We are officially through the halfway point of the season for the Los Angeles Rams. Sitting at 3-6 with eight games remaining, it’s a good spot to reflect on the first half of the season before the Rams take on the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in Week 11. Here are 10 takeaways from the first half of 2023.
1. The Rams are what we thought they were
Not many, if anybody at all, would have considered the Rams a playoff team coming into the season. With a young and inexperienced roster, but Sean McVay as the team’s head coach, the expectation was the this team to at the very least compete on a weekly basis and that’s exactly what they’ve done up to this point.
After purging the roster of several of its star player, the Rams are a couple of star players away from being able to truly compete with the top-tier teams in the NFL. Los Angeles has it’s eyes on 2024 and 2025. This year has been a reset that will require a small re-build so that the Rams can attempt to make a final push with Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald.
2. Offseason talk about Puka Nacua was legit
All offseason one of the main storylines that you heard was how fifth-round rookie, Puka Nacua was impressing throughout OTA’s and training camp. Of course, it’s hard to believe offseason talk until you see it on the field on Sundays. To say that Nacua has carried that into the regular season would be a huge understatement.
The Rams rookie seems to be breaking records on a weekly basis. The season isn’t even halfway over and Nacua already holds the Rams franchise rookie record for most receptions in a season. Nacua ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards per game and sixth in total receptions.
3. Rookie Class has chance to be game-changing
On that note, Nacua hasn’t been the only Rams rookie that has been standing out. Byron Young has been playing very well on the edge and is in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. That doesn’t even mention Kobie Turner or Steve Avila who also look to be long-term starters. Ethan Evans has also looked good at punter.
After a few drafts that left a lot to be desired, Les Snead needed to have a good draft to start this next phase of the Rams team-build the right way. By initial looks, he has done exactly that. He’s going to need another rock solid draft or two, but the 2023 class has him off on the right foot.
4. Trade for Kevin Dotson among Les Snead’s best moves
If the Rams were doing better, Snead may be in contention for executive of the year. Snead has been executing on all fronts. After nailing the draft, he proceeded to make potentially one of the more important moves of his tenure. In a package of day three pick swaps, he traded for Pittsburgh Steelers right guard, Kevin Dotson.
Individually, Dotson has been performing at a near all-pro level since making his first start early in the season. That hasn’t translated completely to the offensive line as a whole, but another solid addition or two and we’ll start to see it. The Dotson trade has potential to be similar to that of the Austin Corbett trade in 2019. It seems inevitable that Dotson will eventually get an extension to stick around in Los Angeles.
5. Biggest need for the Rams remains left tackle
Staying on the theme of the offensive line, the biggest need at this point in the season remains at left tackle. Alaric Jackson got an opportunity and has shown that he can be solid in moments, but lacks overall consistency and the talent to block against the top edge rushers. For being an undrafted free agent, getting Jackson even as a backup-level player is a huge win.
The good news is, the Rams should be able to find a starting caliber left tackle in the draft. Obviously, the hope is that they land somewhere in the top-seven so that they have a chance at Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt. Even if they miss out on those players though, JC Latham, Amarius Mims, and Taliese Fuaga will be options. The first round is loaded with offensive tackle talent and it should be expected for the Rams to take one of them.
6. Kyren Williams has helped spark a more efficient run game
Through much of last season and in Week 1, the Rams had one of the least-efficient running games in the NFL. However, the second that Kyren Williams took over in a full-time role, the Sean McVay running game has shown flashes of being back.
Between Week 2-6, the Rams running game ranked sixth in the NFL in EPA per play and third in the NFL in success rate. Without Williams over the last three games, the Rams are down to 21st in EPA per rush. Williams has been an important piece of the Rams running game. At this point, it’s about keeping him healthy and finding a complementary piece to work with him.
7. Mishandling of quarterback and kicker position has reared its ugly head
The biggest mistake that the Rams have made this season comes at the backup quarterback and kicker positions. In the fourth-round, the Rams drafted Stetson Bennett IV. Bennett went on the NFI list before the season even began. Now, separate from Bennett’s personal situation is how the Rams have handled the backup quarterback position in general.
There were always concerns about Bennett in the pre-draft process. Meanwhile, seven picks after Bennett was taken, the Las Vegas Raiders selected Aidan O’Connell who is now 2-0 as a starter and has done his job as a backup quarterback.
At kicker, the Rams let Matt Gay walk in free agency and it has been a carousel at the position ever since. Lucas Havrisik is the team’s fourth kicker since the offseason and missed a field goal last week. McVay also opted to punt from field goal range. These are two positions that the Rams must figure out moving forward.
8. Sean McVay’s Offense is going through an identity crisis
McVay always talks about the marriage between the run and the pass. However, the two are very disconnected right now. In 2017 and 2018, the Rams were able to run play action off of their wide zone running scheme and create a dangerous offense. That was their identity Since then, the offense has been a bit discombobulated.
In 2021, the Rams run game was non-existent, but they were able to get away with it because Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp were playing at such a high level. The backside dig was the cornerstone of the offense. McVay completely changed the run game in the offseason, but still the run game and pass game feel like two very separate entities. McVay needs to be able to bring the two together more consistently.
9. Lack of blue-chip talent and star players has showed
The Rams purged their roster of some of their blue-chip talent this offseason in order to reset the salary cap. Jalen Ramsey was traded while Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner were both released. The lack of blue-chip talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball has showed in key losses this season.
Defensively, the Rams collapsed against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth quarter. Against the Dallas Cowboys, the Rams continued to snow-ball through a nine-minute stretch. At times, the lack of horses on the roster has been evident. With cap-space and first-round picks, the Rams should be able to fix that problem this offseason.
10. Rams need to have eyes on 2024 draft
This isn’t to say that the Rams need to tank. However, it’s also important to remain realistic about what the Rams are as a team. Of course nobody is going to be disappointed if this team makes a miraculous run at the postseason. With that said, they either need to sneak into the playoffs as a seven seed or land a top-10 pick. They do not want to be in spot where they are stuck in the middle, missing out on the postseason and a difference maker level prospect.
Right now, the Rams haven’t shown the consistency to be able to string off several wins in a row which is what they will need to make a postseason run. Finishing 7-10 is the absolute worst case scenario. There are a few blue-chip level prospects at the top of the draft and landing one of those players is crucial to the team-build moving forward.