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10 takeaways from Rams Week 18 win over 49ers

Carson Wentz leads Rams to win over 49ers in Week 18 to lock up playoff matchup with Lions

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams snapped their nine-game regular season losing streak against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18. Led by Carson Wentz, the Rams won 21-20 with the defense leading a second-half shutout. Los Angeles will now head to Detroit to play the Lions in Matthew Stafford’s highly anticipated return to the motor city. Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday’s win.

1. The holes on the roster were emphasized without stars

Through the first half, the holes on the roster were emphasized significantly without players like Aaron Donald and Ernest Jones on defense. There’s a huge drop-off from Jones to Christian Rozeboom and Troy Reeder. Inconsistent pressure, especially from the interior where Jones tends to blitz from led to players in the secondary, especially at safety, getting exploited.

The Rams are 10-7 and they’ve exceeded expectations. While a win against the 49ers is significant, it’s important to remember that this is still a roster with holes. It was a good reminder with Donald and Jones resting on the sideline.

2. Mike LaFleur called the plays. Should he do it moving forward?

We saw what the Rams process on the sideline can look like with the offense having a separate offensive play-caller and McVay being left to make the in-game decisions. The offense went for it on fourth down twice and McVay made the call to go for two and go for the win in the fourth quarter. We saw a balanced offensive attack that centered around the run game. The Rams had 35 rushing attempts between Wentz and the running backs compared to 24 passes.

it’s unlikely that McVay ever gives up play-calling, but it also shows that he trusts Mike LaFleur more than past offensive coordinators that he’s had. It’s fair to wonder of McVay would eventually give up play-calling so that he can focus more on the in-game decision-making. That doesn’t mean that it can’t still be a collaborative process, but LaFleur showed that he can handle the responsibility and do it well.

3. Rams still have kicking problems

The Rams kicking problems still exist as Brett Maher missed a point after attempt to make the score 20-13 instead of 20-13. The only thing saving the Rams on Sunday was that Jake Moody on the 49ers sideline was somehow worse with a short miss and missed extra-point as well.

Can Ethan Evans kick an extra point? It seems to be the only option that the Rams haven’t explored so far this season. At this point, the situation is what it is, but that type of mistake can cost Los Angeles moving forward in the playoffs.

4. Davis Allen showed what he can be as a receiver

The result on Sunday against the 49ers was nice. With that said, Week 18 was more about evaluating individual players than it was about the result. Both teams rested starters and came out with a pretty vanilla gameplan. Shanahan and McVay essentially said that this game didn’t matter to either of them. With that being said, Davis Allen really stood out.

Allen had four receptions for only 25 yards, but had a few really nice catches in the first half. He’ll certainly be a candidate to take a step forward in year two in the offense. Allen showed promise against the Baltimore Ravens and did so again on Sunday. The rookie may not consistently be making flashy plays, but he leaves you excited for what he can become.

5. Puka Nacua has record breaking performance and should be rewarded

Early in the second-half, Puka Nacua broke the rookie receiving yards record and rookie receptions record on back-to-back plays. This came after the 49ers did everything they could to keep him from breaking either record, doubling and sometimes tripling him in coverage while playing him very physical at the line of scrimmage. Nacua breaking both records in the same season needs to be rewarded.

It’s true that CJ Stroud had a fantastic rookie season with the Houston Texans. He was an important and valuable piece to them making the playoffs. However, it’s not “Most Valuable Rookie”. There’s no debating Stroud’s value. The award goes to the rookie with the most impressive season. Nacua breaking two records, one that stood for 60+ years is pretty impressive. If that doesn’t get rewarded, the system is broken.

6. Sean McVay needs a mobile quarterback

It would be very interesting to see McVay with a mobile quarterback. When he’s played quarterbacks like John Wolford or Wentz who have some mobile, a different section of the playbook is opened up. Wentz had 17 rushing attempts which was the most for a Rams quarterback since at least 1950. He had 56 rushing yards and it added another twist of the running game.

McVay with a mobile quarterback post-Stafford could be a lot of run. There is a pretty mobile quarterback in Chicago right now that might be available this offseason. Even if the Rams don’t make a move for a mobile quarterback behind Stafford, Sunday is a reminder of just how creative McVay is and how fun it would be to get those types of plays more often.

7. Did Rams find long-term backup in Carson Wentz?

Wentz was exactly what the Rams needed back in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers. That was a game that the Rams lost because they didn’t address the backup quarterback position after Stetson Bennett left the team. Against the 49ers, Wentz showed that he is the perfect backup.

The former number two overall pick and quarterback that the Rams passed on back in 2016, ran the offense efficiently and effectively. Late in the game, he conducted a game-winning drive, making throws on fourth down and on a two-point conversion to TuTu Atwell. His only interception came on a tipped pass that went off of Atwell’s hands earlier in the game. It was only one start, but it makes you wonder if Wentz and the Rams work to keep that partnership in 2024.

8. Raheem Morris pitches second-half shutout with “B Team” defense

In the final minute of the first-half, the 49ers scored a touchdown to go up 20-7. They went 90-yards in 1:27 to take a controlling lead. It was the final time that they would cross midfield, let alone score.

It is fair to note that the 49ers were resting some of their starters, but so were the Rams. Aaron Donald and Ernest Jones both didn’t play. The 49ers were supposed to be the deepest team in the NFL. While not in a meaningful game with both teams giving it their all, it’s still a testament to Morris’ adjustments and it’s why he’ll get head coach interviews.

9. TuTu Atwell’s future in question, but he made plays when it mattered

Atwell had a strong start to his 2023 season. However, after the emergence of Demarcus Robinson, he hasn’t been as involved in the passing game. He had a disappointing tipped ball that led to an interception in the first half. Atwell did the right thing though and responded in a positive way.

The Rams wide receiver made plays when it mattered most. On 4th-and-2 with under four-minutes remaining, Atwell caught a pass from Wentz to get the first down and keep the drive alive. A few plays later, Atwell then caught a two-point conversion that put the Rams in the lead. With the emergence of Robinson, Atwell’s future is in question. He’s mostly disappeared from the offense. Still, he made plays when his number was called against a division rival.

10. Rams lockup playoff game against Detroit

Outside of the 2021 Wild Card game against Arizona and the Super Bowl, this game on Sunday might be the biggest game for Matthew Stafford’s legacy. Beating the team that traded him away at home in their first home playoff game in 30 years would be huge.

This is that matchup that most wanted. It has all of the storylines and it’s why the Rams will be playing the Lions on Sunday Night Football. McVay took the risk to rest his starters and it paid off by getting the more favorable matchup and keeping the six seed.