Rams’ front office to find the defensive version of himself - and that’s when he hired Brandon Staley as his defensive coordinator.
The Chargers plucked Staley from McVay’s staff after just one year, and they’ve also targeted many former Rams as they fill out their roster - Gerald Everett, Morgan Fox, Sabastian Joseph-Day, and Sony Michel. The other LA team also followed Les Snead’s “F them picks” strategy and traded for a star edge rusher, Khalil Mack, to pair opposite Joey Bosa.
Despite a star-studded roster, it’s just not coming together for Staley’s team - and it’s fair to wonder if he’s the right person to lead this franchise into the future.
The Chargers were handily defeated by the Jacksonville Jaguars 38-10 on Sunday. Can they build a following in Los Angeles despite the defending Super Bowl champions casting their shadow over them?
Going to get real interesting inside the #Chargers building this week. Had already heard about some rumblings regarding team leadership and players not having buy in with the staffs messaging. Losing like this won’t help that.— Brentley Weissman (@Brentley12) September 25, 2022