JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times on the Los Angeles Rams as they enter Sunday's 2021 Week 13 game against the Jaguars at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Question: The Rams, after a 7-1 start, enter Sunday's game 7-4 after a 36-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisc., this past Sunday. What's the state of the Rams?
Answer: They're not at full-blown panic right now, but it's really concerning. They lost to Tennessee without [Titans running back] Derrick Henry at home; [Rams quarterback] Matthew Stafford threw back-to-back interceptions within twenty seconds – bam, bam. They go to San Francisco, and they historically have struggled against the 49ers – and the 'Niners were able to do what they always do: They ran on the Rams, they hogged the clock and had the ball two-thirds of the game and Stafford again had two picks in the first half – so falling behind early is a big problem. Then they fell behind again against Green Bay, and it was a very familiar feeling – putting themselves in a hole. The Rams are really trying to make up for the loss of [wide receiver] Robert Woods [to a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament], which has really put the clamps on [wide receiver] Cooper Kupp. There are a lot of concerns right now about a season that has gone sideways after a 7-1 start.
Q: Stafford obviously is a major storyline after the Rams acquired him in the offseason. Assess his play.
A: Over the last few weeks, Stafford has shown he's a tough guy with a big arm for over-the-top throws – and can make the spectacular throws. But he's average in his accuracy. The short stuff has been a problem lately. That's a concern. They don't want to sound the alarms and say it's a major concern. They're looking at all areas, but they mortgaged their future for this quarterback. After a bad patch, I don't think they're ready to bail out by any stretch. They love Matthew Stafford. They love the idea that he's going to have this incredible second act of his career, but you can't look at the last three games and not be a little worried about where this is headed.
Q: Is there a concern that he's not a lift-the-team guy?
A: I think they do think of him as a guy who can win games as opposed to a caretaker who when he's at his best is not going to get you beat. I think they do think of Matthew Stafford as a guy who can take control of a game and win down the stretch.
Q: Offensively, what is this team when things are right. What do they want to be?
A: They want to be a passing team that can run when they need to. Lately, they haven't been able to establish the run enough to make defenses play them honest. The original plan was [running back] Cam Akers coming off a great year; he has a torn ACL. Now, they're trying to cobble together a running game to open things up for Matthew Stafford. Offensively, they want to be a high-scoring, pyrotechnics, L.A. offense. Remember: This is the home of Showtime and people respond to that – and this glitzy new stadium. It was like that to start the season, especially when they had Robert Woods. Now that they have that, they don't have all the cylinders to fire on. They don't want to be a grind-it-out team, but they want to be able to run when they need to – to either set up play action or milk the clock.
Q: A perception of the Rams is they're a pretty dominant defense. Accurate?
A: They haven't been lately. They haven't gotten out of [pass rusher] Von Miller what they think they can get out of Von Miller [since acquiring him in a midseason trade with the Denver Broncos]. [Defensive lineman] Aaron Donald hasn't been quite the dominant force that he has been at other times in his career. He's still excellent and still commands double teams. But in their dream scenario they have a back end of a defense with [former Jaguars and All-Pro cornerback] Jalen Ramsey and you have a pass rush with Donald, Miller and Leonard Floyd – and when Floyd is your third-best pass rusher you're a pretty dominant line. They have struggled to establish that and to stop teams, especially in the last three weeks.
Q: The Rams acquired wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. off waivers, a high-profile move. How has that worked out?
A: It seems like they're trying to appease him a little bit, which is a little worrisome. He hasn't been able to pick up the slack of Robert Woods. He's not Robert Woods. The jury is definitely out on him. He doesn't strike me as the complete package that Robert Woods is. As of yet, there's really something missing. That's allowed teams to zero in on Cooper Kupp and contain him a lot better than they did early in the season.
Q: What do they need to do turn 7-4 into where they want to go?
A: They can't fall behind early, and they need to stop teams on third down, which is pretty basic. They have to spring loose Cooper Kupp and get production out of OBJ to get the passing game jumpstarted. They have to be able to run the ball effectively to get that passing game jumpstarted. They trust their defense, but the offense can't fall behind and be chasing.
Q: Obvious question, but is this Super Bowl or bust?
A: They definitely mortgaged their future. They don't have a first-round pick until 2024. They haven't had a first-round pick since 2016. They gave up a second- and a third-round selection for Von Miller just to rent him until the end of the season. They have the Super Bowl in L.A., and they have the first season of SoFi Stadium with fans. [Rams Owner] Stan Kroenke will do everything he can to be in that Super Bowl. In many ways, the iron never has been hotter for L.A. But it's going to cool off very quickly if they don't strike right now.