INGLEWOOD — The Rams’ first game against the Seattle Seahawks this season produced one of their best moments of the year, a solid bounce-back win that gave them life in the NFC West race.
Getting the same result in the same desperate circumstances when the teams play again Sunday in Seattle won’t be easy, in part because these aren’t the same Seahawks.
In November, running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were both injured and missing from the Seahawks’ offense. What the Rams’ defense did in a 23-16 victory, sacking Russell Wilson six times and shutting down DK Metcalf, was impressive anyway. But they know it will take more to repeat that performance now.
Carson and Hyde are healthy after foot and hamstring injuries, while third running back Rashaad Penny is back from a knee injury, and the Seahawks have won four out of five games after losing three out of four.
“You’d be surprised what five weeks can do for a team from a personnel standpoint,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said this week.
“Because of the run game, I think that they’re a much more complete offense than when we first faced them and they’re definitely hitting their stride.”
The Seahawks’ offense begins with Wilson, who’s on his way to career highs in passing yards and touchdowns throwing to Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
The Rams held Wilson to his worst game of the season in Week 10 at SoFi Stadium. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey limited Metcalf to two catches for 28 yards on a season-low four targets. Seahawks running backs managed 51 yards in the team’s third game without Carson and Hyde.
That win following a sloppy loss at Miami lifted the Rams into a first-place tie with Seattle and Arizona, which led on a tiebreaker.
Now, as the Rams try to right the ship after losing to the Jets, Carson and Co. make their task tougher.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a balanced attack, and there was a portion of the schedule in there when we lost three running backs at the same time,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week. “We didn’t have the same rhythm.”
With the running game intact again, Carroll said, “This is as good as we’ve been all year.”
In Carson’s four seasons in Seattle, including 2,381 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in 2018-19, the Seahawks are 30-14 when he’s playing and 11-10 when he isn’t.
Carson is running for 5.0 yards per carry, which would be a career high over a full season and ranks eighth in the NFL this year.
The Rams are 3-5 this year when opponents average for 4.5 or more per carry.
That’s a statistical benchmark to watch Sunday in a game that shapes up as a showdown between the Rams’ defense (No. 1 in yards allowed per game and per play, No. 1 against the pass, No. 2 against the run) and the Seahawks’ offense (No. 6 in yards per play, No. 5 in passer rating, No. 4 in yards per run).
“It gives them another dynamic. That’s going to be something we needed to be really ready to defend,” Ramsey said before practice Thursday.
The Rams (9-5) can clinch a playoff spot Sunday with a win or tie against Seattle (10-4), a Chicago loss or tie at Jacksonville or an Arizona win or tie against San Francisco. They can go back into first place in the NFC West by beating Seattle, giving themselves a chance to wrap up the division title by beating Arizona or seeing Seattle lose at San Francisco in the season’s final week.
Carson’s and Hyde’s return will make that harder.
Rams coach Sean McVay calls Carson, 26, a seventh-round draft pick from Oklahoma State, “one of the more underrated players in this league.” McVay has seen Carson at his best, rushing for 116 and 118 yards in L.A.’s past two games at Seattle.
“Getting those runners back and how they’ve run the football,” McVay said, “has definitely made them even more of a challenge than they already were as a great offense.”
The Rams practiced at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Thursday afternoon, the third time they’ve done that during the season, because strong wind was forecast at their facility in Thousand Oaks. The team will practice on Christmas day, but will start work later than usual to allow players and coaches to spend the morning with their families. … Right tackle Rob Havenstein practiced and is “ready to roll” for Sunday after being limited Wednesday by a neck injury suffered in the loss to the Jets. … Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the third Rams player to earn Pro Bowl selections in his first seven seasons, joining defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (who did it in his first 14) and linebacker Les Richter (eight), the Rams said, quoting the sports data company Sportradar.
First of all, let’s stipulate. If Thursday night’s Rams-Patriots game was a rematch of Super Bowl LIII, as was advertised, it was in name only. Not even the laundry was the same, though the Rams’ new uniforms are looking better and better as the weeks go by.
It was not a night for revenge, or redemption, or much else having to do with that February 2019 night in Atlanta. Those scars, as Sean McVay said after Thursday night’s 24-3 Rams victory, aren’t going away.
“That’s always going to be a part of, you know, the coaching trajectory for me and a night that, you know, you got to be able to learn from,” he said. “But as far as how that affected our plans going into this game, it really didn’t at all.
“We’re a totally different team. I mean, you see, we’re doing a lot of different things.”
Totally different. And, potentially, quite a bit better.
