Short-week football means two games in five days. Which means that a great team can become even greater by winning twice, a bad team can become even worse by losing twice, or a team that was believed to be great can have plenty of questions emerge by losing twice.
That’s where the Rams are right now, with the biggest questions swirling around a defense that gave up 464 yards and 48 points against the Buccaneers on Sunday (the last Tampa touchdown that pushed the final score to 55 was defensive) and 429 yards and 30 points against the Seahawks on Thursday.
That’s 893 yards and 78 points from Sunday morning to Thursday night. That’s not good, especially for a defense that routinely draws so much praise.
“It really doesn’t matter what the outside thinks,” Rams safety Eric Weddle said after the game. “I’m not really concerned with that. We fought our tails off. I mean, Seattle’s a good team, and Russell Wilson’s playing out of his mind right now and what he can do to extend plays. . . . He improvises and makes plays. It’s just a tough challenge on any defense, let alone ours. But we had chances. We got a stop late and, you know, we didn’t get it done. But our confidence isn’t shaken at all after these last two weeks.”
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald (pictured) shrugged at the recent struggles.
“We fine,” Donald told reporters. “It’s still early in the season. That’s nothing to panic about. There’s a lot more football left. All you can do is watch the film, learn, try to fix the things you did wrong and build up the things you did good and keep playing ball.”
Some are wondering whether Donald is fine. He tweaked his back in Week Two against the Saints but has since exited the injury report completely. He missed 13 snaps last night, and the fact that he wasn’t routinely effing up the interior offensive line (then again, the Seahawks at times were swarming him with up to three blockers) invites speculation that the back is still bothering him.
It’s not bothering the Rams that they’re 3-2 a year after rocketing to 5-0.
“I think other teams have gotten better,” Weddle said. “I think it’s better for a team to grind out and figure out who you are along the way. When it’s too easy, then you get hit in the mouth, you really don’t know who you are at that point. The confidence is here. We’re a steady group. We’re not going to waver. We’re not going to point fingers. Everyone could have done better tonight, obviously, and we didn’t get it done. But you come in here, a hostile environment, on the road against a divisional opponent and have a chance to win. You’ve got to take positives out of that.”
One big negative will be the absence for at least a month of linebacker Clay Matthews, who suffered a broken jaw.
Up next after the mini-bye comes a visit from the 49ers, who will be 4-0 or 3-1. Then the Rams have a pair of winnable games against the Falcons (with a return to the scene of Super Bowl LIII) and Bengals. The Rams will surely be at least 5-3, maybe 6-2 at the bye. And that will position them well for the stretch run, which includes some tough games (Bears, Cowboys, Ravens, Seahawks, 49ers) but also two games against the woeful Cardinals.
The offense is fine, even without Todd Gurley in a workhorse role. The passing game, whether the bulk of the credit goes to coach Sean McVay or quarterback Jared Goff, remains elite. The team knows how to win games. If Sunday was a fluke and Thursday was simply a coin flip that didn’t go their way, the Rams really should be fine.
That hardly guarantees another Super Bowl appearance, but it’s far more likely than not that they’ll be in the tournament to get there.