Jalen Ramsey has played 35 regular season games since the 2019 trade, collecting five interceptions, 10 tackles for loss, earning two Pro Bowl nods and a First-Team All-Pro honor – with more accolades on the way once this season is done.
Last year, he was the versatile chess piece that allowed the NFL's best defense to put the opposition in checkmate.
Here in 2021, despite Pro Football Focus' inability to capture his full value, especially on Sundays where opposing quarterbacks think better of testing him, he's been the service's top-graded corner for much of the season.
Whatever his reputation may have been in Jacksonville, here in Los Angeles, Ramsey has been reliable and relentless. His tenacity – and trash talk – sets a tone. And he does it all with style.
In fact, this week, head Sean McVay noted that Ramsey "goes out of his way to really help, to share."
"He cares about his teammates," McVay said. "He cares about winning."
We could spend the rest of this column and many more attempting to quantify the impact that Ramsey has made as a player and representative of the organization. But as he prepares to face the franchise that drafted him for the first time, hopefully you don't need any convincing to arrive at the same conclusion I have:
From the trade to the contract extension, Ramsey has outperformed the picks and earned every penny.
Where Things Stand
I know you're frustrated with the month of November. I am, as well.
Just think how the front office and players and coaches and support staff – who spend every waking hour in search of wins – feel about it.
Desperate for a victory is understandable, but despair is not.
Because as it stands, the Rams have an 84 percent chance of making the postseason, approximately, according to multiple credible prediction services. Beat the Jags and that inches closer to 90 percent.
The Rams are the current NFC five-seed, just as they were when this three-game slide began. That is not meant to excuse the missed opportunity that was November; merely to set the stage for the stretch run remaining.
And a reset is necessary and appropriate, because many months ago several of us used this line or a similar refrain: "The Rams season doesn't really begin until the playoffs."
The 2021 expectation wasn't to make the dance. It was to be the last team standing. That goal will be much more difficult to achieve without a bye, without home field advantage.
But since we're playing out a season that began with "Super Bowl or Bust" and "Stafford's Never Won a Playoff Game" narratives, I think that McVay's right to point out that this team still has the pen and their story's hardly written.
The Heart of the Matter
That being said, the product from the last three games certainly isn't championship worthy and may not even be playoff worthy.
Few position groups, much less units, are without fault – which to me, can be as encouraging as it has been dispiriting.
We know the chain of events that dictate football outcomes; they're as old as the forward pass.
One yard after contact might be the difference between a first down or a turnover on downs; that extended drive may produce points or at least gains field position and balances time of possession; perhaps better timing and vision on a promising screen play turns a nice gain into an explosive; suddenly, playing with a lead (which hasn't happened in nearly a month) constricts the opponent's game plan; a fresher L.A. defense tightens up the screws and finds itself in known passing downs where the competition finally has to run a route long enough to worry about the Von Miller-Aaron Donald-Leonard Floyd experience; next thing you know, the Rams are off the field on third down or, better yet, create a takeaway; playing in more even game circumstances gives Matthew Stafford and McVay margin to remain patient and balanced and diverse; maybe the opposing pass rush isn't as disruptive if they're defending every blade of grass, run or pass, and each eligible Ram; better ball security is a natural biproduct of the comfort, timing and rhythm; fair catch a punt here, don't line up in the neutral zone there…
Boom. Los Angeles is back in the win column.
That complimentary football cycle is so fragile, though – and the Rams have broken down so indiscriminately of late – that things have gotten away from them.
We want each of those links to be reestablished – and independently, they can and should!
But start with one step in the loop – deliver in any one of those areas – and watch how it brings the whole operation back in balance.
No One Is Walking Through That Door
The trade deadline has passed. The salary cap has been budgeted and spent (I think, but you never know with the Rams?).
The group you have now is the one you'll need to finish with (plus Cam Akers, fingers crossed).
In my reflections this week, that brought me to two realizations.
First, that's a privilege not a problem.
Second, how can you maximize and preserve it?
Let's finish with those two concluding points.
We're All We Got; We're All We Need
During training camp, had I offered you a 7-4 record going into December, second place in the NFC West, firm footing in the playoff framework, and most importantly this active roster, I feel confident in saying you'd have signed up in a heartbeat.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller in Royal and Sol?
Okay, first you would have demanded an explanation as to how that was possible – then you would have said, "Game on."
Everything they need is right there in that facility in Thousand Oaks.
Check out photos of Los Angeles Rams players on the practice field ahead of Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium.
If a trip to Dallas, or Tampa, or Glendale, or even Green Bay is required, so be it. This group will be a tough out for any NFC foe.
However, it's difficult to imagine the Rams achieving their ultimate goal – or the intervening ones, for that matter – without getting contributions from deeper down their roster.
Part of that is self-preservation, sure. This is the first attempt at a 17-game gauntlet, after all.
But the other component is leveraging the full potential of your depth chart.
Last week, the offensive starters plus Sony Michel essentially played every snap. Donald was out there for 81 of a possible 82 on defense.
The Rams were coming off a bye and that game had major implications. I get it, and I respect it a ton.
But from here-forward, who else can contribute? Who can give the Jaguars or Cardinals a dimension they haven't yet seen on film? Who can offer the Rams something – even a hyper-specific package of reps – that might complement the top line contributors and leave some tread on the tires of your "ones" for January?
Terrell Burgess. Ben Skowronek. Brycen Hopkins. Kendall Blanton. Joe Noteboom. Robert Rochell. Christian Rozeboom. Marquise Copeland. Michael Hoecht. Bobby Brown III. Perhaps before too much longer, Justin Hollins. John Wolford or Bryce Perkins, even!
That's not meant to be an exhaustive list, and those individuals are not all going to get opportunities starting Sunday. But from that group, the Rams are going to need someone to step up, either now by choice or perhaps later by necessity. My belief is that they've got it in them.
And by incremental improvement – be it in the meeting room, on the practice field, or in training – and with the creative firepower of their leadership and coaches, it's all still attainable.
A Miller Worth a Thousand Words
1,300 words from me can't compare to the succinct summation Von Miller offered the media on Wednesday. It was the most encouraging thing I saw, heard, or read all week. So after beginning our weekly column with Ramsey, acquired via trade in 2019, I want the future Hall of Famer acquired at the 2021 deadline to have the final say.
"It's going to happen for us," Miller said. "This is the time where we really got to just double down on our team, double down on our energy at work, double down on our purpose and our intent while we're here… It's a time for us to get even tighter and you make this push towards the playoffs. This is why we're all here. This is why this team is assembled. It's why I'm here. This is why Odell is here. That's why we got this excellent coaching staff and all of these guys is for a playoff push… I feel comfortable about the Rams and where we are and where we're going forward."