For example: As colleague Kevin Modesti noted, when Cam Akers uncorked a 35-yard run off left tackle on the second offensive play Thursday night it equaled Todd Gurley’s rushing total in that Super Bowl. We know now that Gurley was physically compromised that night and for much of the back end of that season.
But there’s a message there, and McVay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell seem to have deciphered it loud and clear. Who knows? Maybe they do read This Space.
Akers didn’t stop at 35. He didn’t stop until he got to 171 yards, on 29 carries, the best game by a Rams rookie running back since Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis pounded his way to 211 on 28 carries in New Orleans in December of 1993, when the Rams were based in Anaheim.
Akers was asked if he thought McVay got the message when he noted last Sunday in Arizona that the more touches he gets, the better his rhythm.
“I think he did,” the rookie said with a grin.
Glad to help, Cam.
These are different teams and a different time and the Super Bowl rematch angle was useful for Fox’s promotion of its Thursday night game but not worth much else. The Patriots might have won four of their previous five going into Thursday’s game, and they might have embarrassed the Chargers on Sunday, but they’re now 6-7 and 2½ games out of an AFC playoff spot with three games to play, and all of Bill Belichick’s coaching powers probably won’t get them into the tournament.
Meanwhile, it is fair to suggest that the Rams, who have won four of five themselves since the debacle at Miami on the first day of November, might be putting themselves in position to do something special. Remember what we said a few weeks ago about keeping up with their championship L.A. neighbors, the Lakers and Dodgers? It seems more feasible now than it did then.
Rediscovering the running game makes a difference. They had a 16-play, 90-yard third-quarter drive Thursday that chewed up 9:42, and 12 of those 16 plays were runs, nine by Akers. (Again, Coach McVay, you’re welcome.)
Jared Goff only threw for 137 yards, with two touchdowns (one rushing), one interception, one sack and a 74.9 rating, but it was almost immaterial.
“As a quarterback, you know, you may think that’s not fun,” Goff said. “(But) those are the best, when we’re just pounding it and able to make those plays.”
It’s old-time football, and it might be the best way for the Rams to operate: Force the opponent’s defense to respect the run and use their own defense to create havoc and impose their will. Somewhere, the late Chuck Knox is smiling.
There certainly was enough defensive havoc Thursday night. The Rams sacked Cam Newton four times and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham twice, with Michael Brockers getting two and Aaron Donald credited with 1½.
“You know, it’s definitely a cliche statement: stop the run, earn the right to rush the passer,” Brockers said. “And I think that’s what we did.”
But there was more. Consecutive New England incursions into the red zone ended with (a) former UCLA Bruin Kenny Young’s first NFL pick-six, a 79-yard interception return on the first play of the second quarter, and (b) a goal-line stand after New England had a first-and-goal at the 6, with Newton trying to run it in from the 2 on fourth down and getting stuffed by linebacker Justin Hollins for a 2-yard loss.
The Rams came into the game with the league’s No. 2 overall defense behind New Orleans and No. 1 against the pass, giving up 291.3 yards per game overall and 198.3 through the air. On Thursday night, those numbers were 220 and 113. The Saints, who have allowed 288 yards per game, face the Eagles (29th in the league in offense) this week, so their number shouldn’t balloon, but that could be an interesting race.
And this is as good a time as any to launch Donald’s campaign for the league’s MVP award, Patrick Mahomes or no Patrick Mahomes, because the attention he gets from opponents creates so many openings for others. The last defensive player to win The Associated Press MVP award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. I think it’s time.
But that’s a side issue. And if you really want to use this occasion to re-explore Super Bowl LIII, maybe the Patriots did the Rams a favor that night, painful as it was at the time.
“Being at that pinnacle, being at that Super Bowl and understanding what it takes to get back – all I’m trying to do is lead this team and give examples on what we have to do to keep finishing, keep pushing through,” Brockers said.
The Rams are 7-3 this morning because they had the better quarterback on a field that also included Tom Brady.
The main reason Jared Goff was the better quarterback on Monday night is the capable friends he brought, even with a close one left behind.
The Rams won, 27-24, when Jordan Fuller intercepted Brady at the end, on a night when Goff threw 51 times at Raymond James Stadium. Without injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was carted away from last week’s victory over Seattle, they could have been putting Goff in the same danger zone that engulfed him in Miami.
Instead, Goff never was sacked and probably has had 18-hole rounds that were more painful. The Bucs’ defense only hit him three times. The cushion he was provided, to find Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and the rest of the crew, was why the Rams put up just enough points to win.
