The Los Angeles Rams got back in the win column on Sunday with a 28-20 win over the Washington Commanders. While the score was closer than it should have been, the win put the Rams in the seventh seed in the NFC Playoff Picture. Kyren Williams had two fumbles, but also rushed for over 150 yard and closed out the game on the final drive. Let’s get to this week’s 10 takeaways.
1. Sean McVay makes same red zone mistakes on opening drive
Last week, the Rams started the opening drive with nine consecutive runs only to throw the ball three straight times inside the 10. While McVay was a little more balanced getting to the red zone on the opening drive on Sunday, the Rams once again threw the ball three straight times inside the 10-yard line. Both times, the offense settled for a field goal.
Overall from a numbers standpoint, the Rams are good in the red zone as they have the 10th best offense inside the 20 this season. With that being said, there is still room for improvement. Kyren Williams has been one of the best running backs inside the 10 this season. There is very little reason that anybody else should be getting the ball in those situations.
2. Matthew Stafford has been on a tear since the bye week
Stafford has been making elite throws all season, but since the Rams came out of the bye week, their quarterback has been on an absolute tear. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Stafford completed 16 of 17 passes when in rhythm (between 2.5 and 4 seconds) for 196 yards and two touchdowns with a 23.3 percent completion percentage over expectation on Sunday. The Rams quarterback leads the NFL with a 34.6 passing EPA and 55.2 percent success rate when in rhythm since returning from injury in Week 11.
Stafford giving a shoulder fake before throwing a no-look Dig pic.twitter.com/Ucb47GFHPp— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) December 17, 2023
Los Angeles is back in the playoff race because the run and pass are coming together in the offense. However, a lot of that has to do with Stafford who has 13 touchdowns to go with two interceptions over the last five games. It’s a reminder that Stafford’s ceiling is elite and with a quarterback playing like he currently is, it gives the Rams a great shot down the stretch.
3. Quentin Lake’s impact was felt in return from injury
The Rams defense missed Quentin Lake over the past three games. Him impact was immediately felt in Sunday’s win. On the opening drive he had a pass breakup on 3rd-and-4, forcing the Commanders to punt. He had another pass breakup at the goal line during the Commanders’ final possession to help take off more clock.
On Sunday, the secondary had some rough moments, and we will get to those. However, one of those problems is not Lake. The Rams and Raheem Morris have put Lake in the “star role” on defense and he has mostly flourished in that spot. It’s nice to have him back and healthy as the Rams enter the final stretch of the season.
4. Fumbles from Kyren Williams are bad, but not a concern...yet
A few things can be true here when it comes to Kyren Williams’ performance. To start, the fumbles are inexcusable and can’t happen. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein listed it as a weekness of his coming out of Notre Dame. The positive here is that it is correctable. After the game, McVay said,
“I got a lot of confidence in him. Those are very correctable things. You could see he was getting a little loose even on the great run that he had earlier in the game, it’s kind of getting away from his body...We wouldn’t be in a lot of these situations in a positive way if it wasn’t for him. I love the way that he finished the game out. It’s always about your response and so he’ll learn from it and he’s the type of guy that has the right football character, the right mindset and mentality to be able to use these things as learning ops push forward in a positive way. And he still made big time contributions to this game in a positive way.”
The fact of the matter is, Williams is one of the four most important pieces of the offense. He has now gone for 100 yards for a fifth time this season which is the most for a Rams running back since Todd Gurley in 2018 when he had six. He’s doing everything Cam Akers was expected to do, but didn’t. Akers fumbled at the goal line in a Week 17 ‘win or go home’ game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2020 while averaging 1.6 yards per carry. John Wolford was blamed for the offense not being able to get in the end zone. Akers fumbled twice in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Williams’ response was great and he spoke about it to FOX following the win. The fumbles can’t become a habit.
Kyren Williams holding himself accountable this is what you want to see, grow from it, learn from it, move forward. pic.twitter.com/buVe7dBDZT— Rams Tapes (@RamsTapes) December 18, 2023
It’s a good learning experience in a game that the Rams had control of rather than in a close game when those mistakes are the difference in winning and losing.
