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Rams paying the price for cost-cutting moves in offseason

The Rams won a Super Bowl with a credit card and this roster is the bill

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not fair to say that the Los Angeles Rams have fallen flat on their faces since a season-opening win against the Seattle Seahawks, because three of their four games since have come against teams that reached a conference championship last year. However, the Rams have lost three of the last four and if anything was apparent in Week 5’s 23-14 loss to the Eagles, it’s that L.A.’s roster is not ready to compete with Philadelphia’s. And that was mostly apparent in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers.

This is the price that the L.A. Rams must pay for cutting corners in the offseason after many years of spending to win a Super Bowl.

Among the most glaring weaknesses in Sunday’s loss was a Rams defensive line that got pushed around by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, sacking Jalen Hurts just one time and allowing 159 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. The Eagles had 12 rushes that reached a first down compared to only two such plays for L.A..

There is understandably a lot of focus on future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, but out of financial necessities, the Rams have surrounded him with former undrafted free agents Jonah Williams, Michael Hoecht, rookie Kobie Turner, former fourth round pick Bobby Brown, and waiver wire pickup Larrell Murchison. For most of the game on Sunday, it was apparent that those were the players around Donald.

This isn’t to blame the defensive line for the loss, only to highlight a situation that is obvious to everyone: The Rams had to go with “frugal” decisions on the defensive line and L.A. has lacked a threatening pass rush all season long, something that is unlikely to change.

Besides, one doesn’t need to put blame on L.A.’s defensive line when there’s always the Rams secondary.

Though Ahkello Witherspoon had an end zone interception to save the Rams at the goal line, teammates Cobie Durant and Derion Kendrick were at best inconsistent. At safety, Russ Yeast continuing to start over John Johnson is at best a decision worth inquiring about with Sean McVay and Raheem Morris.

And it’s not as though these players are sandwiching the NFL’s best linebacker corps either, as Christian Rozeboom fell backwards into the opportunity.

Apart from Donald, the Rams are for most intents and purposes starting three undrafted free agents (Williams, Hoecht, Rozeboom), three day two picks (rookies Byron Young and Kobie Turner, plus Ernest Jones), five day three picks (Brown III, Jordan Fuller, Yeast, Kendrick, Durant) and Witherspoon, a late wave free agent.

Somehow the one person who had a sack on Sunday was Zach VanValkenburg.

However, despite having just one first round pick and zero second round picks on the entire defense, it wasn’t that side of the ball that was a problem for the Rams in the second half against the Eagles. It was veteran Matthew Stafford not being able to connect with his receivers, not even Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua.

L.A.’s defense gave the offense an excellent opportunity to pull out a second half upset, holding the Eagles to zero points in the third quarter and six in the fourth quarter.

However, the Rams were shutout in the second half and they got especially bad when crossing over midfield. L.A.’s final five plays in Eagles territory gained -20 yards and included an intentional grounding penalty and a fumble by Nacua.

Stafford finished the day 21-of-37 for 222 yards and two touchdowns, but after halftime his passes were rarely close to being completed.

Amazingly, 23 of Stafford’s 37 attempts were at either Kupp or Nacua, meaning that while the surprising rookie fifth round pick didn’t see his production impacted by the veteran’s return in Week 5, everyone else’s did. Tyler Higbee, Tutu Atwell, Kyren Williams, and Ben Skowronek combined for six catches and 33 yards.

The Rams don’t have a dynamic threat out of the backfield, they have Williams, a fifth round pick in 2022.

They Rams don’t have a great offensive line. They have an undrafted free agent at left tackle, an undrafted free agent at center, and Kevin Dotson, a post-preseason trade addition from the Steelers, at right guard.

Again, this isn’t to blame the offensive line. It’s just a fact: The Rams couldn’t afford better than this and this is what McVay has to work with. Against the Seahawks, it worked great. Against the Colts, it was barely good enough. Against the 49ers, Bengals, and Eagles, the Rams are 0-3.