There was a worry coming into tonight’s game that the red-hot Los Angeles Rams who were finally making the rest of the league and media take notice of them, would faceplant in primetime. All the ingredients were there as there were a lot of talking heads praising Sean McVay for the quick turnaround after most predicted the Rams were in “Faleb for Caleb” mode.
Matthew Stafford looked like the best QB in the NFC against some top-tier defenses over the last few weeks and had only thrown one interception since the bye week. Kyren Williams took the league by storm after coming back from his injury, and Shohei Ohtani was in the building.
No one was talking about the Saints either so it would track that the Rams would Kendall Roy the bed with all eyes on them. THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN! Instead, Matthew Stafford commanded the offense, and the defense held together just well enough to not only get the Rams to 8-7 and over .500 for the first time since week one, but they are currently the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture.
This game was a loser leaves town match and the Rams sent the Saints out of town on a rail. It wasn’t perfect. It got a little dicey towards the end much like it did just five days earlier against Washington, but the young Rams closed the game and now are in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot.
Matthew Stafford is the Best QB in the NFC Right Now
Much of the season’s QB conversation has rightfully centered on Brock Purdy, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Dak Prescott. All of whom have put up MVP-caliber numbers and looked like they could all be covered in confetti come February. Matthew Stafford (24/34, 328 yards, 2 TDs) never entered the chat.
Even when the Rams stormed out of the gates in Seattle, the talk was centered around “Oh he’s still got it but this can’t last”. Throughout the year as the Rams’ offense evolved and Stafford got beaten like a rented mule, he at times looked panicked and to some washed. Even a segment of fans was ready to move on from him, dead cap be damned. Even when he slung it like he did in his prime most weren’t convinced this could last.
After the bye though? He’s back to being the soul stealer. He only targeted four receivers last night and that’s all he needed. He’s been efficient and making throws that would get Chris Collinsworth hot under the collar if only the Rams made it to NBC.
He’s even been nimble in the pocket which is something that few thought he could do at his advanced age. The credit to his resurgence goes to both the offensive line who have kept him pretty clean since the bye and provided him the kind of time to zip the ball wherever he wants.
The Rams’ renewed interest in the run game and being able to utilize their pre-snap motion/line of scrimmage movement keeps the Rams from being the one-dimensional mess they were a year ago and at times this year.
Stafford is also adept at solving the defenses even forcing them into errors. On the last drive, he had a game-clinching five-yard penalty by making veteran defensive end Cam Jordan get a neutral zone infraction, allowing them to run one last play and kill the clock. The play prior the mics picked him up yelling “EASY EASY” because he knew they didn’t need to actually run a play and just needed to kill the clock.
It’s the little things like that, that have shown how Stafford is playing like the best QB in the NFC. He won’t get an MVP vote. But that’s ok, he doesn’t need it at this stage of his career.
Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua Are CLUTCH
Kyren Williams (22 carries 104 yards 1 TD) was OUTSTANDING all game. Anytime the Rams needed yards, he got them. One of his best skills outside of being a tough, elusive runner is he never takes negative plays. He might get bottled up at the line of scrimmage (he crossed 1000 yards from scrimmage this week) but he never takes a carry for a loss.
He averaged 4.7 yards a carry and all those carries mattered. Kyren was able to get first downs seemingly at will and while McVay got a little pass-happy in the middle of the game, as he does, it didn’t take long for the running game to be reestablished.
Despite missing six games Williams became just the second running back to cross 1000 yards and he is already the best running back Matthew Stafford has ever had. That’s not homerism or recency bias it’s a cold hard fact. Google the murderer’s row of failed draft picks and free agents Stafford had in Detroit. Cam Akers was supposed to be the Prince that was Promised but alas, Darrell Henderson just couldn’t stay healthy.
Kyren is special and the moment when he scored a touchdown and then threw the ball to his mom was delightful. Not only was he great as a runner but as a blocker. Speaking of blocking, Puka Nacua (9 catches, 164 yards, 1 TD) was responsible for Kyren being so dominant.
While the George Pickens‘ of the world are afraid of contact like they’re Corbin Bernsen in “Major League”, Puka doesn’t mind rolling up his sleeves and springing running backs free. He doesn’t have to sacrifice anything because he’s emerged as a clutch target. On a night when Cooper Kupp (6 catches 52 yards) was OFF, dropping a touchdown and having other such drops throughout the game, Puka picked up the slack. Anytime Stafford needed a first-down Puka was there.
On the opening play of the second half, Nacua caught a pass in an absurd amount of traffic. He scored on the opening drive of the game on 4th and goal and throughout the game just kept beating every defender in his way. He now has more games with 150+ yards than any rookie in history and is just 147 yards from the record.
