The Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams are set to play each other this Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. In order to preview this Week 2 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Turf Show Times. The keen Kenneth Arthur kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Don’t forget to also check out my Q&A exchange over at TST.)
1 - Jared Goff has a 83.2 passer rating through his last 25 games. To what extent are Rams fans confident in him moving forward?
Well, to be fair, those numbers would be worse if you included the playoffs. I think one of the most overrated and potentially damaging areas of the field we are in as NFL writers is draft evaluations. People center their entire worldview of a player around how talking heads, analysts, “experts,” writers, teams, scouts and a person named “Walter Football” (who may or may not be the next owner of the Washington team) viewed them at the time of the draft, when they had played in zero professional games. They’re named after him, after all. Ryan Clark said something interesting this week when he said that Baker Mayfield didn’t deserve to be trashed in the media and by fans for not living up to his number one draft status up to this point with the Cleveland Browns. Through his first two seasons-and-a-game, Mayfield has turned the ball over too much and is limited, thus far, in what he can do. This used to be something that teams, fans and writers would put up with for years, but Mayfield is watching Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson win MVPs in their first two seasons, while Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz won Super Bowls in year two; obviously as you know under much different circumstances. But Wentz was probably going to win MVP in 2017, his second season in the league, if not for being injured. Fans expect results early if you’re actually going to be a premier quarterback and let’s be honest about Mayfield, he’s not a premier quarterback. If he is, it’s on a path that is rarely taken by the NFL’s greats — though it is not out of the question either. Mayfield is only 25. And he’s the quarterback of the Rams...oh wait, no he’s not, we’re talking about Jared Goff.
Goff was the first overall pick two years before Mayfield though and while he’s made a Super Bowl and had a rather dominant statistical stretch (in the 19 games before you cut off your sample size to find the worst run of contests, Goff had 45 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a rating of 111.8) at age 23-24, he’s never — in my opinion — come that close to the idealized picture we have in our heads of what a “number one quarterback” looks like. There’s two reasons for that, one being that Goff has yet to even establish himself in the top-15 league wide, and two being that our idealized picture of a “number one overall pick” and a “franchise QB” and a “Super Bowl QB” are mostly all wrong. Generally speaking, when I see reactions from people and then try and match that with history easily found on Pro-Football-Reference, they rarely match. Who are the number one overall pick QBs in the last 20 years who you actually do think are great? Let’s make a list of all the options: Vick, Carr, Eli, Alex Smith, JaMarcus, Stafford, Bradford, Newton, Luck, Winston, Goff, Mayfield, Murray and now Joe Burrow. I can be both critical of Goff and still think that out of those first 11 names (giving the most recent three more time), he’s maybe the fourth or fifth best option ... and he’s only a month shy of 26.
I realize that my answer addressed issues with evaluations more so than issues with Goff, so I’ll be blunt: confidence isn’t that high but there’s also no push to make a change. This is heavily impacted by Goff’s contract — LA can’t get away from him until 2022 at the earliest — but I’d also say there’s more to like here than with a number of other high-profile QBs around the league, the players around him seem to be improved this season, Sean McVay has proven capable of helping Goff reach MVP-caliber statistics and you won’t have a difficult time finding fans who’ll be quick to defend Goff. This could be the classic fan-QB relationship at play there, but I understand it. The Rams were led in passing by Austin Davis, Nick Foles and Case Keenum in the three seasons prior to Goff’s arrival. I think the franchise made an error in judgment with a few of their contract extensions and Goff’s deal limits their options, but I can understand the optimism for improvement this season and next. There’s little other choice.
2 - Sean McCoy: Overrated, underrated, or properly rated?
I’m not giving you a hard time, really, but I think it’s funny that you wrote McCoy instead of McVay. I think maybe we should be calling him “Shady” McVay from now on. (Understand if you edit and remove this line, haha.)
