I think it’s safe to say that we all remember what happened the last time these two teams got together. The 49ers had their backs against the wall on Monday Night Football, after an embarrassing performance against a Kyler-less Cardinals, and they needed a big win to turn the season around.
Who should come into Levi’s Stadium beside the now division-leading Rams with Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and their shiny new quarterback Matthew Stafford? All of them were ready to break the losing streak, which at that time went back four games or two whole years.
The Niners came together offensively and defensively to manhandle their rivals to the South and prove that this wasn’t a lost year. This wasn’t a team dead in the water. This team had too much talent and too much heart to quit just yet and went 5-2 down the stretch, positioning themselves as the 6th seed in the playoffs.
Now, the rematch has even bigger stakes than before: Win and In.
For a clash this big, I wanted to check in with our counterparts at the Turf Show Times to get us all adequately prepared for this one. Thankfully, Evan Craig graciously answered all my prying questions in great detail. So read and ready yourselves for the game of the season.
This offseason, the Rams went all in again and decided to swap the Jared Goff experience for Matthew Stafford. Now that we are nearly through the full 17 game slate, how would you rate the first year with Stafford under center? Has he lived up to expectations? Do you see areas for improvement?
I would rate this as a highly successful year by Stafford. Sure, it’s been a rollercoaster at times, and I’ve felt a need for a barf bag after watching some of his mind-numbing turnovers throughout the season. During the Rams’ three-game losing streak, Stafford had thrown a pick-six in each game.
For the season, he has four total after throwing another one against the Ravens Sunday. However, he has made several throws this year that have made my jaw drop. If harnessed properly, Stafford’s natural arm talent is lethal, and it seems McVay is doing what he can to get the most out of him.
For instance, Stafford is averaging a whole yard per attempt (8.2) in 2021 than Jared Goff had in his final year in Hollywood. The playbook opens up more with a quarterback who trusts his arm rather than one who was timid and looked like a deer in headlights.
That said, the clear area for improvement is to cut down on the turnovers. Stafford doesn’t need to be Superman every play, but I realize he’s probably still traumatized by having to do everything in Detroit for all those years.
Besides the pick-six against the Ravens, he threw a second interception to safety Chuck Clark which was a stupid play into triple coverage. Then, later in the third quarter, as the team was driving, Stafford seemingly lost his pocket awareness and got stripped, which killed a promising drive.
As we know, the Rams won, but those types of plays will be killer in the postseason against a team that’ll capitalize on those mistakes.
Regardless, I would say winning 12 games and being close to a division title in year one would make this trade a success. I believe no matter how this campaign ends. It will be a success. A lot of people in the media are skeptical over Stafford’s ability to win big games and make it appear that if the Rams fail to make a deep run, the season and trade will be a failure.
I’ve said that this year is the possible stepping stone towards greatness for Matt. I don’t know what the playoffs or future brings for him or the Rams, but I’d say good things will come to those who wait.
Robert Woods tore his ACL a little over a month ago, putting into perspective just how much he did as a receiving threat and blocker for the offense. How has the unit tried to mitigate his absence, and do you think they’ve replicated his contributions?
There’s no replacing Robert Woods, plain and simple. This is how the team has fared in his absence, and it should be deemed NSFW:
So... the Rams' splits with and without Robert Woods this season are... ASTONISHING. And not in a good way.— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) January 6, 2022
With Woods: 0.12 Total Offensive EPA
Without Woods: -0.03
With: 0.22 Passing EPA
YPA: 8.5 to 7.6. TD% 7.5 to 5.6. INT%: 2.0 to 3.7.
Woods knew McVay’s system well, and now the Rams have entrusted youngsters (Van Jefferson) or newbies to the system (OBJ). Beckham was forced into Woods’ spot opposite Kupp, and now the 3rd receiver is somewhat of a question mark. I’ll get to Beckham a little later, but Jefferson has been much-improved in his sophomore campaign. He has moments of showing his knack for being an explosive, big-play pass-catcher, averaging 16 yards per reception.
Last week, Jefferson split reps with receiver Ben Skowronek who made clutch catches on the Rams’ game-winning drive. Skowronek is a big-bodied playmaker who might see more action blocking in the run game. I see McVay giving him more snaps in that department because if you have a big body like that, always use them. I still say the Rams are in decent shape while not exactly replicating his contributions. Woods’ veteran presence is much-needed at this time of the year, which makes his injury hurt even more.
Cooper Kupp is on the verge of an all-time great receiving performance (he’s 136 yards away from breaking Calvin Johnson’s single-season record) and has looked completely unguardable while operating out of the slot. He was always a valuable player, but he’s exploded onto a completely different level this year. Is it simply his connection with Matthew Stafford, or are there other reasons, like a lack of a true run game, that led to his being the offense's focal point?
