The Los Angeles Rams entered Thursday Night’s game against the New Orleans Saints in a must-win situation. Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford made a statement, winning 30-22. While the score was close, it doesn’t accurately reflect the domination from start to finish. The Rams playoff chances rose above 70 percent with a win. Had they lost, it would have been a huge uphill battle. Instead, the Rams took care of business and hold the NFC’s sixth seed heading into the weekend. Here are 10 takeaways from the Rams win over the Saints.
1. Sean McVay’s decision to go for it set the tone
Flashback to Week 4 when the Rams played the Indianapolis Colts. On the second drive of the game, McVay opted to go for it on 4th-and-3. The offense converted and ended up scoring a touchdown to go up 14-0. That decision helped the Rams put a firm grasp on that game in the early stages.
The same can be said about Thursday Night on the opening drive. McVay could have opted to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the two and just get ahead on the scoreboard. Instead, he played for the win. Matthew Stafford found Puka Nacua underneath for a touchdown. That decision gave the Rams 3.6 win percentage points and was a difference of 11 win percentage points had either succeeded. It set the tone and showed that the Rams were there to win the game.
---> NO (0) @ LA (0) <---— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) December 22, 2023
LA has 4th & 2 at the NO 2, Q1 02:28
Recommendation (STRONG): Go for it (+3.6 WP)
Actual play: (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short right to P.Nacua for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN. L.Havrisik extra point is G pic.twitter.com/g7IQbEnvil
2. Defense came up big in the big moments
The defense wasn’t necessarily stellar on Thursday. The Saints didn’t go three-and-out on any of their drives and were 5-for-11 on third downs. With that said, the defense showed up in the big moments when it mattered.
On the opening drive, Ernest Jones got a pass breakup on third down and then sacked Derek Carr to take the Saints out of field goal range. The next possession, Kobie Turner sacked Carr on 4th-and-5 for a turnover on downs. With all the momentum in the Saints’ favor going into the half, the defense got another fourth down stop, giving the offense good field position. The Saints offense was 0-for-3 on fourth down and when the defense needed to make a play, they did just that.
3. Matthew Stafford is playing some of the best football of his career
Stafford is currently playing some of the best football of his career. He’s gone four consecutive games without throwing an interception. Just since Kyren Williams returned, he has thrown 14 touchdowns to just one interception. Every week he’s making throws and making plays that only a handful of quarterbacks are even capable of.
The Athletic Football Show did a recap after Thursday’s game. Robert Mays brought up the point that seeing Stafford do what he’s currently doing really leaves you wanting more. Not more in the sense of Stafford needing to be better, but more in that, what if we got 10 years of McVay and Stafford?
You appreciate what these two are doing right now. However, this is the twilight of Stafford’s career. What if McVay and Stafford were brought together when the quarterback was 27 in a similar way Drew Brees was paired with Sean Payton? The narrative surrounding Stafford completely changes. McVay and Stafford are accomplishing special things, but it also leaves you wanting more of it than what we’ll likely end up getting.
4. Demarcus Robinson is thriving in larger role
Robinson had six receptions for 82 yards and had his fourth consecutive game with a touchdown. He has been exactly what the Rams need at wide receiver. Robinson adds a speed element, but also gives them size in the red zone and on the outside. He is just the latest example of a low-value signing that has paid off for the Rams this season.
It’s great to see Robinson thrive in the offense. At the same time, it also likely means that TuTu Atwell is being phased out. Robinson has earned the playing time and is continuously making plays. The conversation about Atwell’s future may be one for the offseason. Robinson clearly fits what the Rams want at the position and has a connection with Stafford.
5. Offensive Line deserves a lot of credit
The Rams offensive line deserves a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished over the last several weeks. We can talk about Stafford having a great season or Kyren Williams bursting onto the scene. However, none of that is possible without the guys up front. Rob Havenstein was a huge boost to the offensive line on Thursday and Stafford was kept pretty clean as he was sacked just once.
.@RamsNFL offensive line is playing as well as anyone in both tge run game and in protection. Merry Christmas to Jackson; Avila; Shelton; Dotson;and Havenstein. Job well done. @AndrewWhitworth @BigDuke50 #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/hZ4SidX61f— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) December 22, 2023
There were times early in the season where the offensive line was seen as a liability. How their playing doesn’t necessarily mean that they also don’t need upgrades at certain spots. However, they are performing well and playing as a cohesive unit. The Rams are winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and that’s a huge credit to those five players.
