It’s never boring with the Los Angeles Rams, and their start to the 2023 season has been no different. LA seemingly came out of nowhere to convincingly upset the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 before dropping closely contested game against the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. Even their important win over the Indianapolis Colts was a rollercoaster ride where the Rams got off to a hot start before Indy came roaring back in the second half. LA sealed the victory in overtime. The Rams have demonstrated they are capable of at least hanging with the top powers of the NFL such as the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles-even if they aren’t quite ready to win outright.
Where will the Rams go from here? Will they prove they are worthy of a postseason berth, or are they a year or two away from returning to playoff contention?
These are three things I think about the state of the 2023 Rams:
1 - The NFC West race got a lot more interesting after this weekend
While the Rams may not be able to catch up to the 5-1 49ers, San Francisco suffered injuries to several key players including LT Trent Williams, WR Deebo Samuel, and RB Christian McCaffrey as they dropped a winnable game against the Cleveland Browns. Brock Purdy suddenly looked human when he didn’t have a wealth of playmakers at his disposal, though the weather and elements may at least be in part to blame. Will we remember this game as a blip on the radar or the start of the decline of the 2023 49ers? Are they starting to come down to earth?
The Seahawks dominated the Bengals between the 20-yard lines, but Geno Smith and the Seattle offense couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone on multiple key red zone possessions. Seattle moves to 3-2 on the season with two of their wins coming against the lowly Carolina Panthers and New York Giants (they also have an impressive win over the Detroit Lions).
On deck for the Seahawks are the Cardinals, Browns, Ravens Commanders, Rams, and 49ers. How will the NFC West standings shape up after that tough stretch of their schedule?
NFC West watch:— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) October 16, 2023
49ers (5-1) lost at CLE 19-17. Next: at MIN (2-4)#Seahawks (3-2) lost at CIN 17-13. Next: vs AZ (1-5)
Rams (3-3) beat AZ 26-9. Next: vs PIT (3-2)
Cardinals (1-5) lost at LAR 26-9. Next: at SEA (3-2)@thenewstribune
2 - Some of Rams’ best offseason acquisitions came out of the bargain bin
I almost want to put the NFL Draft aside, but you have to credit the Rams organization for identifying, grooming, and putting late-round talent in a position to succeed. The lines between early and late picks can be blurred, but already OLB Byron Young and DT Kobie Turner have flashed more as third rounders than we’ve seen out of a lot of first round picks. OLB Ochaun Mathis is working his way into the rotation. WR Puka Nacua is on a historic run of production for his rookie year. P Ethan Evans has played an important part in keeping bad situations from getting worse when the offense goes cold for stretches. The early indications on LA’s 2023 draft class have been impressive to say the least.
But that’s not even the best of it. Two of LA’s best offseason acquisitions have been veterans that came at discount prices.
Back-to-back plays by Ahkello Witherspoon. Second and 10 hung on for the tackle in the flat. Third and 8, broke up Dobbs' pass to end zone. Week after week, he shows up.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 15, 2023
The first is CB Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been reliable and forced turnovers where they’ve been few on far between so far for the defense. Witherspoon had multiple key pass breakups this weekend against the Cardinals and is proving that he is someone the Rams should keep around beyond this season.
The other impressive veteran is RG Kevin Dotson, who the Rams brought in via a late-round pick swap that they have recently done with high frequency (in trades sending RB Cam Akers and WR Can Jefferson elsewhere). At first it seemed that Dotson would be an important depth player, but then LT Alaric Jackson went down with injury and Joe Noteboom moved from RG to fill in. But Noteboom also missed time, and Dotson has probably been the better and more reliable player overall. Even if Noteboom returns to health, it makes a lot of sense for the starting offensive line to remain as follows:
LT - Alaric Jackson
LG - Steve Avila (another impressive rookie)
C - Coleman Shelton
RG - Kevin Dotson
RT - Rob Havenstein
3 - Kyren Williams has been impressive, and Zach Evans is getting more involved
I don’t think there’s really any questions that rookie Zach Evans is a more talented and athletic running back than Kyren Williams. It wasn’t long ago that Evans was considered a borderline first-round pick, though off-field and personality concerns dropped him down all the way to the late sixth when LA finally scooped him up.
The rookie seems to be getting more opportunities. Over the first few games veteran Royce Freeman received a practice squad activation (limited to four) and Evans was a gameday inactive. Evans was active against the Cardinals while primary backup Ronnie Rivers was dinged up, and that resulted in Evans receiving the first carries of his career. Now, he didn’t necessarily do anything special with those carries—he ran for only 10 yards on four attempts— but he may be on his way to earning more trust with the coaching staff.
Kyren Williams— Chris O'Brien (@17gamepace) October 16, 2023
•21.8 points (RB3)
•RB3 on the week
Kyren continues to dominate snaps and touches for Ram’s RBs
He’s now finished as a top 7 RB in 67% of his games
These comments aren’t intended as a knock against Williams, who was a man on a mission against Arizona. His 20 carries for 158 yards (7.9 average) and a touchdown score should calm a lot of concerns that still lingered from his draft profile. Williams is a quicker than fast player, and it remained to be seen whether he had the straight-line speed to break off long runs. He had big carries for 27 and 31 yards against the Cardinals, which was one of the first times we’ve seen him stress defenses in that way.
In the modern NFL you cannot just rely on a single running back. Williams’ workload has probably been unsustainable and LA needs to involve either Rivers or Evans more. Fortunately, the arrow is pointing up for both the rookie and Williams.