Back in Atlanta, where this whole malaise began.
It’s just a narrative that has no bearing on the Week Seven contest between the Rams and Falcons. After all, Bill Belichick won’t be there.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying Los Angeles has not been the same – not even during a 3-0 start – since that first Sunday in February inside Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Now their 2019 season is on the brink at 3-3, and their opponent is just as desperate.
But there’s hope.
Les Snead and the front office did not stand pat. They doubled-down on their present and future. Can’t wait to see how the coaching staff and roster respond.
Sending out an S.O.S.
Before we get to the shutdown corner, a scheduling note.
The Rams lead the NFL in strength of victory and are second in strength of schedule to date. If you hadn’t watched any of the games and instead were just presented with their 3-3 record against the Panthers, Saints, Browns, Bucs, Seahawks, and Niners… it’s respectable. Those opponents are 23-12.
The next month features 1-5 Atlanta, 0-6 Cincinnati, a bye, then 2-4 Pittsburgh.
L.A. hasn’t earned the right to look anywhere beyond Sunday, but there’s a very real path to 6-3, even without marked improvement on the field.
Ramsey and Julio, Let’s Go
I’m going to turn this one over to my broadcast partner Maurice Jones-Drew, who has deep roots in Jacksonville.
On NFL Network this week, he looked into the camera and welcomed Jalen Ramsey to Los Angeles this way:
“Go lock up Julio, one-on-one. You take care of your business, you get the bag. The Monopoly bag.”
The Los Angeles Rams travel to Atlanta, GA to face the Falcons for Week 7!
Tough Time to Be Without John Johnson
Much like John Johnson’s fantastic career to this point, his shoulder injury was somewhat overlooked due to all the headline-grabbing transactions this week.
J.J.’s absence will leave a huge void at safety, especially when it comes to matching up with dynamic tight ends like Atlanta’s Austin Hooper, who is on pace for 112 catches this year.
Taylor Rapp’s time is now.
Even in our prolific passing era, Matt Ryan has done something fairly unique.
In the Super Bowl era, he, Kurt Warner, and Steve Young are the only players to toss for 300-plus yards in each of their team’s first six games.
If Ryan does it again on Sunday against the Rams, he’d be the only quarterback in NFL history to open a season with seven consecutive performances.
Let’s hope he has to try, because the driving force behind his streak is that the Falcons have been trailing for much of the season. And lost in the disappointment of the loss to the 49ers, the Rams were impressively stout against the run.
Did you know the top-three graded Rams on defense last week were all interior linemen, per Pro Football Focus?
The first won’t surprise you: Aaron Donald.
But rookie Greg Gaines is coming off his best performance yet, as is first-year contributor Sebastian Joseph-Day. In particular, both nose tackles excelled in stuffing the run. Remember, the Niners were missing offensive tackles, not guards or a center.
This is a very encouraging sign for the present and future of the Rams defensive interior.
What’s Sean Saying?
Back to the Ramsey trade for a moment, as we transition to the offensive side of the football.
It’s not like there was an offensive line equivalent to Ramsey on the trading block, so it’s a reach to say the organization prioritized a corner over fortifying their front. But like so many of you observed, it was striking that the move L.A. made immediately after the most anemic offensive performance of the year was for defense.
I can’t help but decipher total confidence – hopefully not hubris – from Sean McVay on this one.
Whether or not he’s actually saying as much, the inference is that McVay believes his offense can get their 30 points per game from the group that’s in-house.
And he deserves that benefit of the doubt. Not only because his group scored more points than anyone over the last two seasons. But because the Rams were putting up points again in 2019 – though not in the aesthetically pleasing manner we’d grown accustomed to – before they ran into San Francisco.
That’s not to say anyone is satisfied with their production to date. Quite the opposite. And minor tweaks are going to have to translate to dramatic improvements up front, because the
Rams will go only as far as the offensive line can take them in the next 10 regular season games.
The man in charge of that group, Aaron Kromer, had not replaced a starter due to injury in his first two seasons in Los Angeles. Sunday, he’ll start his third lineup in the first seven games of 2019.
“I still say that there’s answers,” Kromer said this week. “There’s answers within our offense that we have and we just haven’t coached or executed them well enough this year.”
Is Edwards the Answer?
If you’ve been following closely, you know that the coaching staff has been very high on the rookie tackle from Wisconsin since the off-season program. In training camp, he quickly established himself ahead of fellow tackle Bobby Evans, who was drafted two rounds ahead of him.
A high school quarterback who began his career in Madison as a tight end, now Edwards gets the first opportunity to replace injured Joe Noteboom at left guard.
If Edwards can’t lock down the job, can he at least hold the fort until recently-acquired Austin Corbett gets up to speed?
But it’s the other Badger who might be of greater concern at present. After Rob Havenstein’s 2018 PFF grade was a career-high and the fourth-best mark among all tackles in the league, he’s on pace for a career-low in 2019.
Unlike his counterpart Andrew Whitworth, who’s doing his best to maintain as the oldest offensive lineman in the NFL, Havenstein should be in his prime at 27-years old. And while Austin Blythe and Tyler Higbee missed a start in Cleveland, for the most part the right tackle’s circumstances haven’t changed year-to-year.
The Rams need Big Rob to get right, and soon.
Penalties Piling Up
Not trying to pile on the tackles; after all they’re both over 6-foot-7 and weigh 330 pounds.
But the offensive line had four penalties accepted against them last week, and this season, Whitworth and Havenstein have already exceeded their 2018 quotas in holding calls and total flags.
If there’s one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s that the 2019 Rams are not built to play behind the chains. Unfortunately for the offensive tackles, they’ve often been the culprits for why L.A. is off schedule in the first place. Then, they become victims of that predicament when edge rushers pin their ears back in known passing situations.
Sacks aren’t a particularly useful statistic, especially when it comes to predicting future pass rush success. The Rams and Falcons are two great examples of that. Atlanta is tied for last in the NFL in sacks, while L.A. ranks in the bottom half.
Yet, both defenses boast elite pass rushers, and the Falcons in particular get after opposing quarterbacks.
Only Aaron Donald ranks ahead of Grady Jarrett among defensive tackles when it comes to ESPN’s pass rush win rate. Tak McKinley is one of the top edge rushers, but has just 0.5 sacks in 2019. And reports this week say that the Falcons are open for business when it comes to 2016 First Team All-Pro edge rusher Vic Beasley. Yikes.
Both defenses feel “due” when it comes to knocking the opposing quarterback off his feet.
Not Heading South
Atlanta is trying to become the fourth team since the merger to rally from a 1-5 start to make the Playoffs.
They’re also playing for Dan Quinn’s job in two home games before their bye, in all likelihood.
If there’s a reason to believe, something for the Falcons to cling to for a couple more weeks, is the simple fact they haven’t played an NFC South game yet. And they won’t until Week 10 against the Saints.
Do the Falcons still have faith?