Rams falling out of playoff contention with a 3-game skid and Matthew Stafford's absence

Mon, Nov 6, 2023
NFL News (AP)

Rams falling out of playoff contention with a 3-game skid and Matthew Stafford's absence

LOS ANGELES (AP) - When the Los Angeles Rams got out to a 3-3 start even after gutting their roster in the offseason, Sean McVay appeared to be working another year of coaching magic.

The magic might be running out for McVay and the Rams, who are plummeting back toward the bottom of the standings as they hit their bye week.

A three-game losing streak and an injury to Matthew Stafford have silenced any talk of a playoff race for the Rams (3-6), who now appear headed toward the losing record and high draft pick that seemed their likely fate before the season.

Los Angeles already knew it didn't have enough talent to contend for a title, but now it appears the Rams have run out of ways to outwit opponents on roughly equal talent footing as well.

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"Even though I know the record is what it is, there's still a lot of football left," McVay said Monday. "I can feel good about looking at the (first) nine games and looking at the film, and I think there's some tangible solutions."

The Rams are 8-18 since winning the Super Bowl, but last year's 5-12 flop was a surprise. This season's struggles are not, since Los Angeles jettisoned Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, Leonard Floyd and a host of key depth players to solve many of its salary cap problems immediately, even at the expense of 2023.

So far, things are going to plan - which isn't great for Rams fans watching mediocre football this fall and getting a season ticket price increase next season, but possibly good for their team's long-term hopes of contending again soon.

The Rams insisted they could compete this season because they still had three stars: Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald. Turns out Stafford was the most important piece by far - and Los Angeles was hopeless without him.

The Rams head into their bye this week smarting from a 20-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, a blowout McVay called one of the most humbling of his career. The Rams managed just 187 yards at rainy Lambeau Field, and their three points matched their February 2019 Super Bowl defeat for their weakest offensive production in McVay's seven seasons.

For all his offensive brilliance, McVay has yet to develop a strong backup for Stafford or Jared Goff. Brett Rypien struggled in his start at Lambeau, going 13 of 28 for 130 yards with an interception, two fumbles and a 45.2 rating.

At least Stafford's injured thumb doesn't appear to be dire: When asked who would play quarterback if Stafford can't go after the bye, McVay replied: "I'm optimistic that that's something we don't have to worry about."

WHAT'S WORKING

The Rams' offense is dangerous with a healthy Stafford, Kupp and rookie Puka Nacua. Four Rams have at least 268 yards receiving, and Kyren Williams appeared to be one of the NFC's top running backs before he sprained his ankle last month. The interior offensive line also has been much better than last season.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Rams' secondary has been unimpressive. After getting rid of every former starter except steady safety Jordan Fuller, Los Angeles promoted late-round draft picks Cobie Durant, Derion Kendrick, Russ Yeast and Quentin Lake to play around Fuller. The Rams have only four interceptions, and the troubled Kendrick has been bad enough to get only three snaps against Green Bay. With Fuller a pending free agent, the Rams might have to start from scratch next season around Yeast.

STOCK UP

Nacua is a breakout star. Even with just six catches in the last two games, the fifth-round pick already has 827 yards receiving - the fourth-most by a first-year player through nine games in NFL history. He's a rare standout talent in the Rams' pedestrian history of mid-round drafting, and he combines with Kupp and Tutu Atwell to make the Rams' receivers the team's strongest position group.

STOCK DOWN

The Rams still haven't filled the Andrew Whitworth-sized hole at left tackle. Undrafted free agent Alaric Jackson hasn't been a standout since beating out Joe Noteboom for the starting job, and Noteboom hasn't shined while filling in at right tackle after he failed to stick at right guard. Until the Rams get a difference-maker protecting Stafford's blind side, LA's potential is limited.

INJURIES

Williams should miss only one more game after getting hurt in his breakout 158-yard game against Arizona, McVay said. Williams has missed three games on injured reserve. ... RT Rob Havenstein has missed two games with a calf injury, but McVay is optimistic he won't miss more. ... Top tackler Ernest Jones missed Sunday's game with a knee injury, but he's expected to return after the bye.

KEY NUMBER

599 - Total snaps played by impressive rookie left guard Steve Avila, who joins Fuller as the only Rams to take every snap this season.

NEXT STEPS

If Stafford returns after the bye, the Rams have winnable games against Seattle and Arizona and a longer path to .500. But if Stafford is slow to return or if Los Angeles has more significant injuries, it's probably time to write off a second straight season and focus every move on planning for 2024.

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