Opening night was a grand affair for the Los Angeles Rams. In their shiny facility in Inglewood, Calf., they were able to relive the night that they became the second consecutive team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. They got the rings, unveiled the banner, and three hours later they were 0-1 to start the season after falling to the Buffalo Bills.
The Rams did not score a single point in the second half. Newly acquired wide receiver Allen Robinson caught only one pass, and Matthew Stafford logged three interceptions on the evening. The Bills looked every bit the Super Bowl favorite they were predicted to be since the spring.
Since then, the Rams haven’t lost a game, but have done little to impress in one-possession victories against the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals. On Monday Night Football they will go up against their second huge early test of the season — those pesky San Francisco 49ers. The Rams have lost six consecutive regular-season games against the 49ers, and barely edged out that NFC Championship Game victory at home.
The 49ers defense is ferocious — best in the NFL in DVOA — but injuries to their offense led to a stinker of a game last week against the Denver Broncos that dropped their record to 1-2 on the season. A win would give the Rams a huge leg up in the division, but to pull it off they are going to need consistent offensive-line play.
That 31-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2 should’ve never been close. When the Rams were up 31-10, they took a 13-play drive down to the Falcons’ one-yard-line and settled for a field goal. First, Sir Genius Sean McVay, no trust on 4th and 1? Even if you don’t convert, Marcus Mariota is pinned against his own goal line.
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Darrell Henderson did his best work of the game in that series, gaining 23 of his game-total 47 yards on three carries. Yet, after he put the Rams on the one-yard-line, he didn’t see the ball again. That’s likely because through most of the early part of this season, this Rams offensive line — as expected — has struggled.
After Andrew Whitworth’s retirement, some retooling was necessary along the Rams’ offensive line. It was one of their biggest question marks heading into the year. Through three games, the team whose offensive line had the best pass-block win rate in the league last year is now in the middle of the pack at 14th. Their run-block win rate isn’t much better with the Rams ranked 16th.
There were concerns about this unit’s capability to keep Matthew Stafford clean enough to avoid costly turnovers, and if they could, open enough holes to keep defenses honest and respect the run. Stafford threw five interceptions during the first two weeks, and the Rams failed to average three yards per carry in either of their first two games.
Against the Arizona Cardinals last week, however, the rushing game took them home in that 20-12 victory. Cam Akers finally looked like the featured back the Rams hoped he would be when they drafted him in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. They rode him in the second half on the drive that put them up 20-3, punctuated by his touchdown, and continued to pound the rock with him on their next drive although it ended with him fumbling on the goal line while attempting to punch in a second touchdown. Akers averaged 5.1 yards per attempt in Week 3. Also, Stafford was kept clean for most of the game and averaged his highest yards per pass attempt of the season at just under 10.
Now the offensive line has to face the big boss of the Rams’ early season. Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Talanoa Hufanga, and company will do their best to treat the Rams to an early Halloween by haunting them all night. The Rams will have to go ghostbusting without starting left guard David Edwards, and will still be without center Brian Allen, but the 49ers have injury issues all over the roster. That also includes a couple of defensive linemen who are questionable to play, Arik Armstead, and Javon Kinlaw.
The Rams have a defense with star power that is going to give that depleted 49ers offense all they can handle. If the Rams’ offensive line simply doesn’t allow the 49ers defense to pound them into hamburger patties, they can start the season well on their way to a second-consecutive division championship.