The Rams seems to add a superstar to the injury list each week, this week it is Aaron Donald, and have lost a record five in a row with Sean McVay as head coach. As they try to find healthy bodies to put on the playing field, the Chargers have gotten some back and are well within reach of a playoff spot. With six weeks to go, VFAB NFL writer Sam Farmer, Rams beat writer Gary Klein and Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller address fans’ concerns and questions:
When will the Rams attempt to sign a valid backup QB ?
Jon Van Ness, Los Angeles
Klein: They re-signed John Wolford before this season because Sean McVay was confident he could run the offense if needed. Wolford will be a restricted free agent and Bryce Perkins will be an exclusive rights free agent. The Rams under coach Sean McVay have never budgeted to spend a lot of money on a backup. Even when Blake Bortles was with the team, that was only because he was owed so much money by Jacksonville and he and the Rams could afford to cut a deal. With Matthew Stafford at age 34, it will be interesting to see if McVay and Les Snead make finding a more experienced — and expensive — backup a priority.
I wrote after the Chargers vs. Browns game that Staley going for the first down on the Browns’ 46 with time running out was a head scratcher. You replied that statistics prove him to be right. I was at the Chargers vs. Chiefs game when Staley chose to punt in a 4th-and-inches situation. We all know who the quarterback is for the Chiefs. What gives? His action and your answer quite frankly seem disingenuous.
David Sanchez, Canoga Park
Miller: Up in the pressbox, a couple of us were surprised by Brandon Staley’s decision versus K.C. That went against his usual pattern. Last season, I’m certain he would have gone for it. The analytics almost always point to going for it on fourth-and-one — or fourth-and-less-than-one — because the success rate historically is so good. I think he has been more conservative in these situations this season in part because he has been burned maybe once too often. The performance of punter JK Scott also has no doubt entered the equation. Scott has had a major impact on this 2022 team. Mostly, though, I think it’s a reflection of how much the Chargers have struggled running the ball. Hard to trust this current version of offensive line, honestly. But, yes, you’re right, that was a departure from last year and earlier this year.
I’ve been a Rams fan since 1965 (5 years old) and I can’t recall so many of our offensive linemen going down with so many leg injuries in less than half a season. Is their blocking technique/scheme the cause for this reoccurring horror story? Back in the day, you had to drag guys like Charlie Cowan, Tom Mack and Joe Schibeli off the field if they got dinged up.
Lorenzo Fuentes, Santa Maria
Klein: The Rams’ blocking scheme/technique is no different than it was last season when they won the Super Bowl. They just hit some bad luck. And players who suffer season-ending knee and ankle injuries or concussion are not just “dinged up.” Most players, regardless of era, want to be on the field for their teammates and for their livelihoods. With few exceptions, there are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL.
It seems like in kicking situations the receiving team is too often called for penalties like holding, blocking in the back, etc. Why is that? What do coaches teach and what do players do to try to avoid these penalties?
Bill Francis, Pasadena
Farmer: Let’s talk about what makes blocks on special teams particularly difficult. It comes down to time and distance. It’s kind of like catching a speeding bullet when a blocker has to drop about 30 yards and then transition to blocking a player running right at them with a full head of steam. So it’s not uncommon for guys to miss those blocks, then to commit a clip while trying to get a guy while he whizzes past. It’s also easy for those blockers to get their hands outside the frame and onto the top of shoulder pads, which draws holding calls.
Now let’s look at it from a more global sense. Those players on special teams have other responsibilities during practice, so they’re only working on blocking during a very limited special-teams segment of practice. When they’re playing defense, they’re allowed to do more grabbing and holding. It’s hard for them to flip that mindset to play as clean as possible on special teams.
The final element is the path of a returner. It’s not like a prescribed pass route. A returner could be going anywhere — kind of like a scrambling quarterback — so his blockers aren’t always in the ideal position to clear a path. That can lead to holding penalties, clips and the like. If an NFL team were to devote more time to coaching special teams, then it would have to spend less time on another element of the game. So it’s a difficult balancing act.
When is Brandon Staley going to be held accountable about the porous defense? I have never seen a team miss so many tackles. Alohi Gilman had a blatant missed tackle resulting in a touchdown. Poor tackling has been a mantra of the Bolts for 10 years or so. It is the most basic task, but yet this team sucks at tackling, and also aggressiveness. The Raiders always play the Chargers physical, and next week I expect them to push the Chargers all over the field.
Harvey Smith, Dayton, Nev.
Miller: Trust me, Staley is asked about his defense every week. About its inability to stop the run, hold opponents on third down, prevent explosive plays. I’m pretty certain poor tackling isn’t a “mantra” around this team. But I do know what you mean. Poor tackling was a major issue Sunday against Arizona and Staley acknowledged it on Monday. I don’t think the Chargers are doing anything or not doing anything that’s leading to poor tackling. I think it’s just players failing to execute at a high enough level.