Here’s what we learned, what we heard and what comes next after a 20-12 road victory against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium to improve the Rams’ record to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the NFC West:
INEXPERIENCED PLAYERS STEP UP
Ben Skowronek, a second-year wide receiver, thought he did something wrong when Rams coach Sean McVay asked him to talk in his office the Wednesday before the Week 2 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
“I’ve never really met with Coach McVay one-on-one,” Skowronek recalled Monday. “I didn’t know what to expect and when the head coach tells you to come to his office, I don’t know, I was like, ‘What did I do?’”
Turned out, McVay listed all of Skowronek’s strong qualities before revealing his far-fetched idea of having him play fullback against the Falcons. The Rams had success with Skowronek in the backfield and had him play the position again against the Cardinals.
With Skowronek paving the way, the Rams had their best rushing output of the season with 100 yards – 66 of those from running back Cam Akers. Skowronek lowered his shoulder to knock back a Cardinals defender and cleared a lane for Akers on his 14-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. He also helped himself after he put a memorable hit on Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt to break free and record a reception.
McVay’s bold move has paid off, but he’s giving Skowronek most of the credit by calling him a “maniac” and a “war daddy.”
“Just my physicality at receiver,” Skowronek said about why McVay considered him for the new position. “Seeing that I could do that stuff. Maybe not in that position as fullback, but throughout the end of last year and throughout camp, being able to play in the slot alignments.”
The Rams have likely had many one-on-one conversations with their inexperienced players to start the season because of the several injuries that have sidelined key starters.
Skowronek, who also contributed a team-high four catches for 66 yards, was one of many players who made the most of their opportunities in Arizona.
After being inactive for the first two games of the season, rookie cornerback Derion Kendrick started at cornerback for his regular-season debut. Grant Haley, who didn’t play a defensive snap last season, was the Rams’ third cornerback with Kendrick and Jalen Ramsey.
Alaric Jackson made his first career start at right guard and had a productive outing with the offensive line only allowing one sack and provided plenty of time for quarterback Matthew Stafford to operate. Also, wide receiver Brandon Powell provided a spark and tight end Kendall Blanton had a memorable 28-yard catch in his first week back with the team.
“I was really pleased with the coaches and the players for doing a phenomenal job of not allowing (injuries) to be an excuse and just get ready to go and try to find a way to get a win,” McVay said.
Kendrick had some trouble with Cardinals receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, but the sixth-round pick from Clemson and Georgia kept most plays in front of him and didn’t allow quarterback Kyler Murray opportunities to connect with Brown downfield.
Kendrick left the game in the fourth quarter and was placed in the concussion protocol, but McVay said he’s trending in the positive direction and expressed optimism about him being available next week.
“Derion Kendrick, he held his own,” Rams outside linebacker Terrell Lewis said. “He stepped right in and held his own and he brought an additional energy, a little fire to him. I like the way he plays out there.”
Lewis is one of the Rams’ key players, but he also stepped up by keeping Murray contained in the pocket and had a sack and two hits on the pesky quarterback. The Rams have been waiting two-plus seasons for Lewis to reach his potential and this could be the year he does that after a strong start to 2022.
“I like where I’m at,” Lewis said. “I know I can take it even further. I think I left a couple (plays). It was a couple plays where I’m like, ‘Man, that was almost a sack or that was almost a pick.’ Just keep building off it and just keep getting comfortable.”
Ben Skowronek thought he did something wrong when Sean McVay asked him to talk in his office the Wednesday before the Falcons game. That’s when he learned he’s playing fullback.
“He saw in me, my physicality. Hey, let’s try this and it’s worked out.” #Rams pic.twitter.com/kdICfQ8RF7
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) September 26, 2022
STAFFORD’S CLEAN GAME
Stafford didn’t record a passing touchdown in a game for the first time since joining the Rams last season. But more importantly, Stafford ended a streak of four consecutive games with an interception, including the final two playoff games last season.
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Stafford started this season by throwing three interceptions against the Buffalo Bills and two against the Falcons last week. He went 18 of 25 for 249 yards against the Cardinals.
“He’s played really well for the last two weeks,” McVay said. “I thought he played a really clean game (against Arizona). I thought he had great command, great control. Thought he saw the field incredibly well.”
Stafford missed two downfield shots against the Cardinals, but he made up for it after he broke free from linebacker Zaven Collins on third-and-11 to sidearm a laser pass to Cooper Kupp to record a pivotal first down in the third quarter.
“There were a couple plays that not many people in the world can make,” McVay said. “Yes, very pleased with his performance.”
The Rams now turn their focus to the San Francisco 49ers for a “Monday Night Football” clash between the NFC West rivals.
The Rams, who sit atop the division standings, will be searching for their first win at Levi’s Stadium since 2018.