His biggest play though was his jet sweep on the final drive to not only kill the clock but get a crucial first down which all but sealed the game. CJ Stroud has OROY all but wrapped up even if he doesn’t take another snap. But, Puka deserves to make it close if not outright win, but he won’t because QBs lead the day.
Luckily, Puka doesn’t care about that stuff. Kyren and Puka have reenergized the offense in ways no one could’ve predicted, even the most optimistic Jake Ellenbogen’s amongst us. They’ve made Stafford look young again and McVay have fun again. Their dominance has allowed Demarcus Robinson to continue his emergence as the third receiver (sorry Tutu Atwell) where he scored his fourth touchdown in as many games and he too is becoming someone Stafford can rely on in big moments. Robinson shifted the momentum after the Saints scored in the second quarter by having two huge catches including his touchdown.
Kobie Turner and Byron Young Deserve DROY Consideration
Look, Jalen “Baby Rhino” Carter is the lockiest lock whoever locked this award. He came in as the presumptive favorite and will leave as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He’s the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” of this awards season.
However, in a just world voters wouldn’t vote simply because a guy has a great nickname, name ID, and two viral highlights. Kobie Turner leads all rookies in sacks with 6.5 and is also one of the best run defenders amongst rookies. He has 56 tackles and two pass deflections. He became the A’Shawn Robinson replacement no one saw coming and also has been able to generate pressure.
Byron Young is tied for second in the league in sacks with 6 and has 56 tackles thus far, two forced fumbles, plus he’s terrific in pass coverage. Yet neither person will receive a vote because the casual voter can’t be bothered to know two day-3 picks who weren’t big names in college.
Their impact on this young defense is immeasurable and they have stepped up when Aaron Donald is being double and triple-teamed.
The Secondary Needs to Get It Together
There’s a lot to like about the Rams’ secondary. No really, there is!
Jordan Fuller and John Johnson are capable of getting picks. Ahkello Witherspoon is actually one of the best coverage corners in the league this season and remains a genuine bargain. Quentin Lake is a damn good nickel/slot defender and made some huge tackles on third and fourth down. Cobie Durant is developing into a solid coverage corner.
Having said all of that, last night and Sunday against Washington, and yes the Ravens game are examples of how this fun run the Rams are on could fall apart because the secondary can’t get stops. Last night Derek Carr of all people was able to make first downs at will throughout the game. In their third straight game the secondary blew coverages in the fourth quarter.
This time Derion Kendrick wasn’t the scapegoat. Witherspoon got burnt like he was Freddie Lounds in the second quarter by Rashid Shaheed. Juwan Johnson also got a deep touchdown in the fourth and sure, while A.T. Perry got away with an offensive pass interference, he still got one on Cobie Durant. John Johnson got torched on the two-point conversion as well.
Raheem Morris has made the most of his young talent pool but the blown coverages have to be corrected. They kept Chris Olave out of the end zone but he still converted several first downs. The secondary CAN make stops and sometimes they are put in a bad position because the front seven’s pressure waxes and wanes but they have to be better and not cover fifteen yards off the ball. Perhaps the Christmas break will give them some space and they can tighten things up because when the playoffs start they can’t risk blowing games like this again.
Special Teams Remains a Black Hole of Misery and Sadness
The best special team play all night was Puka securing the onside kick to set up the Rams’ final drive. Other than that things were rough. Lucas Havirisk missed a 47-yard field goal that as has been the case led immediately to a scoring drive by the other team. Yes, he was fine from 30 and below but, dear God, are all of those kicks a stroke and a heart attack.
It wasn’t even that he missed the kick it was the kind of kick people make on Madden when they want to mess around with the arrow. It was so off that it wouldn’t have been shocking if he blew a 1.0 on a breathalyzer. He wasn’t the only weak link. The punt team fell asleep at the wheel and the Saints made an incredible block that set up their second scoring drive in the fourth quarter. That can’t happen! It’s not clear if there is a special teams coaching crisis in football or if McVay isn’t adept at finding the right resume on Indeed, but something has to change both this year and beyond.
Tonight was special. Yes, the Rams have been to two Super Bowls and won one since moving back to LA but they were written off as a flash in the pan after last season’s collapse. But this is the first step towards the new iteration of the team. They have a shot to win one last title with Matthew Stafford and they’re building the next generation of stars in LA and look to have a more sustainable team which is important in galvanizing a still flighty new fan base. For the first time in over a year, all eyes were on the Rams because they earned everyone’s attention but after their offensive showcase they earned everyone’s attention.