NFL roundtable: How will Rams fans react when Lions’ Jared Goff returns to L.A.?
The Rams and Chargers enter Week 7 under very different circumstances. The 5-1 Rams routed the Giants on the road, but coaches and players were unhappy about their execution. The Chargers were rolled by the Ravens, but the Chargers staff is quite pleased with their 4-2 record heading into their off week. Moderated by Los Angeles Times NFL editor Athan Atsales, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller and NFL beat writer Sam Farmer discuss the future. And for the Rams, the immediate future meets the past:
What do you think the reaction of the Rams fans will be when Jared Goff returns to SoFi Stadium as the quarterback of the 0-6 Lions?
Farmer: Definitely think the fans will be respectful. They didn’t love everything about the way Jared Goff played, but they appreciated him and the role he played in making the franchise relevant. The reception should be pretty warm. Until kickoff, of course.
Klein: OK, let’s be clear: This isn’t Tom Brady returning to New England or another storied legend like Peyton Manning coming back to play against the Colts. That said, Goff led the Rams to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, won two consecutive NFC West titles and a led a run to Super Bowl LIII. Last season, after being dissed by his head coach, he came off the bench less than two weeks removed from thumb surgery and led them to a wild-card playoff victory in Seattle. He produced a respectable performance in a divisional-round loss to a Green Bay Packers team that schooled the Rams defense. Goff was the face of the franchise — and several local charitable initiatives — while Stan Kroenke built SoFi Stadium. Call me sentimental, but it would be classy for the crowd to initially cheer him as an appreciation for what he accomplished and helped re-start in L.A.
Now whether that happens …
Rams coach Sean McVay acknowledges he could have handled the communication better when Jared Goff was traded to Detroit for Matthew Stafford.
The Chargers entered Week 6 with a 4-1 record but big concerns about their run defense. After getting rolled by the Ravens, who ran for 187 yards and a whopping 4.9 yards per carry, will the Chargers have to sacrifice pass coverage to stop the leaking? Or are there other solutions?
Farmer: The Ravens do that to everybody. When Brandon Staley’s defense loses, it gets run on. His whole philosophy is we’re going to stop the run with fewer people. When that doesn’t work, you get trampled. His whole defense is predicated on, “I’ll give you what you want in the run game, and I’ll stop it with a light front to have more people to cover the pass.” Hard to look at anything that happens against Baltimore and think that’s a true reflection of who you are. The Ravens are just a different team. Now, if the Chargers were to play Baltimore again in the playoffs, that wouldn’t be a good matchup for them.
Miller: Sam is right. The Chargers willingly gave up rushing yards to Kansas City in order to prevent Patrick Mahomes from going deep, for example. But the Chargers were rolled by Cleveland’s power ground game. Staley actually publicly praised their run defense Sunday and, for the record, they didn’t give up any big plays beyond a 22-yard scramble by Lamar Jackson. But, if this team is going to do anything deep into January, it will have to be better against the run, for sure.
Klein: All I know is that a few years ago, I watched the Ravens rush for nearly 300 yards in a 45-6 rout of the Rams. The Chargers are in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr. A tilt toward stopping the run does not seem prudent.
Speaking of the running game, Matthew Stafford never had one when he played for the Lions. Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel combined for 120 yards against the lowly Giants. Has the run game developed enough to give Stafford relief and make the Rams a solid playoff team ... if they make it?
Klein: Wait a second. If they make it? The Rams are 5-1 with likely routs coming up against the Lions and the Texans and a probable victory over the inconsistent Titans. That would make them 8-1. If my math is correct, and that’s always debatable, they’d only need to win three of their final eight games to finish with 11 wins. That would almost certainly put them in the playoffs. If Stafford stays healthy, the only question is whether the Rams can keep pace with the Cardinals. The running game is good enough. It’s just a matter of how much Stafford-enamored Sean McVay wants to utilize it.
Farmer: The Rams are OK running the ball. They’ve been able to run it when they need to, but this isn’t a run-first team — nor does it need to be. With Stafford at quarterback, Sean McVay is clearly more comfortable throwing the ball all over the field. The run game is really to mix it up, to control the clock to put away games, stuff like that. Is this going to be a balanced attack? No. But Stafford doesn’t need that. The Rams have had a lot of success throwing the ball, and they’re protecting. The two sacks of Stafford on Sunday were coverage sacks, not protection breakdowns.
