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In the blink of an eye, we’ve already wrapped up five weeks of the Rams’ season. Los Angeles sits at 4-1 through five games, ranking in the top 10 of total offense and second in passing yards.
It’s been a strong start for Sean McVay’s squad, despite sitting one game behind the division-leading Arizona Cardinals. There’s still a long way to go, of course, but it’s hard not to like the way the Rams have played in the first month of the season.
Here are five things we’ve learned about this team with five games in the books.
Offensive line is a strength
The Rams’ offensive line has been one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far, and it’s encouraging to see. Brian Allen has been at the forefront of the progression made by this group, which ranks second in pass-blocking grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Rams have allowed just five sacks all season and three of their six highest-graded players on offense are linemen – led by Rob Havenstein, Andrew Whitworth and Allen. Matthew Stafford has had a ton of time in the pocket and long-developing plays are working because of the protection up front, which has made the offense more explosive and dangerous.
There really isn’t a weak link along the offensive line and the interior blocking has been excellent in the passing game. When the Rams run the ball, Havenstein and Austin Corbett have been opening up big lanes on the right side.
If the offensive line continues to play the way it has, the Rams will be tough to beat.
Matthew Stafford has lived up to the hype
It’s pretty safe to say the Rams’ trade for Matthew Stafford has worked out. He’s been one of the better quarterbacks in the league through five games, tossing 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions, with an NFL-best 8.81 net yards per pass attempt. He’s currently averaging career-highs in completion percentage (68.0), yards per attempt (9.2), yards per game (317.4) and passer rating (113.2), standing out for his new team.
He’s a big reason the Rams are 4-1, even if he doesn’t deserve all of the credit for their eighth-ranked offense. Stafford is pushing the ball downfield and threatening defenses deep, which the Rams simply weren’t doing last season. It’s no wonder he’s among the favorites to win MVP in this early part of the season. He’s been that good.
Secondary isn't quite as good as last year’s group
There was expected to be a regression in the secondary after the Rams lost John Johnson and Troy Hill in free agency. It wasn’t terribly obvious in the first couple of weeks, but it’s become apparent in the last three games that the secondary isn’t as great as last year’s unit.
Taylor Rapp has struggled in coverage and has already missed five tackles, while David Long Jr. and Robert Rochell have failed to play up to the level that Hill was last season. It got so bad for Long in Week 4 that he was benched in favor of Rochell against the Seahawks last week.
The Rams need to figure out how to improve the defensive backfield because if Long and Rochell continue to make mistakes in coverage, quarterbacks won’t even throw at Jalen Ramsey or Darious Williams.
Rams can get by with their inside linebackers
During the offseason, inside linebacker was viewed as the weakest position on defense. That hasn’t necessarily changed after five games. Kenny Young has had his lapses in coverage, as has Troy Reeder. They’ve been decent against the run but far from spectacular with very few impactful plays.
But with the way the defensive line is playing, the Rams can survive with the play they’re getting out of their inside linebackers. That was the case last season, too, when Micah Kiser, Reeder and Young made up the worst position group on the Rams’ No. 1-ranked defense. Reeder has begun to overtake Young, too, playing more snaps than Young for the first time in Week 5. Hopefully with more time on the field, Reeder will begin to emerge as a reliable linebacker in the middle.
Running game doesn’t need to be great
With Stafford now leading the offense, the Rams don’t need their running game to carry the load the way it did with Todd Gurley years ago. They’d probably like to average better than 3.8 yards per carry and rank higher than 23rd in rushing yards, but it has been plenty good enough to complement Stafford and the passing game.
When healthy, Darrell Henderson Jr. has looked good, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, which is the best of his career. He has yet to carry the ball more than 17 times in a game, yet he’s still rushed for at least 53 yards each week he’s been active with three total touchdowns and 90 yards receiving on the year.
Sure, the Rams could be more efficient when running the ball, especially with Sony Michel, but it’s not as if they’ve abandoned the run with no threat of gaining yards on the ground. It’s just that the offense has been more effective when throwing it.
Special teams hasn’t gotten any better
There was hope that the arrival of Joe DeCamillis would help a special teams unit that was one of the worst in the NFL last season, but not much has changed yet. There have been no long returns by Tutu Atwell or Jake Funk on punts and kickoffs, Matt Gay had two kickoffs go out of bounds last week – in addition to missing a PAT – and the Rams have struggled to contain opposing returners.
Thankfully, Johnny Hekker has been better this season, averaging 40.5 net yards per punt. He has pinned nine of his 13 punts inside the 20 and doesn’t have a touchback, an impressive stretch through five games. Because the Rams offense hasn’t been stalling out often, he hasn’t had many opportunities to boom punts 60-plus yards. But he’s done a nice job putting opponents in tough spots.
There just has to be more consistency overall from this group. Nick Scott’s blunder against the Colts almost cost the Rams a win and Gay’s mistakes the last two weeks are somewhat concerning.
Sean McVay has been too conservative
McVay has always played it safe on fourth down, often opting for field goal attempts and punts in situations where other coaches might go for it. But with Stafford now under center, there’s no excuse for McVay’s conservative calls and lack of aggression.
His punt from midfield while trailing and field goal attempt down 14 against the Cardinals in Week 4 were alarmingly bad and were an example of why McVay should be going for it more on fourth down. He’s a brilliant play designer and knows how to scheme receivers open, giving the Rams a great chance to convert on fourth down.
They’re averaging 6.7 yards per play this season, having very little trouble moving the ball on offense. When it’s fourth-and-short, he should trust his players and put the ball in Stafford’s hands.