With injuries shaking up their offensive line and quarterback Matthew Stafford under constant pressure as a result, the Los Angeles Rams had to be having flashbacks to their miserable 2022 season during a 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
After allowing one sack through the first two games, Stafford was brought down six times, with four coming in the second half. It was strikingly reminiscent to what Stafford faced behind constantly reconfigured lines last season before sustaining a spinal cord contusion that ended his season.
The struggles for the Rams (1-2) started after left tackle Alaric Jackson left with a thigh injury. He was replaced by second-year lineman Zachary Thomas, who came into the game having played a single snap on offense in his NFL career.
Not surprisingly, Thomas struggled against defensive end Trey Hendrickson and the Cincinnati front in his 35 plays replacing Jackson.
Rams coach Sean McVay said he considered moving Joe Noteboom from right guard to left tackle, but decided against it because it would have meant having to change up two positions during the game. Noteboom had been competing with Jackson to start at left tackle during training camp.
“Zach Thomas had done a really good job with a lot of the repetitions that he had gotten, and felt like making a two-man switch wasn’t in the best interest,” McVay said Monday.
“We’ll look at the tape and figure out if that’s something that we want to do moving forward if Alaric is out for an extended period of time.”
Noteboom sustained a knee injury late in the third quarter, but was able to return after missing three plays.
If Jackson ends up missing games, it would likely fall to Thomas, Noteboom or practice squad player AJ Arcuri to help protect Stafford, who has been sacked at least five times in four of the past 12 games he has played.
In spite of the constant pressure, McVay didn’t turn to the run. The Rams had four called runs in the second half, plus a Stafford scramble, out of their 27 plays.
McVay cited how the game unfolded and Cincinnati’s defense for the imbalance.
“There were some favorable opportunities that unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on,” McVay said. “Sometimes you have sequences where you are trying to call run, and they’ll give you a structure that enables you to be able to get into different plays, whether that be throwing it or another run, and that was something that came up tonight.”
The run defense was solid, holding Joe Mixon to 65 yards on 19 carries. Take away his two longest rushes that accounted for 27 yards, Aaron Donald and company limited Mixon to 2.24 yards per attempt and showed improvement after getting dominated by the 49ers' Christian McCaffrey.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The secondary could not stop Ja’Marr Chase, who picked them apart for 12 receptions and 141 yards. Some of the blame goes to the pass rush, as most of his production came on short quick throws, but Ahkello Witherspoon bit on play action that allowed Chase to rip off a 43-yard gain in the third quarter.
WR Tutu Atwell had four receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. He nearly scored on an end-around on the Rams’ first possession but was ruled to have stepped out at the 2-yard line by video review.
WR Cooper Kupp won’t play this week after starting the season on injured reserve, but he will eligible to return against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 8.
30 — Rookie WR Puka Nacua has 30 receptions through his first three games after making five grabs for a team-high 72 yards in his Monday night debut. It is the most receptions through three games in Rams history.
The Rams have a short turnaround before playing at Indianapolis on Sunday. If they lose to the Colts, it will be the first time the Rams are under .500 after four games since 2014.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL
Dan Greenspan, The Associated Press