The Chargers came out on top at AFC West with an away win over the Eagles and a defeat for the Raiders by the Giants. The Rams are further behind leading NFC West Cardinals, with half of their remaining eight games in that division. Moderated by NFL Los Angeles Times editor Athan Atsales, Rams writer-editor Gary Klein, Chargers writer-writer Jeff Miller, and NFL writer Sam Farmer discuss their future:
Aside from the home date with the Jaguars, the Rams have a tough schedule for the rest of the journey. Given that they have already lost to the Cardinals, it looks like they are now two games behind Arizona. What do you think are the odds that their only exit in the postseason is a wildcard squad?
Farmer: This is how it looks now, but remember that we are only in the middle of the season. Much can – and will – happen now and then. Sean McVeigh has never lost to Arizona before this season, and even though the Cardinals will host the Rams in their December meeting, it is really difficult to beat an opponent in the division. Basically, the next Rams Cardinals game is huge.
Klein: I’m still waiting for the cardinals to become cardinals, but Cliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray and … Colt McCoy? – I will not let this happen. If the Cardinals maintain their pace, the Rams will take an alternative route to the playoffs. But as Sam says, between now and the end of the regular season, all sorts of crazy things are likely to happen. You can’t rule out the possibility that the Rams will win NFC West.
With Justin Herbert as the fifth quarterback in nine games this season, making over 80% of his passes against the Eagles – to Duck Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Derek Carr – you are still encouraged by the Chargers’ improvement in attack. ?
Farmer: To begin with, the Chargers beat the team that was on their schedule. They won the game they were supposed to win, and they did it in the Eastern Time Zone, which is no small feat. Of course, they will face tougher defenses than Philadelphia. Justin Herbert will be fine. Chargers need to worry more about their own inability to stop running.
Miller: But what happened on Sunday will happen when the defense lines up and plays their system against Herbert without trying to be terribly deceiving. This guy is too good not to make him diagnose what’s going on too. The most reassuring thing about the Chargers was how well their protection plan worked. The attack line played better, Herbert got rid of the ball quickly and they used rolls and bootlegs to get him to move with little space.
Klein: In the case of Justin Herbert, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler, there are plenty of reasons for inspiration. Aren’t we still looking forward to the Rams Chargers Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium?
The Titans did attack and destroy the center of the Rams’ offensive line, the quarterback’s worst nightmare. Is there a weak point?
Klein: Time will show. Jeffrey Simmons and Denico Autry, in particular, have made it difficult for Rams’ center Brian Allen and defenders David Edwards and Austin Corbett. You know that future and potential playoff opponents will look at the Titans’ circuit and try to imitate it. But part of the blame against the Titans rests entirely with Stafford. In some cases, he held the ball for too long.
FarmerIt was definitely an issue against the Titans and Jeffrey Simmons looked like Aaron Donald with those three bags in the first half. The Titans performed many tricks and twists and turns to create these opportunities. It’s unclear if the 49ers can be as effective as they’ve been weak in the middle so far. Arik Armstead may give them some trouble, but in reality he is more suited for defense, and San Francisco is nowhere near as strong in the interior as Tennessee. But yes, the Rams need to better block the ball in the interior, and Matthew Stafford needs to get the ball out of his hands faster. He acknowledged this after the game and now has a better chance of taking a check-down in such tense situations.
The chargers said they needed help intercepting, in addition to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Herbert hooked up to nine receivers this week, but LA averaged just 3.3 per ground carry at 89 yards. Which mileage-mileage balance do you think is best for chargers?
Farmer: Chargers must be able to navigate these tough areas reliably. That 98-yard ride on Sunday when they stopped at Philadelphia’s goal line set the tone and potentially shattered the spirit.
Miller: However, Coach Brandon Staley said he was pleased with the ground play on Sunday, noting that the Chargers were able to launch the ball when it mattered most – during their last decisive strike. This team shouldn’t be aiming for a 50/50 balance, let alone Justin Herbert as quarterback. As long as the Chargers can handle the ball in the red zone and in the fourth quarter, I think Staley and attack coordinator Joe Lombardi can handle it.
The Rams will then face off against their 49ers away in Monday Night Football, a match that always seems like a chess match between Los Angeles’s Sean McVeigh and San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan. The Rams are also closing the regular season against the Nines. What is usually the problem when you go against Shanahan’s 49s?
Klein: McVeigh approached Shanahan, so perhaps this disciple-master dynamic comes to his mind. Everyone jumps on the Jimmy Garoppolo case, but when he’s healthy enough it seems like he does a great job with the Rams, and sometimes impressively. Both Shanahan and his collaborators usually find themselves running away unnoticed to confuse the Taranov and create opportunities for George Keatle’s onslaught. Then there’s 49ers midfielder Fred Warner, one man destroying the team against the Rams.
Farmer: The 49ers did a good job heading against the Rams and obviously that kicked off the passing game. Tight end George Kittle returned to San Francisco after missing a month with a calf injury. He wasn’t at full speed on Sunday, but will probably be at the game on Monday night. Dibo Samuel, the 49’s answer to Cooper Kupp, has been treating his own calf injury but is also picking up steam again. In the absence of the two, receiver Brandon Ayuk has stepped up his game – people have been waiting for it – and as such, the 49ers should be fully prepared for their fight with the Rams. San Francisco is making big strides in this regard.
The Chargers’ defense continued to fight against the run, with the Eagles racing 176 yards averaging 4.5 per carry. Los Angeles now faces the Vikings and a much better defender in the form of Dalvin Cook, who ran 17 times for 110 yards this week against a good defense of the Ravens. How do you see chargers matching Minnesota?
Farmer: A tough match for Chargers in this regard. Dalvin Cook picked up speed and ran 110 yards against Baltimore on Sunday. The Chargers were trampled by Baltimore a few weeks ago, after losing 161 points to Nick Chubb in the shootout over Cleveland. Chargers have lost more yards than anyone (1,293) and are up to 5.0 yards per carry.
Miller: Running protection has improved over the past couple of games, which doesn’t mean it’s no longer a concern. Jalen Herts of Philadelphia has slightly changed the statistics, constantly breaking the rules of the game. But those yards also count. I expected Cook to have a big game against the Chargers, but quarterback Kirk Cousins is a Viking who will have to play winning games.
Klein: The day after Christmas the Rams will play the Vikings, so I’ll watch the Chargers play against Dalvin Cook. Rams Defense Coordinator Raheem Morris likes to say “statistics are for the losers.” Okay, in some cases I understand what he is saying. A team that is always in the lead is likely to shy away from an excessive number of passes, which may not reflect how well a minor player is playing. But when you look at the performance of the Chargers versus running, it’s hard to argue that they need to improve significantly.