NFL roundtable: Rams, Chargers looked super. Are they?
Big victories for L.A. teams against the conference champions, the Rams beating the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chargers beating the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road.
L.A. is a better two-team NFL city than winless New York with the Jets and Giants, but are the Rams and Chargers super? In a chat moderated by NFL editor Athan Atsales, let’s open the roundtable for Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, and columnists Bill Plaschke and Helene Elliott.
Do you think the inclusion of DeSean Jackson in the Rams’ offense is a breakthrough, or just a product of Sunday’s matchup with Tampa?
Plaschke: DeSean Jackson benefited from matchups. He won’t be catching 120 yards of passes every week. He might not catch that much in the next month. The Rams still need a consistent downfield threat.
Klein: Wait a second. The only reason Jackson hasn’t been consistent is because Sean McVay didn’t give him opportunities until Sunday. It was not a breakthrough or a product of the matchup. It was McVay realizing that playing Jackson for only three plays with no targets — as was the case against the Colts — was neither a formula for success for the offense nor for maintaining a healthy vibe in the locker room. Jackson demonstrated against the Buccaneers that he remains a deep threat. His 75-yard touchdown was reminiscent of his glory days with the Eagles. And his 40-yard catch-and-run play showed his open-field speed. He also made a tough catch on a shorter route with a defender draped all over him.
I still would expect Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to get most of the targets. But Jackson proved that defensive coordinators cannot discount him. And neither should McVay.
DeSean Jackson proved in the Rams’ 34-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he can still burn through opposing secondaries at age 34.
Considering Justin Herbert’s fantastic start in the NFL, can people start talking about the Chargers quarterback in the same breath as Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes?
Miller: Herbert and Mahomes have shared the field twice so far, and Herbert has been every bit the equal of Mahomes in those games. Both have big arms, high football IQs and can stress defenses with their legs. So it’s not ridiculous to talk about both in the same sentence. It’s also not ridiculous to think they could be squaring off for years to come as AFC West rivals. Massive distinction, though: Mahomes has won a Super Bowl and starred in the playoffs. Herbert’s teams are 8-10 in his starts and never been higher than third place in the division.
Plaschke: Yeah, Justin Herbert has a long way to go to be considered in same breath as Patrick Mahomes. Like, he has to go to two Super Bowls and win one of them.
Klein: That was my first thought as well, until I realized Matthew Stafford hasn’t won a playoff game and he is in the early MVP conversation. I haven’t watched enough of Herbert to know if he is one of those players — like Mahomes — that you stop whatever else you might be doing and watch because something special will probably happen.
When push came to shove, Chargers rookie coach Brandon Staley said he was happy to put the game in the hands of quarterback Justin Herbert, who delivered a big win against Chiefs.
Elliott: Why not appreciate Herbert for who he is and what he does rather than label him the next Patrick Mahomes — or next anybody else? Let him continue to develop and grow without labeling him. Let him be the first Justin Herbert, not the next anyone else.
Through three games, the NFC West looks a little different than anticipated. Seattle is in last place, the 49ers lost for the first time, and next for the unbeaten Rams is a home game against the unbeaten Cardinals. Is Arizona for real?
Klein: One of my favorite albums of all time is Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender.” Foo Fighters also have a pretty good tune by that name. My point: We don’t really know yet if the Cardinals are for real. They’ve teased too many times before. They certainly have some star power in Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones and Budda Baker. Now they must prove to doubters like me that they can see it through. Ending Sean McVay’s domination of them would be a good start.
Plaschke: Arizona is still too young and erratic. They don’t have a great running game. They have holes defensively. The Cardinals still are not legitimate contenders.
Does this Chargers victory change the outlook for those — Yup, you Mr. Miller — who said the Chargers did not have a chance to contend for the Super Bowl?
Miller: I’m not sure I said they have no chance to contend for the Super Bowl, but I get your point. The interesting thing about the Chargers is I’m 100% certain they’ll be better in December than they are right now, and they did just beat the franchise that has represented the AFC in the past two Super Bowls. After an offseason, training camp and three games, Brandon Staley gives every indication he could be a successful head coach in this league for a very long time. This team’s trajectory is decidedly up, no doubt.
