In order to preview this Week 5 matchup between these two teams, I reached out to our enemies over at Turf Show Times. The excellent Evan Craig kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to questions about the Eagles, check out TST.]
1) Kinda hard to know what to make of the Rams. They shocked everyone with a big Week 1 win in Seattle, played the 49ers tough in Week 2, lost to a really bad Bengals team in Week 3, and almost blew a big lead in Week 4. How good is this team?
That’s a question I really want the answer to myself. To be honest, I don’t have a clue. This LA team is average but they’ve been sneaky good on offense and defense, aside from that near collapse in the second half in Indy. Their win over Seattle was dominant and the rest of the games were a little too close for comfort. The Colts game should’ve been a blowout if the offense kept their foot on the gas. I’m still disappointed over the Bengals loss as the Rams missed a golden opportunity to put Cincinnati in a deeper hole. After this rollercoaster of a start, LA has performed better than I could’ve imagined with such a young team. My only question is how do they build off a solid start by their standards? How the offense has performed without Cooper Kupp and running back Kyren Williams leading the ground attack has been a pleasant surprise.
I thought all the preseason talk over the Rams being terrible this season was a joke. Even with the roster mostly stripped down compared to their Super Bowl year, there were enough pieces to remain competitive and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Sean McVay has kept the ship afloat despite some questionable game planning at times. If the Rams sneak into the playoffs, McVay should be a Coach of the Year frontrunner.
2) Matthew Stafford has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this year and now he’s banged up with a hip injury. What do you expect to see from him on Sunday?
I’m expecting Matthew Stafford to grind out another tough performance similar to what he did last week. He was clearly hurting against the Colts but stayed in the game and threw a game-winning touchdown to rookie sensation Puka Nacua. Stafford is one of the toughest dudes in the NFL and I don’t anticipate that ever changing. His mental toughness is unmatched.
What I expect to see out Sunday is him trying to lead the offense on drives that eat up a lot of clock, much like last week and the opener in Seattle. In both those games, that’s where he thrived and got into a rhythm. The games in which Stafford isn’t a focal point of the offense is the best kind of game for him at this stage of his career. He has solid playmakers across the board and needs to trust them to be the most successful version of himself. The games where Stafford was forced into relying on his arm late in games, LA lost. In back-to-back games against the 49ers and Bengals, Stafford threw two picks in each matchup which ruined any chance of a comeback. McVay needs to understand what his QB is capable of and Stafford isn’t the guy who can carry an offense anymore. That’s not to say that he can’t sling it because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that arm of his.
3) Obligatory Puka Nacua question: What’s made him so unstoppable and does he have any weaknesses?
Puka has been something special hasn’t he? What makes him so unstoppable are his catches in traffic. Nacua is great at finding holes in the defense and coming back to locate the ball. That is what’s so remarkable about him. Too many times, young receivers continue to run their routes while their quarterback is running for his life and fail to help their QB out. Nacua plays beyond his years and it’s been a marvel to watch. I’m excited to see what kind of role is in store for him once Cooper Kupp returns to the field. I don’t anticipate many changes as him and Kupp make for a solid receiving duo. Pretty great to see especially after LA fans were nervous about the depth at wideout entering this season. Right now, Puka’s my pick for OROY even though that award will inevitably go to a quarterback.
One “weakness” I would say that I found a tad ridiculous is his lack of scoring. Some fans were legitimately concerned that he wasn’t scoring touchdowns despite all the receptions he had. I was even interacting with fans and told them that the scores will come, you just have to be patient. Low and behold in Week 4, Nacua caught a walk-off touchdown. He’ll be even more dangerous with Kupp back as he won’t be the main focus of opposing defenses. That may not be considered a true weakness but I haven’t seen any noticeable flaws in his game four weeks in.
4) What is the biggest concern about the Rams right now? (And if it’s Stafford, what’s the biggest non-QB concern?)
Gunslinger tendencies aside, Stafford is the least of my worries so I’ll pass my concerns onto the defense. The Rams nearly choked away a 23-0 lead against the Colts in Week 4. That alone is quite worrisome. About midway through the third quarter, LA held the Colts to 114 yards and zero points until allowing 231 yards and 23 points to tie the game back up. There was zero excuse for the game to ever get to overtime.
There are issues with missed tackles and miscommunication in the secondary and well, all over. Which I suppose should be expected as the defense is filled with mainly first or second-year players. If you were to look up statistics or rankings of this unit, LA’s defense would be middle of the pack to approaching the top-10. What I’m trying to say is that this defense isn’t as good as rankings will tell you. Still, they were expected to be a bad defense and have been average to above-average at best so I’ll happily take that. Plus as long as they don’t give up 70 points like the Broncos, they can be as average as they please.
5) Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 4-point road favorites, what’s your score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Rams season?
LA has been so much better than I expected them to be this season. They’ll make this game close but I’m expecting the Eagles to pull this one out. The Eagles have a defensive line that will overwhelm the Rams’ O-line. I know LA was able to hold up against the 49ers earlier in the season but Philly’s line is a tad better to me. I’m especially worried about Jalen Carter having a breakout game against this unit. Philadelphia is the more physical team in the trenches and that’s why I’m picking them to win this week.
My score prediction: Eagles 21-17
Truthfully, the Rams have slightly surpassed my expectations for them within the first few games. Based on the first five games on their schedule, I said LA needs to win at least two if they hope to be in playoff contention later this year. They enter this one at 2-2 and I’m pleased with their efforts, even if they’re just an average team. I initially expected this group to be in contention past Thanksgiving and I’m going to push it to late December. With all the inconsistency in the NFC, I don’t think that’s asking too much. I predict the Rams finish with an 8-9 record, missing the playoffs by one game.