INGLEWOOD – The rhetoric was similar to what it’s been in three of the first five weeks of the Rams’ season. Adversity … execution … challenges … and the recognition that there’s still plenty of runway to recover from a 2-3 start.
But in the midst of it, Sean McVay got to the heart of what ails the Rams offensively these days.
“I love Matthew Stafford,” he said. “He is competing and doing everything in his power for this team.
“He needs some help.”
It’s a fundamental of football. If the offensive line can’t give the quarterback the time and space to execute, or give the running backs sufficient holes to gain yardage, everything breaks down. And right now the Rams’ offensive line is patchwork.
They were operating with their third center of the season in Sunday’s 22-10 loss to Dallas, Jeremiah Kolone handled the chore Sunday, with original starter Brian Allen still at least another week away from returning from a knee injury and guard-center Coleman Shelton out for at least another month with a high ankle sprain. And guard David Edwards, who had suffered a concussion on the practice field two weeks ago and missed last Monday’s loss to San Francisco, went down early in the fourth quarter Sunday and was again evaluated for possible concussion symptoms.
When you have to keep patching holes at a position, you suffer the effects. These were some of them Sunday:
• Stafford passed for 308 yards, including a 54-yard strike to Tutu Atwell in the first quarter to set up a field goal, and a 75-yard pass play to Cooper Kupp (most of it yards after catch) for the Rams’ only touchdown of the day in the second quarter. But he was sacked five times, lost fumbles on two of those sacks – one of them returned for a touchdown three plays into the game – and had one pass picked off.
• Cam Akers had 41 rushing yards in the first quarter alone. But it got a lot tougher to run as the day went on, and he finished with 33 of the Rams’ 38 net rushing yards, a total that’s just not going to get it done and certainly won’t ease the pressure on the quarterback.
• Special teams weren’t immune, either. A blocked punt in the first quarter led to a Dallas field goal, and Riley Dixon had another punt almost blocked. (Maybe those failures set up the one Rams’ trick play that worked, when Dixon went back to punt in the second quarter, two Dallas rushers came streaming through the line and Dixon flipped a 12-yard pass to Jake Gervase for a first down. John Fassel, once the Rams’ special teams guru and now on the Dallas staff, had to have winced at that one.)
By and large, it’s pretty evident the Rams aren’t going to solve their problems until they get their line issues fixed. Just what will it take until people are healthy?
“I don’t know if I have that answer right now,” McVay said. “But we’ve got to be able to figure it out, whether it’s guys that are playing right now or whether we need to figure out some other options. But it’s not good enough and it’s not exclusive to one player, to one position. There are some things that consistently are glaring issues for us, that are preventing us (from being) able to operate at a level that you guys have seen from us.
“But that doesn’t matter right now. This is where we are and this is the moment that we’re in.”
Guard Oday Aboushi is here largely because of that injury siege. He’s a seven-year veteran from Virginia who was with the Chargers last year but suffered a torn ACL in Week 5, was signed to the Rams’ practice squad after Week 1 and was promoted to the active roster after Week 2.
Does he feel like he’s part of an embattled group, desperately trying to bail water from a leaky skiff and somehow get it to shore?
“It’s been a tough year so far,” he said. “But Coach always says you find out who guys are when stuff like that happens. So we just got to do a better job with our mindset and not let stuff like that affect us. Just embrace the opportunity, embrace the pressure. You know, things haven’t started the way we wanted to, (so) what is that going to make us do to turn it around?”
It is, of course, part of the game, and the “next man up” ethos is ingrained in the NFL culture. And while Stafford’s coach recognizes that he needs help, the quarterback himself will decline to use it as an excuse or rationalization. That, too, is part of the culture.
“There’s been a lot of a lot of guys dinged up, up front for us,” Stafford said. “Guys have done a really nice job having to come in mid-game a couple of the last couple of games and try to spell some guys that have had some things. So, you know, that’s part of it. Everybody in this league is going through something.
“It’s probably a bigger challenge for those guys up front than it is for me, I’m not in combination blocks with those guys. I’m not communicating some of the verbal, nonverbal stuff that they do up front. I mean, it’s always a challenge whenever you, you know, have new guys and new spots. But it’s professional football. We’re used to those, you know, those issues happening. And we just got to do a better job of executing.”
(It’s also worth noting that the last two opponents, the 49ers and Cowboys, are among the league leaders in sacks. Were these last two games mismatches? Maybe.)
“There’s a challenge right now,” McVay said.
“It’s not a good movie right now. It’s not something that we’re accustomed to. But the story isn’t written yet. This is only final if we allow it to be. And so we’ve got a lot of football left. The urgency has to start to increase and we’ve got to be able to see it.”
That urgency needs to start up front, be it coaching, execution, or acquisition, and it needs to start soon.