LOS ANGELES (AP) — It may be a positive measure of the Los Angeles Rams’ accomplishments over the previous half-decade when their fanbase panics after a 2-2 start with losses to two contenders for the Super Bowl.
Or maybe it’s because those two losses were ugly enough to inspire serious doubts about whether these Rams have the wherewithal to challenge for a new championship.
The Rams are a .500 team after their dismal 24-9 loss to the 49ers on Monday night exposed shortcomings in game planning, roster depth and Los Angeles decision-making by its most important players. The Rams were held to less than 10 points for the first time since the 2020 season, and they failed to score a touchdown for only the fifth time in coach Sean McVay’s six seasons.
The Rams weren’t .500 until later in a season once under McVay. It was 2019, when they started 3-3 and ultimately missed the playoffs for the only time in his impressive coaching career.
“I’m not sitting here making excuses for why we have or haven’t done the things that meet the expectations that we have,” McVay said Tuesday. “But there is a lot of football to play. The story is not yet written. We have a say in how this story is written… (and) I have a good sense for this team. We have a great mental composition, and we just have to keep fighting and stay in the moment.
With the Dallas Cowboys 3-1 visiting SoFi Stadium on Sunday, the Rams will need a quick turnaround to avoid falling below .500 for only the second time in McVay’s coaching career.
The first time was last month when the Buffalo Bills beat Los Angeles 31-10 in the season opener.
McVay’s Rams had never suffered two double-digit losses this early in a season, and a lukewarm, injury-filled offense is largely to blame. Although the defense allowed four explosive plays from the Niners, coordinator Raheem Morris’ unit did more than enough to win most of the Rams’ games.
Along with producing just 257 yards and three field goals, the Rams’ offense allowed Matthew Stafford to be sacked seven times before throwing a game-breaking pick – 6 – his sixth interception of the young season. The Rams passed for 3.52 yards per play and rushed for just 57 yards in one of the worst offensive efforts of McVay’s career.
“Our guys have high standards,” McVay said. “There’s been a lot of good things that have happened over the last two years, and I think it’s a fine line between having such high standards that it takes away from your ability to compete and enjoy it while acknowledging the different circumstances, none of which will always be an excuse.
Stafford and the Rams lean heavily on Kupp, and the All-Pro isn’t letting them down. Kupp had a career-high 14 catches for 122 yards on 19 targets — the second most of his career. He remains largely unstoppable even when an opposing defense knows it is coming.
Kupp leads the NFL in catches and first downs this season, even with newcomer Allen Robinson contributing next to nothing on offense and Van Jefferson still sidelined by knee surgery.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Kyle Shanahan still owns McVay, his friend and former colleague in Washington. The Niners have won seven straight regular-season victories over the Rams, and Los Angeles’ NFC Championship Game victory is looking more and more like a fluke in which San Francisco blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and allowed the Rams to sneak in. McVay is due to face Shanahan again on October 30 at SoFi Stadium, and absolutely nothing on Monday suggested anything would be different.
Tight end Tyler Higbee is making the most of the Rams’ decided absence of a dangerous No. 2 receiver. The veteran had 10 catches — the second most of his career — for 73 yards in San Francisco. He already has 26 catches for 244 yards this season, tying Travis Kelce for the most receptions by a tight end in the league.
Takk McKinley apparently isn’t making friends quickly in his new job. The 2017 first-round pick got into a fight with Rams teammate Justin Hollins in the second half, with his teammates forced to pull them apart. Hollins claimed the spat was no big deal, but it wasn’t a good look for McKinley, who is trying to hold on to his fifth franchise in six NFL seasons.
The depth of the Rams offensive line is extremely thin. Right guard Coleman Shelton will be out for at least the next four weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on Monday while replacing often-injured center Brian Allen, who may not be ready to return from the problem of knee that has held him off since the opener. Jeremiah Kolone was forced to play despite never sending the ball to Stafford during the team’s training periods. … S Jordan Fuller will be out two to four weeks with a hamstring injury.
16 – The number of sacks taken in four games by Stafford, already more than half of the 30 he took in 17 games last season. All but two of those sacks have come in losses to the Rams, but there could be more with the third strings playing perhaps the inside three positions on the offensive line this week.
Back-to-back home games against Dallas and Carolina give the Rams a great chance to get back on track. The question is whether they are good enough to take it.