The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) travel to the West Coast (where the franchise has historically struggled) to take on the Los Angeles Rams (7-4) in an AFC versus NFC battle at 4:05 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday on FOX.
This is just the sixth all-time meeting between the two teams, and the first since 2017. The Jaguars have defeated the Rams just one time in the series history (2009). To help us learn more about this unfamiliar foe, we spoke to Kenneth Arthur, managing editor at Turf Show Times — SB Nation’s one-stop shop for all things Los Angeles Rams.
What has gone wrong for L.A. during its current three-game winning streak? What has the Matthew Safford experience been like? Why have the Rams struggled on defense? Kenneth answers these questions and more.
1. After starting the season at 7-1, the Rams have now lost three-straight games. What went right in the first eight games, and what has gone wrong in the last three contests?
Kenneth: So far it seems like the biggest impact that the Jared Goff-Matthew Stafford swap has had is that the Rams are now able to easily defeat bad teams, whereas before those games seemed a lot more “iffy” because of the quarterback. And that’s what I would say L.A.’s schedule was littered with in the first eight games: Lions, Texans, Seahawks, Bears and Giants are all indisputably bad teams (to me), and then the Rams caught the Colts early in the year when they were really struggling. On the bright side, the Rams handled the Bucs to some degree, but even that day, Tom Brady was able to expose some holes in the defense, going 41-of-55 for 432 yards.
Now turn to the last three games: Titans and Packers are competing for the respective one-seeds in their conferences, while the 49ers have won four of their last five and have always given Sean McVay fits. The 7-1 start is not surprising to me, and even the three-game losing streak is understandable in terms of record, but the concern is HOW the Rams have lost those games. They’ve lost them in all three phases, the special teams has been atrocious, the defense is completely unhinged and the loss of Robert Woods to a torn ACL has taken a toll on the offense.
And yet, if the Rams win their next two games, there’s an outside chance they’ll be back in the NFC one-seed conversation. With a strong finish, L.A. is far from out of it. But I’d say the biggest difference between now and then is that the schedule has gotten a lot tougher and the Rams did not appear to be prepared for that to happen so soon.
2. At quarterback, how has the Matthew Stafford experience been thus far? There have been some reports that Stafford’s is dealing with ailments to his back, throwing arm and elbow, but Stafford has downplayed those concerns. Do you think Stafford’s play will be affected by these issues on Sunday?
Kenneth: I think Stafford, like most quarterbacks, has had to deal with ailments at almost every point in his career. If he’s playing, he’s playing, so I’m also going to downplay those reports.
I think the media tends to push a narrative with Stafford and the Rams, many of them are enjoying watching the struggles because everyone wants to see a fire — whether it be in a dumpster or a bon. When the Rams were a bonfire, people were like “Nice, this is actually pretty cool.” With a three-game losing streak, people seem to be more anxious to come out and say, “Wow! This is nuts! Burn, baby, burn!” But I’m watching every Rams play multiple times and here’s what I think about Matthew Stafford so far this season and in the last few games in particular: He’s better than the previous quarterback, many times over, because he at least gives L.A. a chance to keep up offensively with the likes of Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers. The last guy could not do that and that meant that the margin for error on defense was SO THIN that the Rams literally had to rank first in points allowed just to make the playoffs. Stafford can push the ball down field in a way that only maybe five or six other quarterbacks can, but in the last few weeks, we’ve also seen that he can implode, whether it be from inaccuracy (which is more common than I expected) and baffling decisions in the heat of pressure. For that reason, Stafford has a pick-six in each of the last three games.
In that way, Stafford is sort of like a homemade bomb. Two out of every 10 could be duds, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to wear one in my fanny pack. You never know when he’s about to go off.
