The Los Angeles Rams had the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday with a win against the New York Giants and loss by the Seattle Seahawks. While the Rams did their part, it didn’t come easy. Los Angeles got out of New York with a 26-25 win that ended with a missed field goal by Mason Crosby. It’s the second time since the bye week that the Rams have won off of a missed field goal in the final minute. In the NFL, you take the wins however they come. Here are this week’s 10 takeaways.
1. Too many self-inflicted errors
Sunday was one of those games where the Rams just continuously hurt themselves with self-infected errors. On the opening drive, Puka Nacua dropped a pass on fourth down that would have kept the drive alive. Demarcus Robinson fumbled at midfield before the half, setting up a Giants field goal. That doesn’t mention Matthew Stafford’s two interceptions. Add in the special teams mistakes and these are errors that the Rams can’t afford to make.
The Rams were lucky to get out with a win on Sunday, but those are errors that we haven’t been accustomed to seeing since the bye week. This is a good game for the Rams to win, but they have a lot to clean up if they are going to be the threat that many think they will be in the wild card round.
2. Puka Nacua continues to be a star
Nacua is four receptions away from the rookie receptions record and 29 yards away from breaking the rookie receiving yards record set by Bill Groman in 1960. Whenever the Rams need a big play, it seems like Nacua is there to make it.
With the score at 14-10, Nacua looked to be getting pushed out of bounds by the defender. Instead, he turned it into an 80-yard catch and run. Kyren Williams scored a touchdown on the next play. He’ll go for the record in Week 18 against the San Francisco 49ers and if he breaks it, he’ll have a good chance of winning the offensive rookie of the year.
3. Kobie Turner should be in defensive rookie of the year conversation
Turner absolutely took over the game against the Giants as he had arguably his best performance of the season. The Rams rookie was the team’s highest-graded defender via PFF as he had 10 pressures and was involved in three sacks. He now has nine sacks on the season which ties Aaron Donald’s rookie franchise record for the Rams.
Since Week 5, Turner is the highest graded rookie defender according to PFF. The only player with more pressures is Will Anderson who plays on the edge. Turner also leads rookies in sacks during that period. His 10 pressures against the Giants are more than Jalen Carter has had in his last five games combined. It’s unlikely that Turner wins the award, but right now, he’s not even in the conversation.
4. This type of game for Stafford was bound to happen
Ever since the Rams traded for Stafford, it’s become known that he can be streaky. The LA quarterback had gone four straight games without an interception and been making elite level throws. A regression to the mean seemed imminent, especially after all of the recent MVP talk. Said Stafford,
“That was just two bad balls. To be honest with you, the first one, I’m trying to probably do a little bit too much and move (Bobby Okereke) on to the pivot with a little bit of eyes and he was probably moving there without me and probably could’ve just put it on Puka’s facemask. Then the second one, just a little indecision on my part on how to throw that ball and when you have indecision out there, it’s not probably going to be a good thing, so I’ve just got to be a little more decisive on how to throw that ball on that one.”
That’s not to say Stafford won’t get back to playing at a red-hot level in time for the postseason. This is only to say a “down game” was bound to happen soon. Stafford threw two interceptions that sailed high on him. At the end of the day, the Rams have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC. More times than not this season, he’s played at an elite level.
5. Ahkello Witherspoon a pleasant surprise, but not part of future
As The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue noted in her column,
“The holes are still the holes; the Rams quick-patched some of them over with important (and importantly cheap) veteran acquisitions but always looked at setting up for more permanent solutions in 2024.”
The cornerback position, specially the position that is currently held by Ahkello Withspoon is still a hole. On an almost weekly basis, Withspoon seems to give up an explosive play or is close to giving up one. Early in the season, quarterbacks missed open receivers downfield. Lately, that hasn’t been the case.
Witherspoon has been a pleasant surprise this year, but as the Rams win, it’s important to remember where the holes still are on the roster. Witherspoon has allowed the sixth-most yards per reception this season and has the fourth-highest average depth of target. In other words, quarterbacks are testing him deep. The Rams defensive back is one of 17 cornerbacks to allow five or more touchdowns which is the 12th most. The explosives and big plays are too costly. Witherspoon is fine at his current price, but not for $8M-$12M per year.
6. Ernest Jones once again has game-saving play
Jones has continued to make big plays in critical moments. On the opening defensive possession last week against the New Orleans Saints, he had a pass breakup on second down and then a sack that took the offense out of field goal range. Sunday wasn’t his best game, but he still had a critical play in the final sequence.
Flashback to Week 11 against the Seahawks. Geno Smith called a draw play against a favorable look to help pick up a few extra final yards before the game-winning field goal. Jones stopped it for just two yards, but it could’ve been more. On Sunday, the Giants ran a similar draw play in the exact situation looking for 5-6 yards. Instead, Jones tackled Barkley for a loss, setting up a 54-yard field goal for Crosby. Like Jason Myers in Week 11, Mason Crosby missed.
7. Will Rams special teams cost them when it matters?
Lukas Havrisik missed two extra points and gave up a punt-return for a touchdown. It’s their second punt return given up in four weeks, and this time there was no block in the back and it was a good punt by Ethan Evans. The Rams had 10 days to replace Havrisik after the win against the Saints. They stood pat and did nothing. Ben Skowronek was penalized for leaping. The penalty gave Mason Crosby an easier field goal.
McVay was lucky that the special teams mistakes didn’t cost the Rams on Sunday. However, it seems like almost every week we’re talking about how bad the special teams are. The margins are thin in the playoffs. It’s hard to see that unit not being a big reason why the Rams are bounced from the postseason.
8. Giants didn’t put out the blueprint to beat Rams
For the first time since the Week 11 contest against the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams were forced to etch out a close win. That certainly was unexpected against the 5-10 Giants, but at the end of the day, this type of win might have been a good thing for the Rams.
It’s also important to remember that this isn’t necessarily the blue-print to beat the Rams. While the Los Angeles offensive line has struggled at times handling stunts, no defensive coordinator gets more creative with their pressure looks than Wink Martindale. It’s going to be hard for many teams to replicate that. Stafford threw two interceptions against Martindale and the Baltimore Ravens back in 2021. That was also a one-point win for the Rams in the final minute.
9. Sometimes its better to be lucky than good
This is the type of game that the Rams lose earlier in the year. Being able to win this type of game shows the growth of this young team. Sunday’s game against the Giants was eerily similar to the loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offense disappeared down the stretch and the Giants took advantage of special teams gaffes. After the game McVay said,
“They gave us everything that we had, and there are a lot of things that we can learn from. We’re never going to take for granted being able to get wins. There were a lot of things that we tried to do to not win this game today, but our guys found a way. Sometimes you need to be able to have these types of games to increase your sense of urgency.”
The Rams lost the turnover battle, gave up a punt return for a touchdown, left at least five points on the board, and only converted two third downs. Yet, they still managed to win. Some teams find ways to lose, and it can be argued that the Giants did that. The Rams got lucky, but at the end of the day all that matters is the number in the win column.
10. Rams went from allegedly tanking to the playoffs
Coming into the season, the Rams were seen as a team that wasn’t trying to win and were tanking. At 3-6, they had just an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs. Since then, the Rams have gone 6-1 and have clinched a playoff spot.
It’s a reminder that coaching matters. There’s a reason even the less talented teams coached by Mike Tomlin and other great coaches don’t have losing records. Good coaches get the most out of their players. This is arguably McVay’s best coaching job since joining the Rams in 2017. This team proved everybody wrong and will be a team that nobody wants to play in the postseason.