With Stafford at QB, the Rams were always going to be a pass-first offense, so Kupp’s production is a direct result of that. The run game is finding its identity with the strong performance of Sony Michel and will only improve now that Akers is returning to the lineup, so that part of the offense doesn’t worry me much anymore.
Back to Kupp, his connection with Matt reminds me a lot of the Johnson-Stafford battery back in the Motor City. Their chemistry is uncanny, and it’s hard to fathom that they’ve been together only this season. In the first two weeks alone, Kupp matched his number of touchdown receptions in all of 2020.
To have five times the number of touchdowns than the year prior is unbelievable. (I would also like to apologize to any math wizards out there if my math was way off in that last sentence.) I expected Cooper would have a great season, but it was hard to see this exact level of production coming. I think if I did, I would have to be burned at the stake.
The Rams made two big mid-season acquisitions in Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller. The two are both superstars a bit out of their primes but obviously still have a lot to offer. How does Les Snead, the Rams’ GM, manage to bring in players like this on a regular basis, and how do you feel about their contributions so far?
Les Snead is easily the most aggressive GM in the sport because he has the guts to do what other front offices don’t have the guts to do: act with a reckless disregard for the team’s future by pulling out all the stops to win now. Sweet Baby Jesus, I thought my Madden trades were absurd. The Rams won’t have a first-rounder for what, seven years? I’ve never seen this level of aggressiveness before, and I’m honestly all for it.
Snead has yet to win a Super Bowl with this over-the-top approach but eventually, I feel he will pull the right strings and build a champion. He built a roster that got Jared Goff to the Big Game, how hard could it be? I’m so sorry Jared if you somehow stumble upon this.
Anyways, let’s start with the Von Miller trade which is one I wasn’t a fan of. In Von’s first four games with LA, he recorded zero sacks and a single QB hit. Over the past four games, he’s recorded four sacks and six QB hits. A lot of his recent success is attributed to the single blocks he’s been receiving.
Leaving Von one-on-one is always a bad idea, even if he’s past his prime. I wouldn’t say teams are forgetting his presence, but they have Leonard Floyd and some guy named Aaron Donald to worry about more. Despite the recent uptick in production, I still don’t like the price Snead paid to nab him, but I believe he’ll be a valuable asset in the playoffs.
On the other hand, OBJ was a perfect low-risk, high-reward pickup, and the Rams are reaping the benefits. Beckham didn’t have as slow a start as Miller, but his first game for the team (against the Niners) was bad. He gave up in the middle of a route which led to a Stafford pick, and was asked too much, especially after Wood’s injury earlier that week.
To record five touchdowns in the six games since is impressive given he only had seven total in his entire time with the Browns. The chemistry he’s building with Stafford is promising, and I’d say he’s doing well for an apparent locker room cancer. Let’s hope he doesn’t punch another hole in the wall on this coming playoff trip.
The Rams were obviously going to regress defensively from best in the league after losing several role players to free agency and coordinator Brandon Staley to the Los Angeles Chargers. However, Raheem Morris has taken over and done quite well, coaching them to 5th overall in defensive DVOA. Do you think the Rams have the defense for a possible Super Bowl run? Or would the other side of the ball more likely be the weak link?
Any defense that has Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald is ready for a Super Bowl run. It was a given that regression was going to happen following the departure of Staley. Over the first half of the season, it appeared that regression was larger than imagined. Typically, I don’t care much for PFF but the following tweet really captures just how much the unit has improved since week eight.
Rams defense:— Restore the Roar (@DETROlTLions313) January 7, 2022
Weeks 1-8 PFF grade: 17th
Weeks 8-17 PFF grade: 1st
Run defense: 1st
Amazing turnaround by Raheem Morris and crew from what looked to be massive regression after Brandon Staley left. pic.twitter.com/T7MZkdZl1V
The Rams’ pass defense has been highly effective against deep passes, having allowed the 4th lowest passer rating. Of course, they haven’t exactly played the strongest quarterbacks besides Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Kyler Murray.
The most glaring weakness is the secondary, specifically the corners opposite Ramsey. David Long Jr. was excellent against the Cardinals, but he hasn’t been targeted enough in coverage over the course of the season. Darious Williams is targeted more frequently but has been too inconsistent to trust.
A largely unproven secondary could end up being the death of a promising year. That’s the biggest weakness on the entire unit that worries me, but the overall talent present will largely make up for it. If the offense and defense play to their potential and don’t shoot themselves in the foot, this group will be harder to stop than a Cooper Kupp route.