Los Angeles’ record fell to 9-4 on the season with the club’s 43-35 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday. Nevertheless, the Rams still have a one-game lead in the NFC West with three games to go. With that in mind, here are five takeaways from Week 14.
1) Rams must cut down on penalties
Los Angeles is tied at No. 10 with 93 accepted penalties against them and tied for No. 8 with 807 yards. And Sunday’s contest saw the Rams have too many costly penalties — from defensive pass interference fouls that moved Philadelphia into scoring position to an unsportsmanlike conduct foul that allowed the Eagles to sustain a key third-quarter drive.
In all, Philadelphia recorded six of its 29 first downs via Los Angeles penalty.
The Rams must clean up those in-game factors as the season continues.
“We can’t afford to allow them to extend drives by things that we can control,” head coach Sean McVay said. “I trust the football character of this team that those lessons that we’ll learn from this game will provide a great opportunity for us to move forward.”
2) Gurley reaches 1,000
Running back Todd Gurley has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the second time in his three-year career after recording 96 yards rushing against the Eagles.
Gurley also leads the league with 13 total touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns.
The Georgia product is clearly the focal point of the Rams’ offense, as he’s had 10 games with over 100 yards from scrimmage. His 1,637 yards from scrimmage ranks No. 2 among the league, and is 854 yards better the No. 2 player on the Rams.
Still, McVay would like to get Gurley more involved at certain points. While the running back did have 135 total yards in Sunday’s game, he had only 13 carries.
“Certainly, when you only have really those 45 plays, every single one is magnified. But when Todd’s running the football like he is, that was a big point of emphasis coming out of the half – try to get him going,” McVay said Monday. “That’s why you see that first drive where you try to get it to him in a variety of ways with the screen or the two runs coming out. Anytime we’re running the football like that, I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that he gets enough touches to get into the flow, especially when we were getting some good movement. But it is a delicate balance and then I think everything is a little bit more magnified.”
So while Gurley’s had what is clearly an outstanding season, there does appear to be even more that the running back is capable of.
3) Special teams stay special
The Rams have thrived in 2017 under special teams coordinator John “Bones” Fassel and assistant special teams coach Tyrone McKenzie. From just a kicking game and return standpoint, there’s certainly an argument to be made that Los Angeles has the best special teams unit in the league.
But when you add in that the Rams have blocked five kicks — three punts, one field goal, and one extra point — this season, there really should be no argument.
L.A. blocked its third punt of the season on Sunday, with wide receiver Mike Thomas bursting through the line to get his hands on the third-quarter punt. Then safety Blake Countess recovered the loose ball and returned it to the end zone for a touchdown.
It’s the second touchdown this season the Rams have scored on a blocked punt. Running back Malcolm Brown returned linebacker Cory Littleton’s block to the house in Jacksonville.
“You look at ‘Bones’ and ‘Ty,’ [they] do a great job of scheming some things up,” McVay said. “Mike Thomas ends up coming free and Blake Countess is able to deliver, finishing that play. And that’s kind of the theme for the year when you look at the way the special teams has played. And they gave us a chance to win the football game by being able to come away with a touchdown in that instance. And that’s the third touchdown on special teams this year, which is a huge credit to for ‘Bones’ and that unit.”
4) Kupp leads the way, sets a franchise record
For the second time in three weeks, wide receiver Cooper Kupp led the Rams with over 100 yards receiving. The wideout not only set a new career high with 118 yards receiving against the Eagles, but also set a new franchise rookie record with 56 receptions. With three games left in 2017, Kupp already has eclipsed the previous mark of 54 receptions set by Eddie Kennison in 1996.
“I think Cooper has done a great job maximizing his opportunities,” McVay said. “I think what he’s done is he’s demonstrated that he’s got the ability to play in the slot, he’s made some plays from the outside receiver position, very conscientious and he’s been a great football player for us all year. I think he’s going to continue to grow. You look at it, he’s had a lot of production, demonstrates a lot of maturity, you almost forget that he is a rookie.”
Kupp currently leads the Rams and all rookie wide receivers with 783 yards receiving. If he averages 72.3 yards over the next three games, Kupp will reach 1,000.
5) Still in a good spot to play in January
Despite the loss, the Rams did not lose any ground when it comes to the NFC playoff race. L.A. still leads the NFC West by a game due to Seattle’s loss to Jacksonville. And because New Orleans lost to Atlanta, the Saints are still No. 4 and the Rams are still No. 3 in playoff seeding.
“There’s nothing to worry about, we’re still in a good position,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “We’re going to keep working and keep grinding.”
Because the Seahawks are a division rival, any Rams matchup with the club is always going to be significant. But this one holds a bit of extra importance with L.A. only up one game on Seattle in the playoff race.
But the Rams aren’t going to change the approach that has brought them to a 9-4 record in 2017.
“No matter what, we know what we have to do. It’s a divisional game with a team we’re always going back and forth with,” Donald said. “We know it’s going to be a dog fight so we know we have to get prepared for it.”