The Los Angeles Rams played their first preseason game on Saturday evening, losing 34-17 to the Los Angeles Chargers. While a win would have been nice, the preseason is about process over results and seeing how players respond from mistakes. For the Rams, there were plenty of mistakes and learning moments in Saturday’s loss, but there were also some positives to take away as well. Let’s jump into it!
1. Stetson Bennett Looked the Part
His night almost started with a pick-six and he almost threw another interception on the opening drive. However, once Stetson Bennett settled into the game and found his rhythm, it was hard not to like what you saw. As the game went on he began to go through his reads more and learn from his mistakes.
The Stetson Bennett-to-Puka Nacua touchdown: pic.twitter.com/KJcU5UK008— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) August 13, 2023
Said head coach Sean McVay after the game,
“I thought he did a nice job. There were some tough situations. You could see the athleticism where he escaped. I thought the one scoring drive where Royce [Freeman] ended up punching it in, I thought he was able to get into a rhythm...I thought he did a good job of being able to exhaust some of his progressions...But I thought there was a lot of good opportunities for him to be able to learn from and you could see some of the things that excite us about him.”
Bennett finished 17-for-29 for 191 yards and a touchdown. The most impressive thing was just watching him learn from his mistakes and problem solve in-game. After almost throwing two interceptions, he came back on the same drive and threw his first touchdown pass. Later in the game after taking a bad sack, he came right back and found Tyler Johnson on a slant form 34 yards. Brett Rypien wasn’t as effective in his snaps. It’s fair to wonder how much longer Bennett remains the third-string quarterback.
2. Rookie Special Teams Went Through Much Needed Adversity
As it should have been expected, the rookie special teams unit had it’s bumps in their first performance. Ethan Evans boomed a 60-yard punt early in the game, but left his coverage team in a bad spot. When Derius Davis caught the ball, the closest gunner was still 20 yards away from the play. Daniel Hardy badly missed a tackle on the return, but this is a situation where two things are true at the same time. It’s all connected. Evans out-kicked his coverage and put them in a bad spot. At the same time, the coverage unit needs to do better. Evans had a nice punt later in the game that he pinned on the sideline, forcing the returner out of bounds.
Tanner Brown missed a 46-yard field goal to the left on his first field goal opportunity. Brown bounced back later on, nailing a 39-yard attempt and also was perfect with his extra points. Much like Bennett, it was nice to see Brown and Evans problem solve in-game. Brown could have shanked his 39-yard attempt and spiraled, instead, he made it and hopefully gains some confidence. Evans meanwhile will learn the balance on when to ‘boom’ a punt and not to place those types of punts in the middle of the field.
3. Good and Bad on the Offensive Line
Alaric Jackson and Steve Avila did a nice job at left tackle and left guard to start the game. However, once they came out, Warren McClendon and Zach Thomas held it down well. McClendon was especially surprising since his natural position is on the right side. Thomas meanwhile could make a case for a roster spot. He also showed versatility at left tackle late in the fourth-quarter.
Chargers EDGE Chris Rumph goes speed to power, rushes his blocker to quarterback depth and gets the sack.— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) August 13, 2023
Tuli Tuipulotu bringing some pressure on that drive too.pic.twitter.com/q7ose7Mq2C
Contrarily, Logan Bruss didn’t have his best game. It’s worth noting that he’s coming back from a major knee injury and also just switched positions. While he played right tackle at Wisconsin, the Rams have strictly been training him at right guard since he was drafted. He had some rough moments in pass protection. However, he held up nicely on Bennett’s touchdown to Nacua and was involved on Royce Freeman’s touchdown run as well. It’s clear that the Rams want to get him reps there. Hopefully he gets more consistent over the next few weeks.
4. Run defense and contain will be a point of emphasis
The Rams run defense wasn’t good on Saturday evening. While Aaron Donald and Ernest Jones didn’t play, most of the other players were guys that the Rams will be relying on in Week 1. The Rams are undersized on the defensive line and it certainly showed. Three of the Chargers’ four running backs averaged over five yards per carry.
In the second-half, Keir Thomas and Zach VanValkenburg both lost contain on the same side, allowing Elijah Dotson to score on a pair of long touchdowns. Controlling gaps and keeping contain will be a point of emphasis this week.
McVay said after the game,
“I think especially in the run game there’s a couple times where you give some vertical seams up, you lose some edges or you might have a movement and it just takes one guy to be able to get out of a gap...We talk about trying to be able to gap and a half play with some violence up front and didn’t feel like we played the way that we were capable of, but I think the film does always give you a better opportunity.”
It’s not about results at this point and more about process and how players respond. How do the Rams learn from this next week against the Las Vegas Raiders?
5. Tre Tomlinson and Puka Nacua Shine in Debuts
Tomlinson played mostly on the outside in his debut, but he played well lining up across from first-round pick Quentin Johnston. Tomlinson had a pass breakup on third down early in the game and then made another nice play on Johnston down the field to force an incompletion. With how thin the Rams are at cornerback, Tomlinson could have a role early in his career.
With how Nacua has performed all offseason, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it was the rookie who sparked the offense. Bennett’s first completion was a 17-yard slant to Nacua. Later on the same drive it was Nacua who got the Rams on the board with a touchdown, making a tough catch between two defenders at the goal line. The rookie finished with three receptions for 32-yards and the score. The Rams would be smart in trying everything they can to get Nacua on the field in the regular season.