The Los Angeles Rams got back in the win column on Sunday with a 17-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks to take the season series. It wasn’t a pretty win, but the Rams came up big in the fourth quarter for a well-earned victory. There’s a lot to discuss with this one. Let’s get into our ten takeaways.
1. Offense lacks rhythm, overall plan, and identity
There are times that the Rams offense looks discombobulated and are unsure of exactly what they want to accomplish. Three of their first five drives of the game ended in a three-and-out. Matthew Stafford’s interception came on a fake jet sweep, flea-flicker to Austin Trammel.
The Rams had two weeks to prepare for the Seahawks. Through the first three quarters of the game, they were the second-worst offense in the NFL, averaging -0.252 EPA per play. That led only the Las Vegas Raiders. The Rams’ 35.9 percent success rate led the New York Giants, New York Jets, and the Raiders. This offense has issues and it goes beyond the offensive line and play-calling.
2. Rams defense kept offense in the game.
There have been a lot of times this season in which the offense has struggled and the defense has kept the game close and within striking distance. Games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind. Even in the Green Bay Packers game, that was a one-score contest until the fourth quarter.
Seattle did score on all three of their drives on the first half. With that said, the defense locked down after halftime, allowing just three points. In the second half, the Rams had the third-best defense EPA. Their 20.7 percent overall success rate and 0.0 percent rushing success rate allowed in the second half led the NFL.
We’ve talked about the Rams playing complementary football this season. As the defense got stops and earned a turnover, the offense scored points. This is the result when the two sides are working together.
3. Royce Freeman added consistency to the run game
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Rams utilize both Kyren Williams and Royce Freeman moving forward. Over the past four games, Freeman has certainly earned a role in the offense. Against the Seahawks, he led the NFL in rushing yards over expected per attempt among running backs with at least 15 carries. Freeman’s five forced missed tackles were the most for a Rams running back this season.
An underrated play in the game was Freeman getting three yards on 3rd-and-2 after initially getting stopped short. The Rams running back picked up the first down on a second-effort type of play which played a huge role in eventually winning the game. Freeman and Williams should be able to complement each other well. Both are decisive runners and Freeman adds a “Sony Michel-like” physicality to the run game.
4. Derion Kendrick deserves some credit.
With Derion Kendrick, there is always going to be some good and bad. He’ll give up a penalty or a big play, but he has a short memory and brings a confidence that you have to respect. Kendrick had essentially been moved out of the starting lineup and responded very well filling in for Cobie Durant who was inactive. Head coach Sean McVay commended Kendrick saying,
“I thought he stood up really tall all day. I thought the early penalty. Hey, how do we respond? What does that really look like? And he did that in a big way...But Derion Kendrick, it was outstanding. It’s a cool thing to be able to see guys respond the right way and then be able to see the work, the responses pay off and a performance like he had today.”
After a rough start, Kendrick responded by allowing just three catches on eight targets. He recorded his first career interception which led to the Rams’ go-ahead score. He deserves to be recognized for his effort in this game. The upside is there with Kendrick, he just needs to get more consistent.
5. Stafford and offense showed up in the fourth quarter.
The Rams earned their first fourth-quarter comeback since Super Bowl 56. For the first time this season, we saw the Rams turn it on in the fourth quarter offensively. The Rams offense jumped from the second-worst EPA for the week at -0.252 to the fourth-best at 0.192. Much of that was due to Matthew Stafford who had a 0.264 fourth quarter EPA.
Stafford wasn’t perfect and did miss some throws early, but he has a tendency of showing up in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. Following the interception on the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Stafford went 7-for-11 for 111 yards.
6. Is the offense better without Cooper Kupp?
I wrote about this very topic last week on how the offense has seemingly performed better without Kupp. It seems very odd that the offense would be playing better without their best offensive weapon. However, that’s exactly what has happened. It seems like the offense is more diverse and more players get involved without Kupp on the field.
In the first half, Nacua was only targeted once in the first half and it came on the touchdown. Kupp dominated the targets and it limits the offense. Is that Stafford forcing things to Kupp or the offense calling for Kupp as the first read too often? It’s a problem that the Rams and McVay need to solve.
7. Sean McVay was more aggressive, even if the results didn’t work
There seemed to be a relative shift in McVay’s overall aggressiveness even if the results weren’t beneficial. The Rams went for it on fourth-and-goal in the first half. While they didn’t score, it was the right decision.
