October will be telling.
By the end of this month, we should have a very good sense of what the Rams are playing for in 2023.
Having weathered the opening gauntlet at 2-2, that record feels like a fair representation of how they'd played considering who they've played and where they've played.
After beating Seattle in the opener, the loss to San Francisco indicated the Rams weren't quite ready to catapult back into the ranks of the NFC's elite.
Now they get another measuring stick game at SoFi Stadium, this time against the reigning conference champions.
And after this three-game homestand, the month concludes with a trip to face the other NFC favorite, the Dallas Cowboys.
How much have the Rams improved? What lessons have they learned? How much can Cooper Kupp's return elevate them?
It's time to find out.
At the Quarter Pole
So if Sunday is a midterm exam, of sorts, then what kind of academic standing are the Rams in after the first quarter of the season?
They've put together two impeccable halves – the second in Seattle and the first in Indianapolis – but have not yet combined four complete quarters of complementary football.
We took a deep dive into the Rams progress report on Between the Horns with Super Bowl Champion D'Marco Farr and senior writer Stu Jackson.
Eagles At Altitude
As one of the NFL's last two unbeatens, it's fair to wonder whether the Eagles are prime for an upset or just now hitting their stride.
Their schedule's been mediocre, and a Washington team that just lost at home to Chicago pressed the Eagles into overtime in Philadelphia. (For the record, I'm well aware the transitive property does not apply to football.)
If there is such a thing, Eagles cornerback Darius Slay has called it an “ugly” 4-0 start.
Then again, Sunday was Jalen Hurts' best showing of the season, and the offense demonstrated the explosiveness that the Philly faithful have become accustomed to.
ESPN had a good nugget on Hurts, who will take on the Rams for the first time in his career in his 50th contest. He needs one passing touchdown to become the fourth player in NFL history with 50 passing and 25 rushing scores in his first 50 NFL games (Daunte Culpepper, Cam Newton, and Josh Allen are the others).
Tyler Higbee's History
Also had a great chat with the newly-extended Rams captain this week. The eighth-year tight end had a career game the last time he faced the Eagles – a three touchdown performance in Philadelphia during the pandemic season.
Sunday feels like a good day for Big Rig to get his first (and second, maybe even third) touchdown of 2023, doesn't it?
Start 'Em, Don't Sit 'Em
I saw ESPN's fantasy rankings for the rest of 2023 had Matthew Stafford 22nd among quarterbacks, positioned between Denver's Russell Wilson and Carolina rookie Bryce Young.
I guess that's what a 3-to-5 touchdown to interception ratio will do to you.
Thankfully, Stafford and the Rams play the Eagles in real life this week. And never have advanced metrics been so meaningful in illustrating how undervalued QB1 is at the present moment.
Disclaimer: things are about to get a bit esoteric. If you don't care to nerd out with me, feel free to skip ahead.
Stafford leads the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "Big Time Throws" with 12 in four games.
His BTT percentage is second only to Buffalo's Josh Allen. His turnover worth play percentages fifth lowest among qualifiers, despite having an average depth of target significantly higher than any of the others in the top five. In fact, his average depth of target is now up to eighth in the league after four weeks.
All that to say, Stafford is in attack mode without being reckless, making high degree of difficult throws look routine.
And the TL;DR version is this: He'll be the best quarterback in the stadium on Sunday and would deserve to be an NFC Pro Bowler if the season ended today.
Don't let your fantasy league tell you otherwise.
And oh-by-the-way… Stafford's done all that without the Rams best offensive player, who returned from injured reserve this week.
Stafford has thrown 22 touchdowns to Cooper Kupp since the two joined forces (tied for second-most by a duo since the start of 2021, per NFL Research), even though Kupp has missed 12 games during span (8 in 2022, 4 in 2023).
It's been almost a full 12 months since they were last on the field together – Week 9, 2022. ESPN Stats and Info points out the Rams are 11-11 (.500) without Kupp and 51-29 with him (.638) since he made his NFL debut in 2017.
That Stafford has only passed for three touchdowns is actually one of the Rams healthiest indicators, because his running back's been a vulture!
Kyren Williams has punched in five short rushing scores and has six scrimmage touchdowns (both totals ranking top three in NFL).
Running for red zone touchdowns is not easy, and it hasn't always been a strength of this offense. So let's take the win for the second-year pro and especially his offensive line paving the way.
Williams is coming off career-highs in carries (25), rushing yards (103), and scrimmage yards (127). And the Rams got backup Ronnie Rivers established against the Colts as well.
No (Brotherly) Love Lost
Goodness, it's going to be tough sledding this week, though.
Philadelphia has the best rushing defense in the NFL. The have the only interior defender graded higher than Aaron Donald this season, rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
After registering 70 sacks on their way to the Super Bowl last season, the Eagles have racked up 72 quarterback pressures through four games of 2023. Only the Niners and Seahawks have more. So as of Sunday, the Rams will have faced three of the most accomplished pass rushes in football.
What's more, the Eagles have the highest graded offensive line in 2023, as well. As an organization, they've poured resources into the trenches for years, and it shows.
Wild Card Competition
And finally, don't interpret this as conceding the NFC West in any way, shape, or form.
But going into Week 5, I'm now ready to survey the NFC landscape for the first time and place the Rams within it.
With seven playoff spots available for 16 teams, I look at it in one of two ways.
The first is process of elimination. Can you nix nine other NFC franchises? If so, you're in.
Chicago and Carolina started 0-4 and are out of mind.
Minnesota, New York, and Arizona at 1-3 have very long odds (though consider how close this Rams team was to 1-3 in Indianapolis). Unless there's a major rally from this group, you've whittled away five competitors in the first month. Not bad.
The other, more traditional way of viewing the playoff picture is top-down. Four franchises look like locks to play past the regular season: San Francisco (4-0), Philadelphia (4-0), Dallas (3-1), and Detroit (3-1). The NFC South will also have a representative, so we'll let Tampa Bay (3-1) hold that place for now.
That leaves two seats at the NFC table.
At the moment, therefore, the Rams task is to be better than at least four of these five teams:
Green Bay (2-2) up North – what a huge game at Lambeau a month away, leading into the bye.
New Orleans (2-2) and Atlanta (2-2) in the South – the Rams host the Saints in December.
Washington (2-3) from the East just took a brutal home loss to the Bears – that helps the Rams, who also get to host the Commanders in December.
And then Seattle (3-1) within the West – the Rams have a precious head-to-head win in hand, the only Seahawks loss, and a rematch at SoFi Stadium coming out of the bye.
So if you're ready to scoreboard watch, start monitoring the results from the Saints, Falcons, Commanders, Packers, and Seahawks.
None of them play during the Rams game Sunday, which works out nicely.
Take a look through the best photos of the Los Angeles Rams practicing ahead of their Week 5 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.