The Chargers had one of the NFL’s most difficult schedules through six weeks, so rookie coach Brandon Staley is quite pleased with their 4-2 record heading into off week.
With the trade deadline approaching on Nov. 2, should the Chargers make a move to shore up any position? Injuries already have cut the depth at offensive line and linebacker.
Miller: I could see the Chargers looking to improve their depth, absolutely. This team sorely lacks explosiveness in the return game and could use some help along the defensive front. They are talented but still could use more talent, if that makes any sense.
Klein: That makes complete sense. Look at the Rams. In the last few years, they made trade-deadline deals for edge rusher Dante Fowler, offensive lineman Austin Corbett and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. All helped them make playoff runs.
Which Rams have benefited most from the dominance of Aaron Donald, who is constantly double-teamed and sometimes tripled teamed ... but still makes plays.
Farmer: I guess Leonard Floyd would be the obvious beneficiary. He’s collected almost as many sacks in 22 games with the Rams (15) as he did in four seasons in Chicago (17.5). But with Donald, everyone wins. With him there, almost everyone else on that defensive front is going to get one-on-one blocking. The linebackers get cleaner angles, the opposing receivers don’t have as much time to get open. Donald changes everything. Here’s the thing: You can do things to take a dominant outside rusher out of the game. It’s not easy, and it restricts you. But you can chip an edge rusher with backs or tight end, you can double-team him, you can run away from him, you can roll the pocket the other way. With Donald, you can’t do any of that because he’s coming from the interior. He barges up the middle caves in the pocket. You have to commit two offensive linemen to him — not a back or tight end — so that messes up your math.
Klein: Before we get too deep into this, let’s recognize the player who benefited most from Donald’s dominance. That would be former Ram Dante Fowler. He amassed a career-best 11½ sacks in 2019 and parlayed that into $22 million guaranteed from the Atlanta Falcons. Not coincidentally, Leonard Floyd replaced Fowler in 2020 and instantly produced a career season playing with Donald. For his efforts, Floyd got a new contract with nearly $33 million in guarantees. The bottom line, and I’m not only talking about money, is that everyone who plays with Donald benefits in some way.
Are there any signs that missing Chargers might be back after their off week? How far away are some of these injured players from returning? And how are the Rams weathering their injuries?
Miller: Chargers linebackers Kenneth Murray Jr. and Drue Tranquill, defensive tackle Justin Jones and safety Nasir Adderley all are expected back soon. Those additions can only help their ailing run defense. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s future is less certain. Staley said the Chargers expect Bulaga to return at some point, but there’s no timetable yet.
Klein: Cornerback Darious Williams is out at least two more games because of an ankle injury. McVay said Monday that back-up tight end Johnny Mundt and running back/kick returner Jake Funk are done for the season because of knee and hamstring injuries.
What we learned from Rams’ 38-11 win at the Giants: Safety Taylor Rapp intercepts two passes, saying when opportunity knocks you need to hold on to the ball.
The Rams play Detroit and Houston in the next two weeks. So factoring in Sunday’s game against the Giants, they’re not looking at a trap game but almost a trap month. Is this a dangerous stretch for them?
Farmer: Weirdly, yes. Good teams win the games they’re supposed to win, and the Rams should win these easily. That doesn’t always happen, though, so this will be a test. If you want to be an elite team, it’s not just about winning those games, but you almost have to think in terms of college style points. The schedule will get harder on the back end. This feels a bit like the Rams in 2017, McVay’s first season, when they bounced back from a close loss at home to Seattle and tore off convincing wins at Jacksonville (27-17), at home against Arizona (33-0) at the Giants (51-17), and at home against Houston (33-7). Suddenly, they looked up and they were 7-2.
Klein: Only if Stafford is injured or decides to take a few weeks off to binge watch “The Simpsons” “Law & Order or “Grey’s Anatomy.” Yes, it’s the NFL. I get that anything can happen. Last season the Rams lost at home to the then- 0-13 New York Jets. As entertaining as it would be to see Goff light up SoFi Stadium, the Rams won’t lose to the winless Lions. McVay and general manager Les Snead simply could not bear that. Their emotions would blow the canopy off the stadium. The Texans are a mess. The only trap is believing the Rams won’t be 7-1 on their way home from Houston.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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