Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Rams are back on top in the NFC West and currently hold the No. 2 seed in the conference. After beating the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, the Rams moved to 7-3 on the year, having won back-to-back games against Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Their win over the Bucs on the road was especially impressive, beating Tom Brady for the first time since 2001. They held Tampa Bay to just 251 total yards, once again stepping up in a big way during the second half.
Here are six key takeaways from the Rams’ Week 11 victory before they head back home to host the 49ers in Week 12.
Defense’s success doesn’t hinge on Donald’s dominance
Aaron Donald is the best player on the Rams’ defense, but he’s not the only great one. It’s a complete team effort on that side of the ball, as evidenced by the defense’s performance against the Buccaneers. Even when Donald was held without a single tackle, sack or QB hit, the Rams still allowed just 251 yards of total offense to Tom Brady and a high-powered Bucs offense. Donald still impacts the game by disrupting things quickly in the backfield, but this defense doesn’t rely on his play to be great. Even when he has a quiet night, everyone else steps up to create big plays for the Rams.
Offensive line held up without Whitworth
This was Jared Goff’s first start since 2016 without Andrew Whitworth protecting his blindside. And as good as Whitworth is, Joe Noteboom didn’t miss a beat at left tackle. He didn’t have his name called by the broadcast crew, which is a great sign for an offensive lineman – especially one making his first career start at left tackle. There was a slight sense of panic and worry when Whitworth went down, and understandably so. However, the early returns on Noteboom have been promising and show that if he can hold up against Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, he can block most pass rushers.
Rams nearly gave the game away in the second half
It seemed like the Rams were trying to do everything they could to lose this game. Goff threw two second-half interceptions, McVay’s play-calling was questionable and the ground game could do nothing to get going. Goff said after the game that he was “making some pretty dumb mistakes, honestly,” acknowledging that he didn’t play his best in the second half. McVay’s play selection and decision-making down the stretch was especially troublesome. While the Rams were leading 24-17, McVay called just three rushing plays for his running backs, one of which was on third-and-16 where the Rams were just trying to use some clock. Against the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL, it wasn’t a terrible decision to have Goff throw the ball 51 times, but McVay’s decision to continually throw it while leading nearly cost L.A. the game. His worst call was on third-and-8 from the Buccaneers’ 22-yard line late in the fourth, a run play for Malcolm Brown that gained zero yards. Luckily, Matt Gay made the 40-yarder to give the Rams a lead, but leaning on the field goal unit in that situation was dicey.
Kupp and Woods made a strong statement as a top WR duo
The Buccaneers have Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, giving them arguably the best wide receiver trio in the NFL. But in this game, it was all about Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Kupp caught 11 passes for 145 yards, and Woods tacked on 12 catches of his own for 130 yards and a touchdown. The two of them had more yards and receptions on fewer targets than the Bucs’ trio, which is quite impressive. They’re also the first Rams wide receiver duo to each catch at least 10 passes in the same game. Kupp and Woods still won’t garner the attention and praise that Evans, Godwin and Brown do, but they’re unquestionably one of the best tandems in football.
McVay understandably leaned on Goff
The Rams knew they would probably have a hard time running the ball against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL for the second year in a row, rarely giving up big yardage on the ground. With that in mind, McVay trusted his quarterback and receivers, having Goff throw the ball 51 times. He turned those 51 attempts into 39 completions for 376 yards and three touchdowns, also throwing two interceptions. There are times when it’s frustrating to see McVay call so many pass plays, but this was more understandable than those other instances. His play-calling late in the game was still poor, but not because it was pass-heavy. It was the play selection that was the issue.
Rams can win in a variety of ways – and play with any team
If the Rams need to run the ball 40 times to win a game, they can do it. If the defense forces them to throw it more often, they can still win in that fashion (usually). They can play man coverage on defense, drop back in zone, rush the passer and send extra rushers at the quarterback on blitzes with success. They can win close games, claw back from big holes (see: Week 3 vs. Bills) and beat you in a variety of ways. Yes, they got bullied by the 49ers and Dolphins and played a sloppy style of football in the first half against Buffalo, but the Rams team we’ve seen the last two weeks is one that can play with anyone. The Rams are legitimate contenders in the NFC, sitting at No. 2 in the current seeding. If they get into the playoffs, which seems likely now, watch out.