6. Kyren Williams continues to show how important he is to the offense
For a third straight game, Kyren Williams hit the 100 yard mark. Prior to this season, the most 100 yard games for a running back in a single season with Matthew Stafford was three. Williams did that in three weeks and is up to six for the year. He also eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark, becoming the first Rams running back since Todd Gurley in 2018 to hit that milestone.
Rams offense with Matthew Stafford, Kyren, Puka, and Kupp on the field at the same time in 2023— Restore the Roar (@DETROlTLions313) December 22, 2023
EPA per play - 1st
Dropback EPA - 1st
Dropback success rate - 1st
Success rate - 1st
Rushing success rate - 1st
Points per drive - 1st
Yards per play - 1st
Rush EPA - 1st
There was a moment on Thursday when Williams was injured and left the field. Ronnie Rivers finished with six carries for 20 yards. Williams is the driving force of the Rams offense. In a league where the narrative is “running backs don’t matter”, Williams certainly is showing otherwise.
7. That was a great coaching job by McVay and Raheem Morris
Sean McVay and Raheem Morris deserve a lot of credit for the coaching job that they had this week. It was a short week and a must-win game to keep playoff chances alive. A young roster could have struggled with that situation. McVay and Morris had their guys prepared for the situation and for 3.5 quarters, they dominated.
That performance speaks to coaching. The Rams had all the answers when they needed them the most. Morris had the right play-call in important situations and that was a big reason for Fuller’s interception. The players executed, but McVay and Morris did a fantastic job on having the team ready.
8. The Rams have 10 days. Find a new kicker.
The Lucas Havrisik experiment needs to be over. This season, the Rams have missed 11 field goals which is the most for any team since 2015. Havrisik made all of his field goals within 40 yards, but that’s not sustainable. For a kicker that was a ‘long range specialist’ in college, that’s where he struggles the most. He is just 4-for-9 on kicks over 40 yards and 2-for-6 in the 40-49 range.
Now, a few things can be true with the miss on Thursday. It was a 4th-and-2 situation. McVay needs to go for it there and trust his offense with Stafford, Williams, Kupp, and Nacua to get two years. They should be trusted in that situation more than Havrisik. That doesn’t change the underlying issue however that these are makable kicks in the NFL and Havrisik isn’t close. The Rams have 10 days between now and the game against the New York Giants. That’s plenty of time to bring in a few kickers for workouts.
9. Special teams gaffes continue to give opponents a life line
That leads us to this next point. The Rams special teams unit continues to give opponents a lifeline. Go back to the Pittsburgh Steelers game when they had 10 points off of missed field goals. The Baltimore Ravens game ended on a punt return for a touchdown. That didn’t change on Thursday.
The Rams led 10-0 in the first half before Havrisik missed a 47-yard field goal. Three plays later, the Saints scored their first touchdown. The offense went three-and-out and the Saints had a chance to take the lead or tie going into halftime. In the fourth quarter, a blocked punt set up a short field for the Saints offense and brought them within one score. The margins weren’t thin on Thursday, but there may be a point in the playoffs or in a must-win Week 18 game where that type of mistake is the difference.
10. Rams went from team that was tanking to team nobody wants to play
Rams are gonna be a dangerous team in the playoffs.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 22, 2023
Oh how the turn tables have turned. 10 months ago, Mike Florio was saying that the Rams were tanking and McVay wanted no part of a rebuild. Now, they are a team that nobody wants to play and have potential to be dangerous in the playoffs.
“This was supposed to be a reset year for the Rams...Yet, here we are. The Rams (8–7) enter the weekend as the NFC’s sixth seed, and set up after a year of restraint to be the aggressor again...Now, in all likelihood, this is all going to end for the Rams in the wild-card round, with the likelihood they have to line up with the Lions or Cowboys or Eagles. Maybe they can pull an upset. Maybe not. What’s clear, either way, is that an organization that won it all just two years ago, and pulled the Band-Aid off a year later, is back on the way up again.”
An argument can be made right now that they are the second best team in the NFC behind the San Francisco 49ers. The Rams are currently firing on all cylinders. Their offense is averaging 0.121 EPA per play. That’s 33 percent better than the 2021 offense that won the Super Bowl. Defensively, the Rams are also more efficient than the 2021 team, allowing a success-rate of just 38.9 percent.
Right now, this Rams team feels like it could be the 2011 New York Giants team that went on an unlikely run to the Super Bowl. Now, the Rams may not win the Super Bowl, but that Giants team was 7-7 and then won six straight games on their way to hoisting the Lombardi.