But Stafford needs to develop his relationship with Odell Beckham Jr. and he needs to do it fast. The team needs to support him as much as possible and while the offensive line has been fine, it hasn’t been great. While Tyler Higbee is a fine tight end, he’s not great. While Van Jefferson is a fine third receiver, he’s not proven to be a weapon like Robert Woods. The Rams face the Cardinals, Vikings, Ravens, and 49ers before the playoffs begin, then they’ll also need to beat the likes of Rodgers, Brady and/or Dak if they want to get through the playoffs. They can’t have Stafford be “fine” and expect to make a playoff run, and based on how the last three games have gone, in order to even get to the postseason at all.
3. Sean McVay has had a decent amount of success since taking over in Los Angeles. How do Rams fans view McVay and his staff at this point, in Week 13 of the 2021 season?
Kenneth: In a recent Rams fan poll that I ran, 45 percent of fans said that McVay is most responsible for the losing streak. But I also asked fans how confident they would be on a one-to-10 scale that Sean McVay was still the right guy for the job if the Rams lose to the Jaguars on Sunday, and the most popular answer is “10.” There are still a lot of votes for “one” and plenty in the middle, but it’s too soon to throw the book at McVay just because of a three-game losing streak to some good teams. The Rams are going to probably post a winning record and make the playoffs this season, which would make McVay five-for-five in leading the Rams to a winning record, and four-for-five in making the postseason. I don’t have to tell Jaguars fans how hard it can be to find a coach who does that.
4. Defensively, the Rams have been OK — 15th overall, 21st in points allowed, 21st against the pass and ninth against the run — but maybe not quite as good as many thought the unit would be. What are your thoughts on what L.A.’s defense does well and what it needs to do better? How is everybody’s favorite diva, I mean former Jaguar, Jalen Ramsey doing with the Rams?
Kenneth: I think “OK” is generous. Once you remove teams that had Andy Dalton, Daniel Jones, Davis Mills and Jared Goff at quarterback, the Rams have done poorly. Against Murray, Brady, Rodgers and even Russell Wilson, they did too poorly for a team that was quite good on that side of the ball a year ago. When you’re paying Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey as the best players at their positions, then you re-sign Leonard Floyd (a move that didn’t make sense to me at the time, or then), the expectations must be better than “We’ll need to defeat good teams by having a shootout.” I don’t think L.A. can win a shootout right now, not since the losses of Cam Akers and Robert Woods, the disappointment of DeSean Jackson, and the concerning trouble had by Andrew Whitworth at left tackle in the most recent game.
Now, will the Rams defense look “good” or “OK” against the Jaguars on Sunday? If they don’t, then the Rams are in bigger trouble than I think right now.
5. Is there one under-the-radar player on offense and one under-the-radar player on defense who Jaguars fans should watch out for on Sunday?
Kenneth: Since nobody pounds the table for right guard Austin Corbett, I’ll do it. Maybe I’m not the scouting offensive line expert that many others are, but I think Corbett is massive and underrated and massively underrated. If choosing a guard sounds at all boring, though, I’ll say that maybe, to some degree, Odell Beckham Jr. is that guy. He was a little left for dead there in Cleveland and I’m curious to see if he has some go-off moments in the near future that surprise people. I don’t want to give it to Van Jefferson because he’s been too inconsistent, but Jefferson is capable of making huge plays.
Defensively, I’ll say that defensive tackle Greg Gaines might be one to watch. He’s stepped up next to Aaron Donald — as many before him have done — and had a sack last week, giving him 2.5 on the year.
6. Score prediction?
Kenneth: Well, let me first say that I’m a big fan of Trevor Lawrence and I can’t wait to see what Jacksonville does next year, especially if they get Lawrence a massive weapon at receiver and Travis Etienne returns. I’m looking forward to a better Jaguars team in years to come! Rams 34, Jaguars 13.
Thank you to Kenneth for providing such thorough and detailed insights and analysis into Los Angeles. You can follow Kenneth on Twitter, and to keep with what is going with the Rams, follow Turf Show Times as well.