What I learned: Aaron Donald makes a late run for Defensive Player of the Year
Matthew Stafford will wake up this morning with a lot of hatred after a terrible performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. His performance of 197 yards, three interceptions and a touchdown earned him a QBR of 46.8, his lowest of the season. He often went into double coverage and missed open receivers, but the Los Angeles Rams always came away with a win.
The sign of a good team is one that has the ability to win even when their quarterback is playing some of their worst football. An even better team is one that overcomes adversity. Despite all the disappointment with Stafford, the past two weeks for the Rams’ facility have been hectic. Forced to a short week due to a Covid-19 outbreak, players had to “train” remotely for much of the two-week period. No matter what time it is late in the season, Stafford is always working to build relationships with his receivers and missing those reps live with them is costly, especially with Odell Beckham Jr. always adjusting to the ‘team.
Los Angeles is peaking at just the right time as they fight for an NFC West crown after already winning their playoff ticket. Stafford will need to improve on the home stretch, but he has already proven over the weeks that he can be the elite. After a few irregular weeks, hopefully there will be some semblance of normalcy this week as LA prepares to face the Baltimore Ravens.
Until we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are four more things I learned in week 16.
This team can win in several ways
When Stafford was not at his best, everyone on the team took a big step forward to claim victory. After Ernest Jones came out with an injury, Travin Howard replaced and in his first snap of the game he intercepted a downhill pass into the corner of the end zone. The offensive line performed admirably given their predicament, including dealing with an injury in the game to starting center Brian Allen and left guard Andrew Whitworth with Covid-19. Stafford hasn’t been sacked once and they helped propel Sony Michel to a 131-yard rushing day.
When their quarterback threw interceptions on their own turf, the defensive unit as a whole kept the Vikings from climbing the scoring and forced them to settle for field goals instead. Jalen Ramsey’s days as a passer appear to be almost over after sticking to Justin Jefferson like glue for most of the game. He only allowed the aspiring star to catch four receptions for 40 yards when he was in charge of cover. The defensive line conceded three sacks and left Kirk Cousins ââuncomfortable for most of the game. While the scoreboard may have Minnesota at 23 points, the defense has played some of their best football given the circumstances their offense put them in.
Aaron Donald did not lose a step
If we’re looking for the reasons the Rams found a way to win when some pieces of the puzzle were missing, look no further than Convenience Store Aaron Donald for the answer. Donald continues to plead for Defensive Player of the Year after finishing the game with three tackles for a loss, one sack and seven presses from the quarterback. His effectiveness in the running game has also been one of the most impressive footballs I have seen this year.
The defensive line takes on its full meaning at the end of the season. Von Miller becomes more and more comfortable over the weeks, Leonard Floyd continues to prove why he had his payday and Greg Gaines becomes a beast in his own right. It’s obvious the teams are showing more respect to the guys around Donald, finally freeing Donald to show his ruin talent. With the future Hall of Fame playing some of his best football starting in January, the defense is finally reaching elite levels after questions arose about Raheem Morris’ plan at the start of the season.
Brandon Powell to the rescue
At the start of the 2021 season, Los Angeles had what appeared to be a loot of riches back on the special teams position. Louisville’s elusive rookie Tutu Atwell seemed like the more exciting option, but a veteran who still had a quick stride in DeSean Jackson and an underdog in Jake Funk were other options as well. It clearly didn’t go well, as Tutu Atwell and Jake Funk were injured early in the season, and Jackson wanted to come out after realizing it was Cooper Kupp’s show at THE.
With all the backhands in position, it was Kupp who fielded the majority of the punts. It was evident, however, that the position was only temporary for the LA superstar, who was too busy breaking franchise and NFL records to worry about punt return homework.
This became more evident in a Week 12 match against the Green Bay Packers that the return position of the punt had to be determined, and quickly. JJ Koski got the nod from the practice squad to play the role of the Rams’ returning man, but damaging turnover on a comeback was enough proof he wasn’t. the answer.
In week 13 against Jacksonville JaguarsIt became the spectacle of Brandon Powell when he took the opening kickoff from 65 yards. Fresh out of free agency, Powell has become the answer to the rematch on special teams.
Which brings us back to this week. As the offense looked to give the game to the Vikings in a well-deserved win to take the division’s top spot, Powell fielded a punt on his own 39-yard line. He made his way to the sideline, pointed to the only defender left to block, and turned on the throws en route to the end zone, ending it all with a flip over the white line.
It was only the second punt return for a touchdown all season, and the first for the Rams organization since Tavon Austin made it in 2015 against the Seattle Seahawks. The touchdown meant far more than just six points for LA, it meant stability in a position they have lacked throughout the season.
This team is reminiscent of that of 2018 super bowl team
If you were to watch the tape at the start of the season and compare it to LA’s last four wins, the teams’ identities would be very different. Sean McVay’s offense was defined by quick scoring, chunky play and relying on the pass to set the run up to start the season. An embarrassing Week 9 loss for the Tennessee Titans, however, brought the Rams’ top-flight attack to a standstill and gave the rest of the league the plan to defeat LA, leading to a three-game losing streak.
Something similar happened during the Rams’ Super Bowl season in 2018. Although McVay ended defensive football with an offense that plotted the wide-opening receivers, the Chicago Bear humiliated the NFL’s top team by limiting Jared Goff and his company to just six points. Los Angeles would then lose their next game against the Philadelphia Eagles before ending their losing streak against the Arizona Cardinals next week. In that year’s playoffs, McVay turned to a first-class offense, straddling the duo of Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson throughout the playoffs and into the Promised Lands.
After their losing streak in the middle of this season, McVay went from Stafford to the shotgun for most of the game and instead opted to drop him behind center and use a heavy running pattern with action from game to set up big minimizes the pitch. Michel finished the game with 27 runs, the most attempts by a Rams forward this season. In the four games they’ve won since their losing streak ended in Week 13, three of their four games in LA have passed the 100-yard mark; something they haven’t done once in their three-game losing streak.
The Rams changed their offensive identity and returned to what brought McVay and his team to the Super Bowl in 2018. With Cam Akers set to go for the playoffs, the duo of him and Michel could be a dangerous combo for the defenses. opponents to contain. This time around, however, they’ve got a quarterback who can make all the throws and a defense that’s currently playing at an elite level.
What did you learn against the Vikings? Let’s discuss it in the comments below!