Rams host Carolina Panthers with an offense in turmoil

INGLEWOOD — Rams coach Sean McVay attempted last month to downplay a situation with running back Cam Akers after saying he wasn’t challenging him through the media because they had prior conversations about needing to have more urgency.

“I was just kind of answering a question honestly, and I think it got a little bit more play than maybe what I had anticipated,” McVay said Sept. 14. “But bottom line is this, this is a guy I have a lot of confidence in. I know he’s going to respond the right way.

“We’ve absolutely had conversations where it’s because of the belief that I have, why I’m pushing him. Where guys should be worried is if I’m not believing, if I stop coaching, or don’t think you’re capable of it. That’s when I would be concerned about it.”

There should also be concern when a player is asked to stay home and not worry about the upcoming game, which is what occurred with Akers this week. McVay won’t be coaching Akers against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium because of “in-house” reasons he wanted to keep private.

After keeping Akers on the sideline for most of Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, McVay tried to spin it positively by telling reporters he wanted an increased level of urgency from the former Florida State star. McVay said the Rams were going to lean heavily on Akers and were confident he’d respond the right way, and on Akers’ 14-yard rushing touchdown in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals, it seemed he was responding the right way.

Since that scoring run and victory in Arizona, not much has gone right for McVay’s team. The Rams have scored one touchdown in the past nine quarters amid losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys.

The Rams (2-3) are also searching for their first touchdown in the fourth quarter this season. They have scored only three points in the final quarter – a field goal in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons.

“I can’t put my finger on that for you right now,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said about the scoring issues in the fourth quarter. “I don’t think it’s happening in any quarter enough, to be honest with you.”

A balanced attack with a productive ground game would help the Rams score points, but they struggled to do that with Akers and Darrell Henderson leading the way. The Rams now have to lean on Henderson heavily against the Panthers after not giving him a carry last week versus the Cowboys. The Rams also plan to have Malcolm Brown and Ronnie Rivers contribute at running back.

The Rams are 10-point betting favorites at home versus the Panthers (1-4), who will start third-string quarterback P.J. Walker after firing head coach Matt Rhule on Monday. The Panthers are in a worse situation, but the Rams’ offense can’t be trusted to cover 10 points after being held to 10 points or fewer in three of the five games this season.

On Friday, McVay said he hadn’t decided on who will play left guard, center and right guard, which summarizes their lack of consistency at offensive line this season, another reason why the Rams’ offense can’t find the end zone. The Rams will likely trot out their sixth offensive line combination in six weeks, this time against Panthers defensive end Brian Burns, who might be on the trading block along with star running back Christian McCaffrey.

The Rams are known for making aggressive trades and adding players like Burns and McCaffrey would fix most of their issues this season, but they might not have enough draft capital and salary cap space to make bold moves, although that has never been an issue for Rams general manager Les Snead.

“I don’t know,” McVay said Friday after being asked if they’ll look to trade for a running back. “I wouldn’t say no ever. We’ll always explore options if we feel like there’s chances to upgrade. That’s probably not something that’s at the forefront.”

For at least one week, the Rams will have to make it work with Henderson, and they’ll need to make it work with Joe Noteboom if they want him to be their left tackle for many years to come. Noteboom, who struggled against Buffalo’s Von Miller, San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Dallas’ Micah Parsons, now has to face Burns on Sunday.

“I think it’s been some things that are in alignment with what we expect from Joe,” McVay said. “Then there’s some things that he could do at a higher level. I think he’d be the first to be able to tell you that. The consistency is something that we’re hunting up from all of our players. But the good thing is that you’ve seen enough positives over the course of Joe’s career to really be able to build on it. Let’s learn from those things.

“He still is a young, developing player, but we want to be able to see that growth and maturation occur a little bit more quickly. I do have a lot of confidence in Joe that that will get done.”

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McVay provided an honest assessment on Noteboom, just like he did with Akers, and most evaluations for the Rams’ offensive players probably wouldn’t be positive outside of wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Stafford said he needs to stop committing turnovers, but McVay has given him a pass because of the poor protection and lack of rushing attack.

The Rams had opportunities to steal wins against the 49ers and Cowboys because their defense is keeping them in games. Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner and the rest of the Rams’ defense are doing their part, but the Rams might need more if the offense stalls again versus the Panthers. The defense can help by ending its three-game drought without a takeaway.

McVay kept asking Akers to respond and that didn’t work out. Asking the defense to be perfect on a weekly basis also won’t work out. The Rams need points in the fourth, third, second and first quarters from the broken offense.

“We’ve got to do a better job of putting points up early and often, and that’s what we are striving to do,” Stafford said.



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