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The Rams may only be one game better than they were at this point last season, but the feeling about this team is much more positive. At 7-2, they’re tied for the second-best record in the league and are just one game behind the NFC West-leading Cardinals.
We’ve learned a lot about this team in the first nine weeks and although there’s a lot of football still to be played, the Rams look like a lock to make the playoffs and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Here are seven takeaways from the first half of the season.
This offense is tough to stop – when it’s not beating itself
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
The Rams rank fifth in points, fourth in yards, second in net yards per pass attempt and first in drives ending with points. Yet, they only scored 16 points against the Titans and 20 against the Cardinals in their two losses. That’s because the Rams beat themselves in those games, with Stafford throwing half of his six interceptions against the Titans and Cards.
When the Rams aren’t beating themselves with penalties and turnovers, this offense is really tough to stop. They’ve scored at least 26 points seven times and most of their touchdown drives have been at least 70 yards long.
Essentially, they just have to stay out of their own way because few defenses can match the talent that the Rams have on offense.
Still no answer in the return game
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Five different players have returned a kickoff for the Rams this season yet none of them have done well enough to maintain the job. Combined, the Rams have 299 kick return yards on 17 attempts. They’ve also had three different punt returners and have totaled just 69 yards on 12 attempts.
As a team, the Rams rank 31st in kickoff return average (17.1 yards) and 29th in punt return average (5.8 yards). Their longest punt return is 17 yards, which is eighth-worst in the NFL and their longest kickoff return is only 28 yards, second-worst.
With Jake Funk and Tutu Atwell injured, the Rams have very few options left in the return game and it’s been a huge issue for the team all season.
Leonard Floyd is earning every penny of his new contract
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Floyd earned a four-year, $64 million extension from the Rams this past offseason after a strong first season in L.A. Some scoffed at the price but Floyd has done nothing but prove the Rams right for extending him.
He leads the team with 7.5 sacks, is second in QB hits (12) and has five tackles for a loss, holding down the left side of the defense at outside linebacker. He has a win rate of 19%, which ranks 15th in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and his 35 total pressures are 12th among all defenders.
Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey deservingly get most of the attention on defense, but Floyd has been awesome for the Rams this season.
Cooper Kupp isn't your average slot receiver
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Kupp lines up in the slot 67.2% of the time but he’s become much more than just your typical slot receiver. He’s joined the conversation as one of the best receivers in the NFL, perhaps the very best this season. He leads the league in every receiving category and has shown no signs of slowing down averaging more than 110 yards per game with 10 total touchdowns.
He’s been a huge part of the Rams’ success on offense this season, erupting in his first year with Stafford as his quarterback. Kupp was always productive but he’s never put up numbers like this before.
Best is yet to come on defense
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The Rams currently boast the highest defensive grade in the NFL this season at PFF but their best football is still ahead of them. They just got Darious Williams back from injured reserve, Von Miller could make his debut this week against the 49ers and Dont’e Deayon has provided a jolt at cornerback.
The pass rush is bound to improve with Miller coming aboard and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo getting better by the week. The secondary has good depth now, too, and the Rams seem to have figured out a good rotation in the secondary after demoting David Long Jr.
Road only gets tougher in second half
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The Rams more or less took care of business in the first half of the season, beating the teams they were supposed to. They also grabbed impressive wins over the Bucs, Seahawks and Colts, but it’s hard to be impressed by their victories over the Giants, Lions and Texans.
In the second half of the season, the Rams will face the 49ers twice, the Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Vikings and Ravens. Those will all be fairly tough games, but not ones they can’t win. We’ll learn a lot about this Rams team in the next eight games, showing us whether they’re actually Super Bowl contenders or just a team that feasted on lesser competition in the first half of the year.
Offensive line has been far better than expected
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Besides the inside linebacker group, no position was a bigger question mark for the Rams before the season began than the offensive line. Brian Allen has exceeded expectations, Austin Corbett has been solid at right guard and both tackles have maintained their high level of play, ranking among the best in football.
As a team, the Rams have allowed the second-lowest pressure rate in the NFL and only 13 total sacks in nine games, so the protection has been great. It’s a big part of Stafford’s success, particularly on deep passes when plays take long to develop down the field.