Joe Noteboom got the call to replace Whitworth. To his right, in order, were Austin Corbett, Austin Blythe, David Edwards and Rob Havenstein. Of that group, only Havenstein was manning the same position he played in the Rams’ Super Bowl loss to Brady and New England. Havenstein also committed the only penalty of the game for the offensive line (holding) and nobody on the unit false-started against a Tampa Bay rush unit that averages 3.2 sacks, fourth in the league.
“Joe Noteboom had a great game at left tackle,” Woods said. “You gotta think about whose position he’s filling. He had Shaq Barrett and JPP (Jean-Pierre Paul) to deal with.”
Since the Rams put their running game on hold, Goff concentrated on rhythmic short passes against a dynamic young Tampa Bay secondary. His two touchdown passes went to rookies Cam Akers and Van Jefferson, but Kupp and Woods were able to run profusely whenever they caught the ball short, and that doesn’t happen without drone-type accuracy from the quarterback. Those two combined for 23 catches for 275 yards.
“I really loved what Cooper and Robert did,” McVay said. “They really created a lot of stuff on their own.”
If the Rams can lean on that big-boy foundation and keep improving their efficiency, they have much to anticipate.
Their defense was special again Monday night, even though they rarely got to Brady. They stuffed Ronald Jones for 24 yards in 10 carries, with Micah Kiser perhaps foretelling the future when, on Tampa Bay’s first play, he hit fifth gear almost immediately and stuffed Jones at the line of scrimmage. Except for Mike Evans’ touchdown when Jalen Ramsey wasn’t guarding him, the Rams generally stopped the Buccaneers’ receivers in their tracks.
Evans’ 18-yard play was the longest for Tampa Bay all night, and the numbers would have looked much better if not for three pass interference penalties.
In the past two weeks, the Rams have dealt QB ratings of 57 and 62.5 to Russell Wilson and Brady.
After the Rams took a 17-14 halftime lead, they put Brady in neutral for the entire third quarter, giving Tampa Bay only 8 yards. But they allowed this to stay a seven-point game for a little too long, and when Jordan Whitehead closed strongly and intercepted Goff’s throw down the middle, it came time for Brady to call back the years.
He hustled the Bucs to the tying touchdown, finding Chris Godwin for the final 13 yards as Darious Williams couldn’t get to him fast enough. That put the onus on Goff and the Rams to see if their quick-pitch offense could work when it mattered most, with 3:53 remaining.
The Rams ran only five times in the first half, and Goff piled up the stats with short shots to Kupp and the rest.
Here, Goff used play-action and fired 25 yards to Woods on first down, the 11th ball Woods had caught. Then Goff rolled out and found Kupp for 18 yards, which was Kupp’s 11th reception as well. It was also Goff’s 50th attempt and his 39th completion.
Then the Rams picked a surprising time to revert to the running game, and wound up with a fourth-and-8 situation. Matt Gay, who was 1-for-2 beforehand, converted a 40-yard field-goal attempt for a 27-24 lead with 2:36 remaining, and with Brady holding one time out.
History indicates that Brady is somewhat lethal when given those options. But maybe current events are catching up with Brady. He tried to get a chunk of yardage with a down-the-middle throw to Cameron Brate, but it floated.
Fuller, who had already intercepted Brady once, stood there and watched the ball come to him. For the Rams, it was like a pillow mint that enabled a peaceful flight, and night.
The Rams will hold their team meetings from home Wednesday after an unidentified player tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday night.
“This evening, we learned a Rams player tested positive for COVID-19,” the team said in a statement. “The player immediately entered self-quarantine and out of an abundance of caution, we are entering intensive protocol.”
The Rams (6-3) were scheduled only for a light walk-through practice Wednesday with an extra-long week of preparation for their game at Tampa Bay (7-3) on Monday night. Rams players and coaches will hold their normal schedule of meetings from home on Wednesday. They haven’t determined their schedule for the rest of the week.
The Rams defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 23-16, on Sunday in Inglewood, and Coach Sean McVay gave the players Monday off following the win. Tuesday is a regularly scheduled day off.
The Rams had not had a positive for COVID-19 since rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis at the beginning of training camp. Center Brian Allen was the first NFL player to confirm he had tested positive for coronavirus back in April. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth also recovered from the infection earlier this year.
The NFL instituted guidelines for the intensive protocol last month as a response to an outbreak with the Tennessee Titans. It calls for rapid point of care tests in addition to the daily PCR testing, virtual meetings, the use of masks by everyone on the practice field at all times, the use of gloves by all players on the practice field, and a ban on player gatherings away from the facility.
