A .500 team: McVay’s Rams in unfamiliar position so far

October 4, 2022 GMT
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
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Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
1 of 4
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, is sacked by San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Perhaps it’s a positive measure of the Los Angeles Rams’ achievements over the previous half-decade when their fan base is panicking after a 2-2 start with losses to two Super Bowl-contending opponents.

Or perhaps it’s because those two defeats were ugly enough to inspire serious doubts about whether these Rams have the wherewithal to contend for a repeat championship.

The Rams are a .500 team after their dismal 24-9 loss to the 49ers on Monday night exposed deficiencies in Los Angeles’ game planning, roster depth and decision-making by its most important players. The Rams were held to fewer 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 have only been at .500 later in a season one time under McVay. That was in 2019, when they started 3-3 and eventually missed the playoffs for the only time in his impressive coaching career.

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“I’m not sitting here going to make excuses for why we have or haven’t done the things that are in alignment with the expectations we have,” McVay said Tuesday. “But there’s a lot of football to be played. The story isn’t written yet. We do have a say in how that story is written ... (and) I’ve got a good sense for this team. We’ve got a great mental makeup, and we’ve just got to continue to battle and stay in the moment.”

With the 3-1 Dallas Cowboys 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 blew out Los Angeles 31-10 in the season opener.

McVay’s Rams had never taken two double-digit losses this early in a season, and a tepid, injury-filled offense is largely to blame. Although the defense allowed four explosive plays by the Niners, coordinator Raheem Morris’ unit did more than enough to win most Rams games.

Along with producing only 257 yards and three field goals, the Rams’ offense allowed Matthew Stafford to be sacked seven times before he threw a clinching pick-6 — his sixth interception of the young season. The Rams managed 3.52 yards per play and rushed for a mere 57 yards in one of the worst offensive efforts of McVay’s career.

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“Our guys have high standards,” McVay said. “There’s been a lot of good things that have gone on over the last couple of years, and I do think it’s a fine line between having such high standards that it takes away your ability to compete and enjoy it while acknowledging the different circumstances, none of which will ever be an excuse.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Stafford and the Rams are leaning heavily on Kupp, and the All-Pro wideout isn’t letting them down. Kupp had a career-high 14 catches for 122 yards on 19 targets — the second most in his career. He remains largely unstoppable even when an opposing defense knows it’s coming.

Kupp leads the NFL in catches and first downs this season, even with newcomer Allen Robinson contributing almost nothing to the offense and Van Jefferson still sidelined by knee surgery.

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WHAT NEEDS HELP

Kyle Shanahan still owns McVay, his friend and former colleague in Washington. The Niners have seven consecutive regular-season wins over the Rams, and LA’s NFC championship game victory looks increasingly like a fluke in which San Francisco blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and allowed the Rams to sneak back in. McVay must face Shanahan again Oct. 30 at SoFi Stadium, and absolutely nothing Monday suggested anything will be different.

STOCK UP

Tight end Tyler Higbee is making the most of the Rams’ decided lack of a dangerous No. 2 receiver. The veteran had 10 catches — the second most in his career — for 73 yards at 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.

STOCK DOWN

Takk McKinley apparently isn’t making friends quickly at his new job. The 2017 first-round pick got into a vociferous argument with Rams teammate Justin Hollins in the second half, with teammates forced to hold them apart. Hollins claimed the spat was no big deal, but it wasn’t a good look for McKinley, who is trying to stick with his fifth franchise in six NFL seasons.

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INJURED

The Rams’ offensive line depth is extremely thin. Right guard Coleman Shelton will be out for at least the next four weeks after incurring a high ankle sprain Monday while filling in at center for oft-injured Brian Allen, who might not be ready to return from the knee issue that has kept him out since the opener. Jeremiah Kolone was forced to play despite never before snapping the ball to Stafford in team periods at practice. ... S Jordan Fuller will be out two to four weeks with a hamstring injury.

KEY NUMBER

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 occurred in the Rams’ losses, but he could be in for more with third-stringers possibly playing all three interior positions on the offensive line this week.

NEXT STEPS

Back-to-back home games against Dallas and Carolina offer a prime chance for the Rams to get back on track. The question is whether they’re good enough to take it.

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