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It’s been an uncomfortable few days, after much of the equity built up through two weeks was squandered with a golden opportunity lost in Cincinnati.
We see you, frustrated fans.
Sean McVay’s got broad shoulders, though. He can handle it.
We’ll address a bit of the blowback below. But for the most part, let’s allow his Week 4 game plan to do the talking, as the Rams can’t get Monday Night Football back. Nor can they afford to let the Bengals beat them twice.
However, they can improve to 2-2 without one of their best players, Cooper Kupp. I’m guessing that’s a result many would’ve signed up for back in early September, especially with L.A. having played the toughest schedule to date, per ESPN Analytics.
I’m actually encouraged that our collective expectations are back to what we’re accustomed to. Everyone is salty about coming up short on the road against a desperate team that’s been to consecutive AFC Championships. Way to be, Rams fans.
Now, on this zigzag back and forth to the Midwest, the team has a tall task ahead. The Colts are in first place in their division, despite having played backups at quarterback, running back, and at center for long stretches of time.
Let’s dig in to what might be required to win in Indy.
Just Run It
There was no dodging the primary criticism coming home from Cincinnati.
10 handoffs to Kyren Williams (two of which were give-up runs on third-and-long before punting; another along the goal line in desperation mode without a timeout). What gives?
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur had the most detailed comments, Wednesday, acknowledging that imbalance was dictated by Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
“If they’re telling you you’re not running the ball here, you’re not running the ball here based on the … pressures that they’re bringing in those situations,” LaFleur told the media from the podium in Thousand Oaks. “So there (were) a lot of runs called that unfortunately had to get checked out of it into some passes and some of the results were good and some of them weren’t as good. So again, you always want to stay balanced, but you’re also not going to just go beat your head against the wall if they’re saying you’re not going to do it.”
This sentiment is very reminiscent of what you might recall McVay saying into his headset during the Super Bowl win over Anarumo and the Bengals.
For more on that topic, check out my colleagues Maurice Jones-Drew and D’Marco Farr on this week’s Between the Horns.
- Los Angeles Rams at Indianapolis Colts: How to watch, listen to and live stream Week 4 regular season matchup
- First Look: Rams return to Midwest in Week 4 for matchup with Colts
- Michael Hoecht & Ahkello Witherspoon on Rams defense's performance through first three games, facing Colts in Week 4
- Between The Horns Ep. 178: Making adjustments following Monday's matchup & bouncing back against the Colts
- PRACTICE PHOTOS: Rams getting ready for their Week 4 game against the Colts
- Rams Power Rankings: Week 4
It feels like a distant memory, so much so that he wasn’t even asked about it this week. But Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was a finalist for the Indianapolis job this February before Jim Irsay ultimately opted for Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen (at least in part in anticipation of drafting a quarterback).
To me, that’s way more than just a subplot this week, as they get to match wits for four quarters.
The challenge Morris’ defense will face at quarterback could not look more different from Monday to Sunday.
In Cincinnati, a flat-footed Joe Burrow played on one good leg.
In Indianapolis, Anthony Richardson is among the most athletic quarterbacks in league history.
Despite their signal-caller’s injury, the Bengals threw it 49 times against L.A.
Even without All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor (still on the PUP list and preferring to be traded), the Colts ran it 35 times in an overtime win at Baltimore.
This tidbit from NFL Research caught my attention.
Rookie starting quarterbacks are 1-7 against the Rams in the Aaron Donald era (since 2014). That checks out.
The lone rookie to win? Tua Tagovailoa debuting as a starter for Miami in Week 8, 2020.
Now wait a minute.
The Dolphins quarterback didn’t do much that afternoon, did he? In fact, Tagovailoa was 12-for-23 passing for a meager 93 yards. He did pass for a score, but also lost a fumble on his first possession (courtesy of the GOAT).
Unfortunately, the Rams turned it over four times, themselves. Miami was able to win with just eight first downs on offense, thanks to two non-offensive scores.
Point being, Donald and the Rams should be 8-0 against rookie starters.
Richardson will be 21 years and 132 days old on Sunday, making him the youngest quarterback to start against the Rams since data was first tracked in 1950 (another hat tip to NFL Research).
L.A.’s task is to ensure his stat line doesn’t look any better than Tua’s.
Speaking of Donald, he uttered the best sentence I heard this week.
“I think we’re close to the type of team we want to be,” the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year said after Thursday’s practice. It sounded like he was largely speaking for the defense, but clarified that he also meant the offense and the Rams in totality.
Just six days after the Bengals blitzed the Skyline out of the Rams, Los Angeles will face Gus Bradley, known more for his Cover-3 scheme than his pressure packages.
And yet, last week he sent extras at Lamar Jackson an inordinate amount – 21 times on 31 drop-backs. Will Indianapolis attack Matthew Stafford similarly after seeing the Cincinnati tape?
The Rams better beware because the Colts defense has been putting up stats – leading the league in tackles for loss, ranking second with 12 sacks and seven forced fumbles, and earning a strip-sack in each outing this season.
Thankfully, it looks like the Rams have a chance to keep their starting offensive line intact, after both Joe Noteboom and Alaric Jackson were hurt in Week 3. If not, perhaps preseason trade acquisition Kevin Dotson will make his debut in Horns at guard.
A few other of my favorite notes from this week of preparation:
At times in 2022, the Colts were a punching bag of sorts, particularly after hiring interim head coach Jeff Saturday. But a good portion of this roster did beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion. Buffalo and Cincinnati were the only other two franchises to top Kansas City last year.
It’s odd to see an NFL roster with only four active receivers: Michael Pittman, Jr. is the preferred target, followed by rookie Josh Downs. The Rams will likely have six receivers when Cooper Kupp returns, and they’ve been promoting Austin Trammell from the practice squad as a sixth in the meantime.
The Rams have been elite at traveling east and playing in the early window under McVay, usually a pronounced disadvantage for West Coast teams. This is the ultimate challenge, doing it back-to-back on a short week.
The Colts are trying to avoid a seventh consecutive home loss, dating back to last season. They’re in sole possession of first place in their division for the first time since Week 8 of 2019.
Just for Kicks
And finally, several former Rams have found opportunities in Indianapolis, including reserve running back Jake Funk and edge rusher Samson Ebukam, who Steichen said was the Colts defensive player of the week in their win over the Ravens last Sunday.
No one is thriving more than our old friend Matt Gay, however. He’s the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after setting an NFL-record with four made field goals from beyond 50 yards, including the 53-yard game-winner to beat the Ravens in overtime. The Rams were never going to compete with the largest free-agent contract ever offered to a kicker (four years, $22.5million), so it’s easy to celebrate Gay’s success. Plus, Brett Maher has been a superb replacement for L.A.
I wouldn’t be surprised if one (or both) of those specialists has the chance to decide Sunday’s contest.
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