5. Special teams improves, but one lingering problem remains
It’s always something with the Rams special teams unit. They actually had some positive moments are responded well from the punt return walk-off touchdown last week. The punt team made a play, taking advantage of a bobbled snap. Ethan Evans had a great punt that pinned Washington inside the 10. Cobie Durant blocked an extra-point as well. The Rams special teams unit made some good plays.
And then we get to the kicker position. Yes, Lucas Havrisik made a pair of field goals as well as his extra points. However, he missed a 43-yard field goal and is just 4-for-8 from 40+ this season. The Rams opted to keep Havrisik after he was perfect last week in tough conditions at Baltimore. It was back to the same old, same old on Sunday.
6. Self-Inflicted errors make game closer than it should have been
The Rams won 28-20, but it can be argued that they should have won 45-14. If there is a positive, it’s that these are self-inflicted wounds. The offense not being able to capitalize in the red zone, the fumbles, drops, etc. are all correctable mistakes. It’s not as if the Rams offense was struggling to move the ball at any point in this game.
While it’s frustrating that the Rams couldn’t pull away and take their starters off of the field in a short week, you take the wins however they come. There are no style points in the NFL. The Rams led 20-0 and 28-7 at points in this game. It was never out of their control. They’ll move on to Thursday’s game against the New Orleans Saints at 7-7 and not look back.
7. Derion Kendrick is not it and secondary needs a re-haul in offseason
Sunday was a reminder that the Rams have to re-build the secondary this offseason. There isn’t much they can do about it now, but this is where a lot of resources have to go. Kendrick just simply is not the answer at cornerback. He shows flashes, but there are just way too many negative plays for him to be someone that can be relied on consistently. In the final eight minutes of the game, he gave up a touchdown and long pass to Terry McLaurin that set up the Commanders at the one. He then had a pass interference penalty on fourth down to put Washington back on the one-yard line.
The problems in the secondary don’t stop at Kendrick. John Johnson III has been a liability in coverage. Jordan Fuller has positive moments in the run game, but has also struggled in coverage. Ahkello Withspoon is fine at under $2M, but is he someone you want to pay $8M-$10M? Lake is the only player in the secondary that should have a starting role ‘in sharpie’ next season.
8. Defense’s late goal-line stand plays critical role in win
When all was said and done, the Rams defense did end up giving up a touchdown late in the game from the one-yard line. However, the effort that they showed was a critical in the win. The Commanders took their first snap at the one-yard line with 4:47 left on the clock. Ernest Jones and Jonah Williams each had run stops from the one-yard line.
Jones then had another tackle for loss when Washington was given a new set of downs. The Commanders finally scored with 1:46 remaining. They spent three minutes inside the five yard line trying to score. Had Washington scored a touchdown on their first play, there is a chance things go down a lot differently than they did.
9. Week 15 results could not have gone better for Rams
The results from Week 15 in the NFL could not have gone better for the Rams. Jake Browning was able to lead a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised many by beating the Green Bay Packers. With those two losses, the Rams not only have a 52 percent chance at the playoffs, but will have a chance at the six seed as well.
Things are starting to shift in favor of the Rams. Since being 3-6, they are at 4-1 and look like one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Playoffs at this point in the season seemed unfathomable just a month ago.
10. Rams are officially in control of their own destiny
Yes, the Rams now hold the seventh seed in the NFC and are in control of their own destiny. There is a chance that they are able to clinch a spot before Week 18’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. With a win over the Saints and Giants the next two weeks, an Eagles win over the Seahawks, and Lions wins the next two weeks, the Rams clinch a playoff spot. Rams win over Saints and Giants.
NFL Team Tiers since the Rams returned from their bye.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) December 18, 2023
How many teams want to see LA as the 6th or 7th seed in the playoffs? Answer: 0
Offense ranks 5th in EPA. Defense ranks 9th in success-rate. pic.twitter.com/6h9mOt0vXh
Since the bye week, the Rams are one of the best teams in the NFC. Is there a team right now that would want to see Los Angeles on wild card weekend? The answer to that question is probably no. This Rams team is hitting its stride at the right time.