The Rams travel to Miami to play the Dolphins in a nonconference showdown, fresh off a Monday night football victory over the Bears. The Dolphins are coming into the game on a 2-game win streak and a bye week.
“I’m usually not getting off the bench for a punt,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff joked, but there he’d been, joining in the sideline mob scene after one of Hekker’s long punts.
All five times he was called on, the four-time All-Pro made the most of it. He put every kick inside the Bears’ 10-yard line, including a 57-yarder to the 1 and a 63-yarder to the 6, both downed by Nsimba Webster. After his first three punts, the Rams’ defense quickly got the ball back in good field position and the offense drove to two touchdowns and a field goal.
“Johnny is the best punter in the league, and he showed it tonight,” Goff said. “He really was a weapon for us.”
Hekker called it part of the Rams playing “complementary football,” the special teams helping out the offense and defense.
“Sometimes you get (bounces), sometimes you don’t. When they come in bunches like that, it’s fun,” Hekker said while praising the teammates who downed his punts, Webster, Terrell Burgess and Samson Ebukam.
Tight end Johnny Mundt, filling in with Tyler Higbee declared out before the game because of a hand injury, had his best receiving night in the NFL.
Coming in with six catches for 36 yards since being signed in 2017 as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon, Mundt caught three passes from Goff for 47 yards.
He spun away from a tackler on what became a 34-yard pickup in the second quarter.
“That was supposed to be a stiff-arm. It didn’t really connect the way I wanted to. He went a little lower than I expected him to,” Mundt said.
“I’m getting used to the NFL with the ball in my hands.”
Not yet for Forbath
The Rams debuts of Kai Forbath and A’Shawn Robinson would have to wait a little longer.
Forbath, the ex-UCLA kicker signed Tuesday as an alternative to struggling rookie Samuel Sloman, is on the 53-man roster but was listed among the Rams’ five inactive players before Monday night’s game.
Robinson, the defensive tackle who practiced with the team Thursday for the first time since a pre-training camp physical found what was reported to be a cardiovascular condition, was not activated from the non-football injury list.
Forbath practiced on the SoFi Stadium field during early warmups, but Sloman kicked in the game, making a 22-yard field goal but getting a 48-yard attempt blocked.
The Rams’ NFC West competition looked tougher after the Arizona Cardinals (4-3) handed the Seattle Seahawks (5-1) their first loss and the San Francisco 49ers (4-3) won big at New England on Sunday.
The Rams (5-2) stayed in second place by beating the Bears.
The Rams will complete the first half of the season on the road against the Miami Dolphins (3-3) on Sunday (10 a.m.), their fourth game on the East Coast.
That’s followed by the Rams’ week off.
Their 10 remaining opponents going into the Bears game had a .600 winning percentage, giving the Rams the third-hardest upcoming schedule behind Jacksonville (.661) and San Francisco (.638).
As always, a long week of preparation before Monday’s game will be followed by a short week before next Sunday’s game.
In Sean McVay’s first three seasons as coach, the Rams did at least as well with six or fewer days of prep as with eight or more: 4-2 straight up and 1-3-2 against the point spread in long weeks, 4-2 straight up and 4-2 against the spread in short weeks. (That doesn’t count results in Week 1 or following byes.)
McVay said Saturday that some of the Rams staff would start analyzing the Dolphins this week.
“I know for me, I definitely never can do that,” McVay said. “It’s one game at a time, solely focused on the Bears.”
Todd Gurley is better statistically for Atlanta than he was last year for the Rams, ranking sixth in the league in rushing yards (485) and tied for first in rushing touchdowns (seven), but he’d probably prefer to have one less touchdown.
Gurley tried to stop short of the goal line on his second touchdown Sunday and keep the clock running, but failed and wound up allowing Detroit to come back and win 23-22.
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for 60 yards for Houston on Sunday, and his 427 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 34 catches are ahead of his 2019 pace with the Rams.
This was the first time SoFi Stadium hosted two games in the week, the Chargers beating Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon and the Rams hosting the Bears on Monday.
It’s an artificial field — Matrix Turf with Helix, made by Hellas Construction in Alabama and Georgia — unlikely to show wear and tear the way the Coliseum’s grass did when the Rams played the day after a USC game.
Speaking Tuesday, Rams (and former USC) wide receiver Robert Woods praised the SoFi Stadium surface.
“We’ve been playing really well on that field, being able to make some guys (tacklers) miss. We’ve been able to put our foot in the ground and get vertical,” Woods said.
“I think we’ve done well from an offensive standpoint, been able to run our routes, make quick cuts — and run fast, obviously.”