It’s clear that the Los Angeles Rams are surging at the right time amidst the NFC playoff hunt, and their win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football is the latest sign of their breakout.
Matthew Stafford and rookie receiver Puka Nacua dazzled under the primetime lights. Running back Kyren Williams continued his impressive stretch of strong play.
On the defensive side of the ball middle linebacker Ernest Jones led the way. His interior blitzes made New Orleans QB Derek Carr uncomfortable all Thursday evening.
How did Pro Football Focus (PFF) rate the performance of these players against the Saints? Let’s take a look at the game grades along with a few other notes:
Top five grades on offense:
1 - Puka Nacua, WR: 92.5
The Rams haven’t played in primetime windows this year as much as they have recently, so this was effectively the world’s introduction to rookie phenom Puka Nacua—and boy he didn’t disappoint.
Nacua hauled in nine catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. He also had two carries for 16 yards, including a nine-yard rush late that helped seal the important win for Los Angeles.
The rookie’s star is only growing brighter.
Shohei Ohtani 1️⃣7️⃣— yu-1linda (@yu_1_linda99) December 22, 2023
Puka Nacua 1️⃣7️⃣ pic.twitter.com/3qGlxa6xbp
2 - Matthew Stafford, QB: 91.0
Is there a quarterback in the NFL over the last month that is playing better than Matthew Stafford is right now? And Stafford’s hot streak couldn’t have come at a better time for LA now that the team is back squarely into the NFC playoff picture.
Stafford completed 24 of 34 passes for 328 yards and two scores. According to PFF the veteran was credited with four big-time throws (tied for his second-best this year and most since Week 6) and had no turnover-worthy plays.
Puka Nacua might be the best to ever do it pic.twitter.com/hSzlsv9ZH9— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) December 22, 2023
3 - Kevin Dotson, RG: 89.1
4 - Rob Havenstein, RT: 87.1
Kevin Dotson is having a breakout season in a contract year, that much we already knew. What makes him somewhat of a risky investment as a free agent—whether for the Rams or some other team—is how he’s played without Rob Havenstein next to him at tackle. It seems the two have a symbiotic relationship and Dotson has been much better with Havenstein in the lineup than with Joe Noteboom at right tackle.
Over the last three games (Browns, Ravens, Commanders) while Havenstein was either injured or inactive, Dotson individually had his worst three performances. In Week 16 with Havenstein back in the lineup, Dotson had his second-best game of the year.
Does this relationship diminish Dotson’s value heading into free agency?
5 - Demarcus Robinson, WR: 82.1
Robinson is emerging as LA’s WR#3 alongside Nacua and Cooper Kupp. He gives the Rams a more physical presence in the run game over Tutu Atwell, and his ability to create plays out of structure stood out against the Saints.
Other notes on offense:
The inverse side of Robinson’s rise over the last month is Tutu Atwell’s relegation to the sideline as WR#4. Atwell played only four snaps in this game and was not targeted.
Rookie TE Davis Allen struggled, as he was called for a holding penalty that negated a big Kyren Williams run. He earned an overall grade of 29.1.
Top five grades on defense:
1 - Ernest Jones, MLB: 92.1
Ernest Jones blitzed on 14 plays and was highly productive when given the opportunity. He amassed five total pressures, including a sack on New Orleans’ opening drive, and earned a PFF pass rushing grade of 91.6. Jones was also strong in coverage and allowed three completions on four targets for 16 yards with a pass breakup.
Former Gamecock LB Ernest Jones with a big sack for the Los Angeles Rams!! @ernestjones53— Gamecocks_swag (@Gamecockswag201) December 22, 2023
Saints 22 Rams 30
7 TOT 4 SOLO 1 SACKS 2 TFL 2 PD 1 QB HITS
Ernest Jones has recorded a sack in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. pic.twitter.com/N06ZtChoXF
2 - Aaron Donald, DE: 90.6
Donald was second to Jones in total pressures with four. He was also tied with rookie defensive tackle Kobie Turner. Carr was getting the ball out quick and the Saints were dedicating multiple blockers to Donald.
3 - Michael Hoecht, OLB: 90.3
Fans seemed discouraged and maybe gave up on Michael Hoecht earlier in the season after watching him allow play after play in coverage (arguably he was playing out of position). However, since the bye week Hoecht seems to have turned a corner and has been LA’s best outside linebacker of late. Sure, Byron Young has a higher ceiling and the Rams still need to find a long-term solution to place opposite of him, but Hoecht has proven he deserves to be kept around as a rotational pice moving forward.
He recorded two pressures in this game and earned a pass rushing grade of 90.9.
4 - Quentin Lake, SCB: 89.2
Quentin Lake returned from injury last week against the Commanders and immediately made his presence felt. He continued that string of strong play against New Orleans and forced another incompletion to end a Saints drive—he seems to have a knack for knocking the ball away when the defense needs it the most.
All-in-all, Lake allowed just four receptions on seven targets for 15 yards along with the pass deflection.
5 - Nick Hampton, OLB: 85.7
Hampton played only 12 snaps, including seven as a pass rusher. It’s impressive that he was able to stand out given the limited opportunity and he could push for playing time moving forward. Ochaun Mathis was a healthy scratch for this game, and Keir Thomas hasn’t done much to stand out recently.
Other notes on defense:
The Rams need better plays from their safeties. Russ Yeast played only 14 snaps but was the lowest graded player (26.3) on defense with a tackling grade of 21.8 and a coverage mark of 26.7. John Johnson didn’t fare much better either as he struggled in coverage and allowed 60 yards and a touchdown on four targets. Jordan Fuller was the best of the bunch, though arguably he played a role in the touchdown allowed by Ahkello Witherspoon by biting on an underneath route and not staying over the top.