LOS ANGELES (AP)After five games, the Los Angeles Rams don’t look much better or much worse than most people predicted after their eventful offseason of roster-stripping and reconstruction.
The Rams (2-3) have several very good players, but they have far more average players. Record-setting rookie receiver Puka Nacua is tops among a few young players showing they’re ready for the prominent roles they’ve been given, but even more youngsters just aren’t there yet.
With the missed opportunities of the Rams’ 23-14 loss to unbeaten Philadelphia still fresh, Los Angeles coach Sean McVay vowed to get more out of his revamped team more quickly.
“I know they’re capable of making those plays,” McVay said Sunday. “I’m excited about going back to work with these guys and figuring out how we can continue to demonstrate the resilience, the response that’s in alignment with what we want.”
McVay welcomed the challenge of rebuilding the Rams after they gutted the injury-plagued remnants of their Super Bowl team and decided to pay nearly all of their bills at once for their big-name-coveting, free-spending practices on the way to a championship. Los Angeles thrust its draft picks and undrafted finds into big roles while waiting to spend big again next spring.
That’s led to a starting offensive line with multiple undrafted players and a rookie protecting Matthew Stafford, a defensive line with two undrafted starters and a fourth-round pick supporting Aaron Donald, and a secondary with three starters getting their first significant NFL roles.
The result has been pretty much what you’d expect.
“There’s a lot of learning opportunities, and that’s going to be consistent with any team, but I think especially (about) a lot of guys that are going through things for the first time,” McVay said. “I’m not making excuses at all, because we expect to accelerate our progression, and I believe in this group.”
In truth, nothing has happened yet to the Rams that probably wouldn’t have happened if they had pulled out all the stops to contend.
They’ve lost competitive games to San Francisco, Cincinnati and Philadelphia – three opponents that reached conference championship games last season – and beaten Seattle and Indianapolis. The schedule gets less daunting now, with visits from Arizona and Pittsburgh, followed by trips to Dallas and Green Bay before the bye week.
The Rams still don’t know if this collection of draft picks, spare parts and a few stars can be a real playoff contender, but they’re making every attempt to win with what they’ve got.
“I know we’re doing everything we can,” said Stafford, the NFL’s fourth-leading passer with 1,451 yards. “Putting the work in, continue to work, trust that work that we do put into it on a weekly basis, go out there and trust yourself on the game day.”
The Rams got a glimpse of their probable path forward on offense during their excellent opening drive when Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Nacua and Tutu Atwell picked apart the vaunted Eagles with their short passing game. LA couldn’t sustain that effectiveness, but whenever Stafford’s offensive line gave him time to work, he fed Kupp and Nacua relentlessly for 15 of his 21 completions and 189 of his 222 yards passing.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Rams’ pass rush has been particularly ineffective this season, which is no surprise after the team released Leonard Floyd and didn’t replace him. Los Angeles has just eight sacks in five games. Aaron Donald gets every offensive line’s full attention because they don’t fear the rest of the front. Although rookie edge rusher Byron Young is learning fast on the job, he isn’t as effective against the run as Floyd was.
Kupp was excellent in his first football game in 11 months, catching eight passes for 118 yards. The Super Bowl 56 MVP expects to get more comfortable as he settles into the offense, and Nacua already has proved to be an excellent complement.
After trading Jalen Ramsey and allowing Troy Hill and David Long to walk, the Rams hoped sixth-round pick Derion Kendrick and fourth-round pick Cobie Durant would grow into starting cornerbacks – although they also blinked by signing veteran Ahkello Witherspoon right before training camp. While Witherspoon has been good, neither Kendrick nor Durant look ready to be difference-makers yet. Kendrick had a rough Sunday trying to cover A.J. Brown, notably committing back-to-back penalties near halftime. McVay also praised veteran Duke Shelley, who got nine snaps in his Rams debut.
Starting nose tackle Bobby Brown will be out for five to seven weeks after spraining a ligament in his right knee. McVay said the injury fortunately wasn’t as serious as it looked when Brown left the field on a cart. … Right tackle Rob Havenstein and center Coleman Shelton both should be fine to play this week after getting hurt late in the game, McVay said.
2 – The number of offensive snaps played by receiver Van Jefferson against the Eagles. The 2020 second-round pick has been passed on the depth chart by Nacua, Atwell and even Ben Skowronek. It’s probably time for the Rams to trade Jefferson, who will be a free agent next year.
Starting with the Cardinals’ visit to SoFi Stadium on Sunday, the next month will determine whether the Rams can grow into a playoff contender or whether they’ll be better off completely punting away a second straight season.
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