The thing about this victory to remember is that this Chiefs team is still under construction too. Everyone knows K.C. is good, but are they Super Bowl good? This could be the year someone ends the Chiefs’ AFC West reign.
Plaschke: This victory over the Chiefs changes everything for the Chargers. If they win in Arrowhead, then they can win in Buffalo and Baltimore and Tennessee and Cleveland. This victory should put them smack in the middle of Super Bowl talk.
Klein: The Chargers should be regarded as an annual Super Bowl contender based on their uniforms alone. Knocking off the Chiefs and Mahomes, in Kansas City, makes it real.
The two unbeaten teams in the AFC West are a bit surprising — the Broncos and Raiders. The Raiders come to Los Angeles on Monday. How do you think the Chargers match up with the Raiders right now? And, considering games past, how many fights do you anticipate in the stands?
Miller: I think the Chargers match up well with the entire NFL because of Herbert. We might be watching a guy whose career will alter the perception of an entire franchise. He’s potentially that good. Sure, Gus Bradley [Raiders defensive coordinator] knows the Chargers’ offensive players well since he is the team’s former defensive coordinator. But the Chargers — along with the rest of the NFL — also know Bradley’s time-tested scheme well. I’m anticipating another tight game that’s decided late.
And, as for the fights, yes, there will be plenty. SoFi Stadium on Monday night might need another appearance by Michael Buffer.
Plaschke: There will more unnecessary roughing in the parking lot than on the field. Here’s hoping SoFi Stadium security has its act together and is prepared for the madness. On the field, the Chargers are better than Raiders — a much better defense and a more balanced attack.
Here’s a look at three games in Week 4 of the NFL season that are already presenting some interesting lines and odds after Sunday’s action.
Speaking of crowds, the one at the Rams’ game seemed louder than any I had heard at the Coliseum … at least on TV. Is that a product of the stadium or was this crowd different?
Plaschke: The Rams’ crowd at SoFi was deafening. Even Tom Brady commented on it. The Rams are developing an identity within the community, and the noise is growing every week. The atmosphere feels like a combination of the Dodger Stadium neighborhood feel and the Staples Center Hollywood glamour. It’s cool. It’s loud. It gives the Rams a real home-field advantage for the first time since they came to town six years ago.
Elliott: I think the noise was a combination of the Rams being so good, the novelty of the new stadium, the intriguing opponent — the reigning Super Bowl champions —and seeing that Tom Brady guy. I hear that he’s won a few things in his career. It felt like people were having a good time in enjoying the football and enjoying the stadium, and that was magnified by the Rams having a good start. I think the crowd recognized and appreciated the Rams’ defensive play too. There’s a sense the Rams are on the rise, and people who have been loyal all along are enjoying it, and people who were skeptical or weren’t fans are being won over by the team and the new football palace. … And never underestimate the power of giving fans more restrooms.
Klein: During video conferences on Monday, Rams coach Sean McVay, tight end Tyler Higbee and safety Taylor Rapp all said the crowd has made SoFi a home-field advantage. It’s a far cry from last season and the piped-in crowd noise that McVay abhorred.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and a disjointed offense struggled against a formidable Rams defense in a ‘very loud’ SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
How might you compare this Rams defense to the ones led by Brandon Staley last season and the NFC champions’ defense from a couple of years back?
Plaschke: This defense is better up front, better in the middle with Kenny Young, and better in the secondary with an experienced Darious Williams.
Klein: For me, it’s too soon to tell. Coaches and players say winning any NFL game is tough — and they’re correct because the talent is incredible. But let’s be honest. The Bears’ offense is no good. The Colts aren’t much better. Now, neutralizing Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers? That counts for something. Actually, that counts for a lot.
Aaron Donald is being Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey is seemingly all over the field, making plays on the outside, the inside, off the edge and in the backfield. But for me, I’m not sure any Rams defense can compare to the 2018 unit in terms of personality. Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh, Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers, Mark Barron and Aaron Donald made every day interesting.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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