THOUSAND OAKS — Rams coach Sean McVay has witnessed several mental mistakes from his offense the past two games, the type of mistakes he’s never seen before in his five-plus years in Los Angeles. The kind that can make head coaches reevaluate schematically midway through a season.
“Mental mistakes have occurred that have never been reflected in the last five years of how we’ve operated,” McVay said. “They have reared its ugly head.”
Another first for McVay is the long list of injuries this season, particularly on the offensive line, which explains why missed assignments have occurred frequently and why the offense has scored only one touchdown in the past nine quarters amid a two-game losing streak.
With the Rams dealing with injuries and mental mistakes on the field, that has put McVay in a balancing act of implementing scheme and personnel changes to keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright while also being mindful of the offense already lacking continuity. Adding more changes to a unit with many moving parts could create more never-seen-before mental errors.
Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen provided a glimpse into that delicate balance of trying to spark the offense on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers with the bye week on the horizon.
“We’re going into a game before the bye,” Coen said Thursday. “It’s a fine line of do we try to go and get ultra creative? Obviously, it’s an important game. We need to go win this football game. That being said, is this the time to really have to reevaluate everything that we’re doing up front? Sometimes you just don’t have a lot of time to do that in a one-week span, so that’s maybe something we look at after this game.
“But I do think right now a lot of the issues that we had this past week were communication and just everybody being on the same page. When you have multiple different players up front in every single game, there’s no chemistry. There’s no continuity that you’re able to build and gain on and work off the previous week because it’s been a little bit of a carousel with those guys.”
Judging from Coen’s comments and how the Rams’ offensive line has lined up at practice this week, the team will likely have a starting offensive line of left tackle Joe Noteboom, left guard Bobby Evans, center Jeremiah Kolone, right guard Alaric Jackson and right tackle Rob Havenstein against the Panthers, who fired head coach Matt Rhule earlier this week.
If that’s the case, the Rams are siding with continuity over more change to protect Stafford against Panthers defensive end Brian Burns, who might be just as good as San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Dallas’ Micah Parsons, the pair of star edge rushers who wrecked the Rams’ offensive plans the past two games.
Noteboom and Havenstein have struggled this season, but they’re the starting tackles for the Rams and their positions aren’t in question. Evans has filled in for David Edwards, Kolone is the third-string center playing for Brian Allen and Jackson has started the past three games with Coleman Shelton moving from right guard to center before landing on injured reserve with an ankle injury. The team is also lacking offensive line depth after the season-ending injuries to guards Logan Bruss and Tremayne Anchrum, but the Rams did add guard Oday Aboushi and center Matt Skura, two veteran players who joined the team in the past month.
On Wednesday, McVay said he hadn’t decided on who will play center and left guard this week, leaving the door open for Aboushi and Skura.
“I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button and go, ‘Hey, we need to reevaluate everything that we’re doing,’” Coen said. “This week we need to do it at a higher level. Get back to basics, fundamentals, techniques and see where we can go.”
Perhaps the Rams are hesitant to make personnel changes to the offensive line this week because Allen and wide receiver Van Jefferson could be available to play after the bye week, and if those vital players are available, then maybe the scheme changes don’t have to be drastic.
But McVay will eventually have to make changes to help Stafford and ignite his offense, and minimal change might not be enough after Stafford took 12 sacks and 22 hits in a six-day span against the stout defenses of the 49ers and Cowboys. The Rams will face the 49ers again after the bye week and they might face the Cowboys again if the Rams find their way into the playoffs.
Minimal change likely won’t get it done against those teams and it likely won’t work out against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9’s road matchup if all the Rams do is place wide receiver Ben Skowronek at fullback.
The Rams need drastic changes and it might be wise to begin implementing the scheme tweaks against the Panthers, who are 10-point betting underdogs. Limping into the bye week at 3-3 with reinforcements possibly coming is the best-case scenario right now for the defending Super Bowl champions, but 2-4 can also occur if the Rams don’t figure out how to block for Stafford on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Aboushi and Skura might be on the bench again this week because the Rams want to build continuity and McVay has favored Jackson, Evans and Kolone amid the offensive line injuries because they’re familiar with his system. Those three players, however, lack experience and that could explain the surge in missed assignments. Aboushi and Skura have 112 total career starts compared to 13 combined total starts between Kolone, Jackson and Evans.
As for scheme changes, McVay found a way to stick to the 11 personnel by using Skowronek as a fullback, but that didn’t work the past two games. Maybe adding bigger personnel, such as two-tight-end sets or six offensive linemen, could help Stafford. Kendall Blanton, perhaps the team’s best blocking tight end, only played two offensive snaps against the Cowboys while tight end Tyler Higbee played 63 of the 65 snaps.
“We just gotta get what coaches are calling and go execute and after that we’ll win some more games, I promise,” Blanton said. “McVay knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing this longer than I’ve been in the league. We just gotta buy in and move forward.”
McVay is sticking with his staple of three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back, maybe not out of stubbornness, but more because of lack of time and the team’s quest to find continuity.
Sean McVay: Rams haven’t made last offer to Odell Beckham Jr.
Rams review: Rob Havenstein wants better mindset from OL after loss to Cowboys
Alexander: Rams’ offensive line issues hit them hard again
Matthew Stafford, Rams take more hits in loss to Cowboys
Rams’ Darrell Henderson gets no carries amid another sluggish rushing attack
Changes are likely coming because the team needs to establish a rhythm on the ground and get wide receiver Allen Robinson involved in the offense. But first, they want chemistry on the offensive line.
“We’re just trying to function right now at a high level,” Coen said.
KUPP FEELING GOOD
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is dealing with a foot injury, but he said he’s fine and expects to play against the Panthers.
“Just working through it,” Kupp said. “I’ll be alright. I was able to play through the game last week. It’s just managing it again, getting it under control and feeling good about it.”
Kupp said the injury occurred a few plays before his 75-yard touchdown against the Cowboys last week. He missed practice Wednesday and was a limited participant on Thursday.
Running back Cam Akers missed practice Thursday because of personal reasons.