I’m not sure. How do you rate him? I haven’t a clue how people are rating Sean McVay right now. Obviously he was as hot as sliced bread (when it’s toast) in 2018 and that led to the coaching tree branching out in both Cincinnati and Green Bay, and now people are second-guessing that heat because the Rams missed the playoffs in 2019 and there wasn’t much to write about in regards to their offense. I can’t say how others rate him because I’m not privy to what others are saying about him, maybe because it’s a split decision. Sean McVay appears to me to be a talented head coach who is completely safe from becoming a free agent coach and I’m excited to see how he responds to the criticisms of his personnel choices in 2019 and what the defense does under 37-year-old defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. If you think he’s a good coach, I’d say you’re probably right. If he’s a bad coach, that would surprise me.
3 - What is the Rams’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
Offensively their biggest strengths are probably Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and Robert Woods/Cooper Kupp as receivers, as Woods was second in the NFL in Week 1 with 87 yards after the catch. The ability for them to secure passes from Goff and then do something with it afterwards significantly impacts the decisions of how to move the ball. Obviously I think McVay wants to be able to run the ball well too and to do so better than they have in the last year. That could be an issue this season without prime Todd Gurley so I think the passing attack — specifically as it pertains to Woods and Kupp — may be their greatest offensive strength, as well as having a healthy and effective Whitworth leading the offensive line. By some account, Whitworth was the team’s best player in last week’s win over the Cowboys.
Defensively, Aaron Donald.
4 - What is the Rams’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
Offensively, LA has yet to prove they can run the ball as effectively as they did in Sean McVay’s first two seasons. Cam Akers is a rookie and Darrell Henderson hasn’t played that much in his short NFL career. Malcolm Brown was the leading rusher for Week 1, but I do not expect that to continue. It could, I didn’t expect him to get the majority of the snaps against Dallas. Defensively, the linebackers group has lost Dante Fowler, Cory Littleton and Clay Matthews from 2019 and expected starter Travin Howard went on injured reserve. Micah Kiser started and by one report missed an NFL-worst seven tackles, but did a few good things as well. Overall, the linebackers group and their coverage/run defense may be the exploitable area for opposing offenses.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of the Rams’ season?
This is a question that I’m going to have to figure out how to better answer — and more succinctly — in the future. Because I really don’t do predictions and I don’t think it’s a healthy exercise, especially given that people are worse than random when it comes to predictions. You could call it the “illusion of validity” among other things. But predictions only set us up to be wrong, or to incorrectly boast how “smart” we are because two of our six predictions came true — and those are the only two we’ll ever talk about with people in the future. A future we couldn’t actually see coming. I know that you — and especially your readers — probably don’t like this answer but I’ve developed a serious aversion to the idea of predictions, not that you can’t find plenty of examples of me being a hypocrite in the last month alone.
Here are a few things I think though:
I think injuries have amounted to the Eagles having a game day roster that will fall well short of the expectations people had of the Eagles a month ago. I know that for myself, an August 1 “prediction” of how good the Eagles would be this season would have been a lot more optimistic than how I view them today.
I think the Rams played well in Week 1 against a talented Cowboys team. Better than expected. Those predictions were off too, weren’t they?
I think playing on the road is difficult, with or without fans. I don’t think the fan influence is great, so the Eagles should have a notable advantage at home.
I think Aaron Donald vs Jason Kelce is interesting and that he’ll be able to work his way around some of Philadelphia’s other offensive lineman with Brandon Brooks not playing. I also think Week 1 is deceptive and because people let a single game influence them entirely too much, predictions of how these two teams will perform over the next 15, or even the next one. So the Eagles and Rams results in Week 1 should not have as much of an influence as most will probably let it have, including myself right now.
I think given the state of these two teams at this moment, the Rams could be 2-0 after the game and be competitive for the whole season. Doug Pederson has never started 0-2 and if he avoids that, I also wouldn’t be surprised.