This week was supposed to be about making changes – but not at quarterback.
A defense that felt, justifiably, it had been asked to do too much in Tampa could be asked to dig even deeper on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
"We don't have too much more room to keep losing now," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said on Thursday. "We're still in it. We're not out of it, so everybody's got to have that mindset that we still have the opportunity to get to where we're trying to get to."
At the midway point of the NFL season, the Los Angeles Rams are at a crossroads, in search of new solutions to the problems that have been plaguing them.
The players and the coaches have been introspective and self-critical enough; there's really no sense in piling on or naming names in this space.
They know their shortcomings far better than we ever could and dedicate every waking moment to resolving them.
But in the spirit of truth-telling, let's call out a few elemental deficiencies in the hopes that this truly is rock bottom, and so that we might look back on this rematch with the Cardinals as the start of a second season.
Since the half against the Niners, the Rams last 17 drives have produced one touchdown, 13 points, and 13 first downs. They've gone three-and-out on 10 of those possessions. They've accumulated 249 net yards over the last six quarters.
Perhaps the most mind-boggling element is that they haven't been coughing up possession.
Prior to the Week 8 loss to San Francisco, the Rams had been undefeated across two years when Stafford did not throw an interception. They've proceeded to drop their last two games without anyone turning the football over.
Lest we make this all about the offense, it's also been a month since the Rams last takeaway – Nick Scott's end zone interception to clinch their last win, over the Panthers in Week 6.
Searching for a Spark
Cooper Kupp has scored seven touchdowns in 2022. The rest of the roster has produced seven touchdowns.
At the skill positions, the snap counts, target share, and scrimmage yards are far too densely concentrated. We've been saying for weeks that it's unsustainable. No wonder Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee have been hobbled.
So the question for the second half of the schedule becomes: Who else?
In-season, there simply isn't time for auditions on the practice fields in Thousand Oaks. Those opportunities typically are earned during the off-season program, training camp, joint practices, and (to a lesser extent) preseason games.
"I think it's really a product of giving guys an opportunity, being open-minded," Sean McVay said on his Monday show regarding the need to deploy more of the depth chart. "It's harder as you get later on in the season to be able to create those real opportunities to evaluate if you haven't already done it up to that point."
For reasons ranging from injury to suspension to underperformance, talents like Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Brycen Hopkins, Kyren Williams, Jacob Harris, and Lance McCutcheon have been non-factors thus far.
Five of those players were drafted and the other led the league in receiving this preseason. In varying combinations, they are some of the biggest, fastest, and most dynamic play-makers on the roster.
However, the combined stat line for those six Rams in 2022: two touches, 63 scrimmage yards, no touchdowns, 116 offensive snaps.
It's difficult – if not impossible – to envision the Rams clawing their way back into contention, earning a winning record, and punching a playoff ticket without several of these candidates making meaningful contributions over the next two months.
In contrast, just about everyone with a helmet has been pressed into duty up front.
And an offensive line that's yet to start the same combination twice this season will almost certainly go to a ninth arrangement on Sunday.
Hopefully, that's a result of Coleman Shelton being healthy enough to come off injured reserve and man one of the guard spots.
That's Coleman Shelton, not to be confused with Chandler Brewer. Apparently, that happens a lot.
Hope you caught my conversation with Brewer, the undrafted cancer survivor who made his first NFL start last week and was the highest-graded Rams offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus.
Even during challenging times, it's worth appreciating the people behind the pads and the years of diligent work they've put in – and in many cases, the obstacles they've overcome – for the chance to help the Rams turn things around.
Another positive indicator: veteran guard David Edwards could be a week away, further fortifying the interior of the Rams devastated offensive line.
Not to lean too heavily on PFF grades, but I have to shout out Troy Hill for the way he played in Tampa. He was relentless and deservedly received the highest grade on defense. Hill was one of just 13 players across the league to earn a grade of 90-plus last week.
When Hill is healthy, it also maximizes the versatility of fellow corner Jalen Ramsey.
"I love using those two players because of their skill set. The things that they both can do are unique," defensive coordinator Raheem Morris told the media this week. "I absolutely enjoy Troy because of the knowledge and the football wealth that he brings to that room, having him and Jalen with that unique background and those talents in there."
Always be on high alert when Hill faces the Cardinals. Remember, he finished his first stint with the Rams by returning two interceptions for touchdowns against Arizona in a pair of wins down the stretch in 2020.
Speaking of Morris, anyone pointing the finger at him for these dire straits – and there are many, unfortunately – is doing it wrong, in my estimation.
The more I observe how he handles adverse circumstances, the more conviction I have about his return to the NFL head coaching ranks.
Between games, words are all the Rams can offer. And following defeat, they're often unsatisfactory. But watching Morris's press conference this week, there are plenty that resonate.
If every day is an interview, then a job offer should only be months away.
But why take my word for it with a reference like Ramsey?
For the second week in a row, the Rams matchup feels a bit like the Spider-Man meme.
Just as the Buccaneers reflected a mirror image of the state of L.A. in Week 9, now the Cardinals come to town in what plays as an NFC West elimination game.
They, too, have struggled to put points on the board.
Until last week, Arizona had not scored a first quarter touchdown. They currently rank 28th in pass efficiency and 26th via the run, according to Football Outsiders DVOA.
As it turns out, the Arizona defense has registered five touchdowns on the season – twice as many non-offensive scores as any other NFL franchise (on a per game basis) – and they still aren't in contention.
While the Cardinals defense is not on par with that of the Rams, Arizona is still finding ways to lose low-scoring games (sound familiar?). This season, the Cardinals defense has held the Seahawks to 19, the Rams to 20, and the Eagles to 20 – and been on the losing end of all three of those games.
So how many does a beleaguered L.A. offense need to put on the board to win Sunday?
How about one more than the Cardinals.