You can argue both sides here, but I also really liked McVay’s decision to pass on second down on the final drive. He’s going for the win in that situation and trying to score a touchdown rather than simply play conservative, run three times, and kick the field goal.
McVay defended his decision in his post game press conference,
“Really just trying to score a touchdown. So figuring what’s the best play. We had been having success running the football from the seven-yard line. You could have a chance to be able to do that, but we were really trying to be able to score a touchdown...But if we make that play, which I’ll call that over and over again, feel good about that call, got a really good player on an iso in breaking route. And if he catches that he might fall in or the ball is on the one yard line and now you have a lot of different options. But the most important thing was we wanted to not leave ourselves susceptible to just going up one where a field goal wins it for them.”
It’s important to separate the decision from the result. McVay’s decision to go for it on fourth down was the correct call. The play-call may have been questionable, but the decision to go for it was correct.
On the pass on second down late in the fourth quarter, the Rams had Puka Nacua one-on-one on a slant. Nacua has been one of the best slant wide receivers this season. Trust your players to make the play. That’s a matchup the Rams will take every time. McVay was still smart as he made sure to leave the Seahawks with no timeouts when they did get the ball back.
8. Rams learned how to win an ugly game
It seems like the Rams have come up on the wrong end of a few ugly games this season, notably against the Steelers and Bengals. There's something to be said about winning a game despite not being the better team. The Rams were out-gained, were worse on third-down, ran less plays, and held the ball for 28 minutes to Seattle’s 32. The Seahawks had a better offensive and defensive EPA throughout the game. This Rams team still found a way to win. McVay said how impressed he was about how his team won after the game,
“I‘m just so proud of this group. I think the grit was on display, the mental toughness, the ability to get stops, the ability to be able to feed off of one another. Man, there’s a lot of things that we can learn from offensively. I think there’s a lot of good things that we can build on defensively, but the way that they finish, that to me was key and critical and that was one of the things that I didn’t think we did as good a job of in the first half of the season.”
That’s a win that speaks a lot to the growth and development of this young team. It’s a win that will go a long way as they begin to figure things out and get mentally tough. The Rams made mistakes, but they didn’t make THE mistake. For a young team, sweeping a contending division rival and winning a game like this is impressive.
9. Result probably hurts more than it helps, but that’s a larger conversation
If Jason Myers makes the 55-yard field goal to win, we’re having a very different conversation right now. The Rams would have been sitting at 3-7 and been projected to hold the sixth overall pick. Now, the Rams are slotted in at 13th overall.
The win against the Seahawks and getting the season sweep should absolutely be celebrated. However, it’s worth pointing out the Rams aren’t a team that’s been actively trying to win games from a front-office standpoint this season. It’s always been a reset year.
I’ve been consistent in saying that the worst thing that the Rams can do is miss the playoffs and not get a top-10 pick. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle. That’s not to say that talent can’t be found in the middle of the first-round, but there is blue-chip, generational talent inside the top-10 this year. That’s a piece that the Rams need to be able to build around in 2024 and 2025. It’s important to keep a wide angle lens here and look at the situation from a broader perspective. The big picture is important and that’s the 2024 and 2025 seasons.
This isn’t to say that the win shouldn’t be celebrated or that making the playoffs would be a bad thing. It’s about avoiding that middle area of the draft.
The Rams haven’t shown any level of consistency this season and that boded true throughout the win on Sunday. They outscored the Seahawks 10-0 in the fourth quarter and that ended up being enough. We are one field goal away from a different conversation today.
10. Win against Seahawks once again raises expectations.
To begin the season, the Rams fanbase and the media had low expectations. That was until they won 30-13 against the Seahawks in Week 1. Going into the bye week, the Rams had lost three straight games and all the focus seemed to be on the draft. Now, this is a team that has once again defeated the Seahawks and expectations have once again changed.
Now, the conversation has shifted to making a push for the playoffs. The Rams’ chances at a playoff spot currently sit at around 15 percent. They would have to go 5-2 down the stretch with games against Baltimore, San Francisco, Cleveland, and New Orleans on the schedule. The Rams control their own destiny, but as mentioned earlier, this is also a team that has lacked consistency and haven't shown that they can string together three or four wins in a row.
If we take a step back and look at this Rams team for what it has been this season, is this really a playoff team even in a weak NFC? It’s a fair question and we’ll find out what that answer is over the next few weeks.