The Los Angeles Rams may be all-in this season, but Sean McVay and Co. better figure who they actually are before any of their headline-grabbing moves actually matter.
With Monday's 31-10 loss to the rival San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium, the Rams have now dropped two in a row with major flaws running the risk of ruining any potential hope of a Super Bowl run. Make no mistake: The Rams are operating on a different standard after the investments they made with multiple high-profile acquisitions.
The organization sent two first-round picks, a third-round selection and former starting quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions because Matthew Stafford was supposed to be everything McVay wanted in a quarterback for the Rams' offensive scheme. Stafford was, for a time. He's now playing with the same rollercoaster energy that marred his 12 seasons in Motown.
Within the last two weeks, general manager Les Snead traded for outside linebacker Von Miller and signed recently released wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as a free agent. Both debuted Monday. Neither provided much in their first appearance with the Rams.
All of these moves overshadowed the fact the Rams aren't particularly tough in the trenches on either side of the ball nor built to handle bigger, more physical teams. Furthermore, Stafford gets rattled when he makes mistakes or the team gets down early.
Over the last two contests, the Tennessee Titans and Niners manhandled the Rams. A blueprint has been laid forth for future opponents. Not everyone can bring the same type of skill set as the previous two adversaries, but their efforts showed the Rams are far from infallible and more susceptible than they appeared to be during their 7-1 start to the 2021 campaign.
"I choose to believe that these last couple of weeks aren't who we are. I refuse to believe that," McVay said after the contest.
He added, "Our best players didn't play up to our standards."
Some type of transition should be expected any time new additions are made, particularly during the middle of a season. What happened Monday isn't a fair assessment of what Miller and Beckham can eventually bring to the table.
Miller had a little more time to prepare himself for his first start with the Rams, but he didn't look like the same explosive edge defender everyone grew accustomed to watching during his time with the Denver Broncos. He's still an excellent player and his comfort level will grow as the newness of the situation wears off over the next few weeks. He'll also be given more opportunities to rush the passer.
Beckham's transition may take a little longer, though Los Angeles will need his services more than expected after Robert Woods suffered a torn ACL during a Nov. 12 practice session. The squad's new receiver played only 15 snaps with two catches for 18 yards, per ESPN's Mike Clay. One of the game's biggest moments occurred on the Rams' initial drive when quarterback and receiver weren't on the same page with Stafford throwing into double-coverage for an easy 49ers interception.
Somewhere Baker Mayfield is slowly nodding his head. But the truth of the matter is the two have had barely any time to worth together and a rapport isn't automatic. Beckham's previous experience can certainly attest to that fact.
Still, it's far too early to make any type of assertions regarding what the Rams' latest additions will be. In the immediacy, the coaching staff must address the fact they were simply whooped at the point of attack for two straight weeks.
Los Angeles' defense fared much better against the Derrick Henry-less Titans and held their offense to 69 rushing yards per attempt and 2.7 yards per carry. The other side of the ball is another matter altogether. Tennessee's defensive line trio Jeffrey Simmons, Denico Autry and Harold Landry III terrorized the Rams' front five and the person they're supposed to protect. The Titans sacked Stafford five times with 11 more quarterback hits.
Protection issues continued against the 49ers. San Francisco wasn't quite as effective applying pressure, but the front seven consistently disrupted plays and reestablished the line of scrimmage.
Part of the issue stems from the Rams' approach. No team employs 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) more. McVay asks his wide receivers to be a big part of the blocking scheme, either in the run game or on manufactured touches in the passing game. Those types of plays aren't nearly as effective when defensive linemen are consistently winning their one-on-ones and getting into the backfield.
The head coach/play-caller isn't going to drastically change his approach. This is who the Rams are. It falls on those up front—left tackle Andrew Whitworth, left guard David Edwards, center Brian Allen, right guard Austen Corbett and right tackle Rob Havenstein—to hold their ground even when they're placed in difficult situations against elite defensive linemen.
Stafford can be rather good at improvising. But he'll also start to press when things begin to break down around him. When he does, turnovers and poor decisions often come to light.
From a larger point of view, the Rams are built to play from ahead. Keep in mind, the Rams fell behind 24-7 in the third quarter to the same 49ers team that lost 31-17 to the Colt McCoy-led Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.
"We've got to find out," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters when asked last week what's wrong with his defense. "It was extremely disappointing.
"I don't think we tackled very well. I didn't think we had 11 guys swarming to the ball enough. I think we made it pretty easy on those guys."
San Francisco made their adjustments, flew to the football and arrived with nasty intentions throughout Monday's contest. The same can't be said of Los Angeles' defense. In fact, the exact opposite happened. They were repeatedly punched in the mouth by the 49ers and failed to make the proper adjustments or play with the type of physicality necessary to offset the approach.
The 49ers' coaching staff made running the ball at least 40 times an emphasis throughout the week. Ultimately, San Francisco pounded the rock 44 times for 156 yards. They varied it up, too. They ran their outside zone, put wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the backfield at times and threw in some misdirection. But their success came down to one thing: The 49ers were the more physical team. Watch as tight end George Kittle obliterated Miller:
The above is one example of what the 49ers are built to do while simultaneously showing how the Rams struggle when facing a bigger, more aggressive opponent.
Aaron Donald is awesome in the middle of the Rams defense. He can't do everything, though. Others need to win matchups, get into the backfield and make plays. Some need to set the edge. Linebackers must read their keys and not get hung up on blocks. The approach of playing lighter boxes only works if individuals do their jobs and not lose gap responsibilities and/or pass-rush lanes. The Rams aren't doing the little things at the moment and it shows in how they've been handled as of late.
Fortunately for McVay's squad, the playoff picture has never been more muddled. No elite teams exist on either side of the ledger. The 7-3 Rams are still a top-four seed in the NFC as they enter their bye week with an opportunity to heal, build some chemistry and improve upon areas that were exposed during the last two contests.
"I don't see heads down in the locker room," Beckham told reporters.
If the Rams don't come out of their week off refreshed and far more physical on both sides of the ball, their all-in bet this year will go worse than it did for Teddy KGB in the cult hit "Rounders."