There's a 2020 game I've thought about a lot this week, and I wonder if it's crossed your mind, too.
No, not the narrow win over the New York Giants at SoFi Stadium. But rather, the crushing defeat at the hands of the New York Jets in Week 15.
I don't mean to imply the Los Angeles Rams lost that day because they overlooked a winless opponent. Whatever the reason for falling to an inferior squad, it was just the latest NFL installment of "any given Sunday."
As the Rams enter a stretch of three straight contests against teams with losing records, hopefully last year's gut punch will serve them well. Because for the rest of the month, there are no undefeated showdowns. No prime time showcases. No division games. Just their desire to uphold the Rams standard, play to their potential, and pursue greatness.
Five games in the rearview mirror, and looking back, the start to the season was more draining than perhaps we appreciated in real time.
SoFi Stadium debut in front of fans; first road trip; defending Super Bowl Champions in town; NFC West opener against undefeated Arizona; Thursday Night Football in Seattle.
That mini-bye at 4-1 couldn't have been better-placed.
Now, five more tests before the open date in Week 11, and only one of those challengers currently has a winning mark (the Tennessee Titans).
Take nothing for granted, yes. But bank wins if you're able.
Do The Math
"Everybody in the film room goes into it saying, 'We left a ton of plays on the field'," the first-year defensive lineman told us while reviewing the Seattle win.
"There are so many things (in all three phases) we're only going to continue to get better and better at. And we're only going to get smarter and smarter at. We're only going to hit harder and harder throughout the season."
Head coach Sean McVay summarized the attitude going to New York this way: "We've got the wrong guys if I have to convince them that they need to be ready to show up in this three-hour window of time."
Who Can Fill for DWill?
As McVay said this week, you don't replace Williams with just one person. A few options come to mind as the Rams look to fill the void of a defensive player so valuable, they placed a first-round tender on him this offseason.
Over the next three Sundays, we may see Terrell Burgess effectively make his season debut in the slot. Or someone with veteran experience like Dont'e Deayon could be promoted from the practice squad to face the Giants, the franchise that gave him his NFL start. Or David Long Jr. could return to the lineup in pursuit of more moments like his season-opening interception against the Bears.
As the Rams piece it together at corner, they've got two invaluable advantages: Jalen Ramsey's ability to fend for himself (freeing up coverage resources elsewhere) and the shot clock guaranteed by Aaron Donald's pass rush.
Big (Black and) Blue
L.A. won't get any sympathy from a Giants group missing running back Saquon Barkley, receiver Kenny Golladay, and linebacker Blake Martinez, just to name a few.
Their starting quarterback Daniel Jones – who's enjoying a career season to this point despite the team's woes – still has to clear concussion protocol to play, as well.
Going into Sunday, the Rams have a clear advantage on the injury report.
Perhaps nowhere is the injury disparity more apparent than along the offensive lines.
According to PFF, the Rams front ranks among the top 10 in the league with their pass blocking, run blocking, and overall grades. ESPN likes them a lot, as well. That's a direct result of their continuity, with the same five players making every start.
Conversely, the Giants lost center Nick Gates and left guard Shane Lemieux for the season in the first two weeks. They've have had five different players take snaps at left guard. And even as they get healthy at tackle, there's indecision. Joe Judge reportedly intends to play Andrew Thomas, Nate Solder and Matt Peart in some form of platoon.
More Production Than Points
It's not just the Rams offensive line that's thriving. Every offensive position group has excelled.
According to Next Gen Stats, Matthew Stafford leads all QBs with +67.3 Expected Points Added this season. The group is hitting explosive plays, with more deep completions already this season than all of 2020.
The Rams lead the NFL in yards per play, and are one of the elite offenses according to DVOA.
Per NFL Research, L.A. is one of three teams (Cowboys, Chiefs) to have scored 20-plus points in each outing this season. Yet it feels like it's only a matter of time before they put up even bigger point totals (the Rams are currently eighth in scoring).
No Prize for Longest Drive
There are only two areas I can identify that are lacking: red zone and starting field position.
The Rams are fifth in the league in opportunities inside the opponent's 20-yard line (an admittedly arbitrary demarcation), but 22nd in converting those red zone trips into touchdowns.
And after five weeks and 16 touchdowns, the shortest of those drives is still 70 yards. In fact, the average touchdown drive length for the Rams in 2021 is a whopping 78.4 yards.
The fact they're putting up more than 28 points per game despite not capitalizing on a single short field (or the benefit of a non-offensive touchdown) is wild.
Misery Loves Company
In defense of Matt Gay's hiccups, Week 5 saw the most missed extra point attempts in NFL history (13).
The last two weeks, Gay has missed his first field goal try of the season, his first extra point as a Ram, and pulled a couple kickoffs out of bounds.
He appears on the injury report going to New York with some ankle trouble, but look for the Rams kicker to bounce back in the Big Apple.
One other bit of NFL Research caught my eye. There have been 19 games so far this season with the winning score being registered in the last minute of regulation or in overtime, the most such games through five weeks in NFL history. Furthermore, eight have gone to overtime.
The Rams haven't been involved in any of those.
Here's hoping no late-game heroics are required to get out of the Meadowlands with a win on Sunday.