We’ve reached the point on the Detroit Lions 2021 schedule that many had circled when it was released back in April. That’s right, it Los Angeles Matthew Staffords week, and by Sunday you are going to be extremely sick of all the narratives, storylines, and drama drummed up with Stafford, Jared Goff, Sean McVay, Brad Holmes, Aubrey Pleasant, and the hundreds of other angles you could take for this game.
For now, let’s put the narratives aside and just look at this Los Angeles Rams football team. Turns out, they’re pretty good again, and they don’t exactly look like a team the Lions could notch their first win of the 2021 season against.
Then again, maybe all the emotions of the week somehow work in the Lions’ favor. If so, are there any weaknesses that the Lions are well-equipped to exploit? Do any of the Lions’ strengths—as limited as they are—work to their advantage this week?
Let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ Week 7 opponent.
Los Angeles Rams
- 10-6 record (2nd in NFC West)
- 22nd in points scored, 1st in points allowed
- Overall DVOA: 9th (10th on offense, 4th on defense)
Despite having the best scoring defense in the league, the Rams’ 2020 season can only be described as a disappointment. Most of their problems were on offense, where they could move the ball pretty efficiently, but they really struggled to put up points when in position (sound familiar?). They gained the most net yards per drive, but struggled with turnovers (26th) and touchdown rates in the red zone (19th). Again, sound familiar?
Anyway, they were still able to amass a 10-6 record and a Wild Card playoff berth. They pulled off a Round 1 upset over the Seattle Seahawks, despite Jared Goff dealing with a finger injury. But the following week the Green Bay Packers dominated them and sent them home.
Key free agent additions: WR DeSean Jackson
Key losses: RB Malcolm Brown, WR Josh Reynolds, TE Gerald Everett, CB Troy Hill, S John Johnson, EDGE Samson Ebukam
Key trades: Acquired QB Matthew Stafford, lost QB Jared Goff, lost DT Michael Brockers
2021 NFL draft picks:
Round 2: WR Tutu Atwell
Round 3: LB Ernest Jones
Round 4: DT Bobby Brown III
Round 4: CB Robert Rochell
Round 4: WR Jacob Harris
Round 5: DE Earnest Brown IV
Round 7: RB Jake Funk
Round 7: WR Ben Skowronek
Round 7: LB Chris Garrett
Overall, the Rams lost more than they gained this offseason, as they were tight against the cap. But everything was done in an effort to make their marquee move: trading for Matthew Stafford. There was obviously a lot of faith that Stafford alone could help push this offense from the 22nd-ranked scoring offense to a top-tier threat again.
That being said, there was a fair amount of concern about their defensive losses. Safety John Johnson had been an incredible force in their secondary, while Samson Ebukam and Michael Brockers were both solid starters who helped produce one of the best defenses in the league in 2020. The Rams’ gamble was that superstars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey were enough to keep that side of the ball afloat.
- Lost: DC Brandon Staley — replaced by Raheem Morris
- Lost: DBs coach/pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant —replaced by Ejiro Evero
- Lost: Pass game coordinator Shane Waldron — replaced by Wes Phillips
- Lost: Assistant head coach Joe Barry — replaced by Thomas Brown
To add to some of the worries that the defense would step back was the loss of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who was considered a genius on that side of the ball. The Rams replaced him with Raheem Morris, fresh off a tough season in Atlanta.
2021 season thus far (3-2)
Week 1: Beat Bears, 34-14
Week 2: Beat Colts, 27-24
Week 3: Beat Buccaneers, 34-24
Week 4: Lost to Cardinals, 20-37
Week 5: Beat Seahawks, 26-17
Week 6: Beat Giants, 38-11
- 6th in points scored (29.8 PPG), 9th in points against (21.2 PPG)
- 3rd overall in DVOA (3rd on offense, 4th on defense, 28th on special teams)
- Offensive DVOA: 2nd in pass offense, 14th in run offense
- Defensive DVOA: 4th in pass defense, 11th in run defense
After some early defensive struggles, the Rams seemed to have been just fine on that side of the ball. Turns out having Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey covers a lot of other deficiencies, and Los Angeles also has a few young players playing well on defense, like linebacker Troy Reader and safety Jordan Fuller.
On offense, what do you want me to say? Matthew Stafford has proven to be everything that Sean McVay wanted to open his offense back up. But to drive the point home, here are Stafford’s 2021 stats compared to Goff’s 2020 stats with largely the same roster on that side of the ball.
Yards per attempt:
- Goff: 7.2
- Stafford: 9.2
- Goff: 3.6%
- Stafford: 8.0%
- Goff: 90.0
- Stafford: 116.6
- Goff: 32.9
- Stafford: 75.0
Through six weeks, Stafford ranks second in the NFL in yards per attempt, second in passer rating, first in QBR, third in DYAR, and first in DVOA.
The run game, despite injuries, has been good enough. As a team, they’re averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, but Darrell Henderson has emerged as a solid option, averaging 4.6 YPC on his own and reaching the end zone in four of his five starts.
Key injuries: RB Cam Akers (NFI), TE Johnny Mundt (IR), LB Justin Hollins (IR), CB Darious Williams (IR)
The Rams have had pretty good injury luck over the past few seasons, and they’re on their way to some more fortune this year. Losing Cam Akers was obviously a huge deal, but outside of that, they’ve been okay. Mundt was a rotational player at tight end, while Hollins and Williams were starters on defense entering the year.
The Rams are quite thin at cornerback at the moment (get in line). They’ve played fourth-round rookie Robert Rochell and 2019 third-round pick David Long in his place. Both have struggled at times, but aren’t considered huge liabilities.
Biggest strength: Pass offense
The Rams have an MVP candidate in Matthew Stafford, and a receiving corps that features Cooper Kupp, who is second in the NFL in receiving yards (653) and first in touchdowns (7). Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson and Van Jefferson round out a pretty deep group there.
Biggest weakness: Run defense
If there’s one aspect of this matchup that could provide some optimism it’s here. Despite Aaron Donald still playing like Aaron Donald, the Rams can be beaten on the ground. Their linebacker play has not been great this year, and outside of Leonard Floyd, the defensive front doesn’t have a ton of weapons outside of Donald. Through six games, the Rams are allowing 4.4 YPC (23rd) and allowing first downs on rushes 30.4 percent of the time (29th).
Last week, the Lions' offense was lifeless without a running game against a good Bengals run defense. Perhaps they can at least move the ball a little this week against the Rams.
Vegas odds for Sunday: Rams by 14.5