May 23, 2024

The Rams were dismantled on offense, defense and special teams and lost to the Dallas Cowboys on the road, 43-20. The Chargers scored on their first five possessions and rolled to a 30-13 victory over the visiting Chicago Bears. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller and NFL columnist Sam Farmer discuss what happened and upcoming prospects during a post-game, round-table session:

With the Rams dropping to 3-5 and the trade deadline Tuesday, it would seem they’d be more in position to trade than acquire players. However, they don’t appear to have anyone to deal for future prospects except Aaron Donald, and that won’t happen. Or we missing something?

Farmer: Not knowing the severity of Matthew Stafford’s thumb injury, it seems a little early to have a fire sale. The NFL is filled with so-so teams this season, and at least a few of those are going to sneak into the playoffs. There are players with some trade value other than Aaron Donald — Tyler Higbee and Joe Noteboom come to mind — but I wouldn’t expect the Rams to make many deals, if at all.

Klein: The Rams did not plan to be active at the trade deadline. It’s logical to think other teams might inquire about offensive lineman Joe Noteboom, who got a big contract before last season to play left tackle but has instead become a versatile if overpaid swingman who has started at both tackles spots and right guard. On Sunday, Noteboom started at right tackle in place of injured Rob Havenstein. So the Rams might have to keep him even if they wanted to trade him.

Has there been any word on rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett? Doesn’t appear as if he will be any help this season, and certainly has not had the opportunity to grow on the field. Do you think the Rams will need to sign another quarterback this week because of Matthew Stafford’s thumb injury?

Rams quarterback Brett Rypien (11) readies to hand off in a game against Dallas.

Brett Rypien (11) replaced Rams starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who injured his thumb, against the Cowboys.

(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

Klein: Bennett remains on the non-injury football list and I would not anticipate a return this season. If Stafford is sidelined, Brett Rypien will start against the Packers. Regardless, the Rams will sign another quarterback, probably before this roundtable is published. And it’s impossible to mention Sean McVay and quarterbacks without mentioning Colt McCoy.

(Editor’s note: McVay confirmed Klein’s thoughts on Bennett’s status at Monday media conference. “I’m not ready to say that he won’t be back with us at all this year, but it’s probably less likely than it is likely he would be,” said the Rams coach.)

Farmer: Yes, the Rams are going to need to sign somebody, but everybody out there is “just a guy” at best. What’s more, the Rams aren’t the only team looking for quarterback help. The Vikings just lost Kirk Cousins. Mike LaFleur, Rams offensive coordinator, spent a couple of seasons with Joe Flacco when they were both with the New York Jets. At 38, Flacco is, you guessed it, just a guy.

What has happened to the Rams passing game? It had been more successful before Cooper Kupp returned from injury. With him around, you’d think matters would improve.

Farmer: True, the passing game has left something to be desired the past two weeks. It’s worth noting, though, that the Rams were facing two of the league’s most disruptive pass rushers in Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt and Dallas’ Micah Parsons.

Klein: Matters did improve when Kupp returned from a hamstring injury. He eclipsed 100 yards receiving in each of his first two games. But the last two against the Steelers and the Cowboys were far below his standard. Some of that is on Kupp, some on McVay and some on Matthew Stafford. But credit the Steelers and Cowboys for taking Kupp out of his game.

As with the Rams, the Green Bay Packers are struggling. It is never easy to play at Lambeau Field, however, and at this moment Stafford is questionable to play. Is it realistic to think the Rams could beat the Packers on the road if Brett Rypien has to start at quarterback?

Farmer: Brett Rypien isn’t going to be the answer, but can the Rams beat the Packers on the road? Green Bay has lost five of six and dropped its past two games at Lambeau Field by two touchdowns each. We’re not talking about a juggernaut. Yes, the Rams are capable of winning there without Matthew Stafford. … By the way, a side note … the Rams used their top draft pick on Texas Christian guard Steve Avila, a solid player. It was only three selections before that — with the second pick of the second round — that Tennessee took Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, who was scorching Sunday with four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 130.5 passer rating.

Klein: Last season, the Rams went to Lambeau Field with Baker Mayfield making his second start. Mayfield had led the Rams to an improbable victory over the Raiders after joining the team only days before. The Rams lost to the Packers, who no longer have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Rams could win on Sunday with Rypien starting, though it would be tough to pick against the Packers.

Would you say that season-best Chargers’ performance was a mirage, a product of the Chicago Bears, or a sign of things to come? Or, perhaps, none of the above?

Farmer: No question the Chargers played well, scoring on six of their first seven possessions. But they sort of did what they were supposed to do, beating a team led by a rookie coming out of Division II college football. The real test comes in the next two weeks against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. Those are more measuring-stick games.

Miller: The Chargers certainly hope Sunday night’s showing is the start of a nice little run. But maintaining that level of production against the Jets will be a significant challenge. Something to watch Monday night will be what the Chargers do offensively after halftime. They’ve scored only one touchdown over their past four second halves. That can’t continue if this team is going to go anywhere in 2023.

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson breaks up a pass intended for Chargers  receiver Quentin Johnston (1).

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson breaks up a pass intended for Chargers receiver Quentin Johnston (1), who had his best day as a pro.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Quentin Johnston made that long-awaited impact with five catches for 50 yards, which included some nifty running. Did you notice the Chargers utilizing him differently or is Justin Herbert just finally getting comfortable throwing to the rookie?

Miller: The Chargers and Herbert clearly made an effort to involve Johnston more during stretches of the game against Chicago and the results were encouraging. After six games, it was time to start force-feeding the rookie at least a bit to try to speed up his development. This team needs Johnston to be more productive given the health concerns at wide receiver.

Farmer: It was refreshing to see Johnston make his mark. Somebody needed to step up. No Mike Williams. Gerald Everett didn’t play. Joshua Palmer was banged up. It’s great that the Chargers are looking to Johnston a little more, but 50 yards on five catches pales in comparison to the contribution of other rookies around the league such as Jordan Addison, Zay Flowers and Dalton Kincaid. So there’s still lots of room for improvement.

The Chargers still did not run the ball much. Austin Ekeler had 15 carries for 29 yards. That is 1.9 yards per carry and the team averaged 2.2 Asked this is a different way before: Should the Chargers ride Justin Herbert’s arm and just use runs as a surprise tactic?

Miller: This isn’t college. You can’t just throw it 50 times game after game. Yeah, you can fail to run the ball and still win handily on a random Sunday in October. The problem is trying to win in January when you can’t run it. We saw what happened in the second half against Jacksonville in the wild-card playoffs last year when the Chargers’ lacking ground game helped prevent them from putting away the Jaguars. At some point, real teams have to be able to run the ball.

Farmer: They might not be traditional runs, but those dump-off passes to Ekeler are akin to long handoffs, and he’s highly effective when it comes to catching balls on quick routes and turning up field.

Next it’s off to the Meadowlands to face the New York Jets, who have won three in a row mostly because of their defense, a stout group prolific in creating turnovers. What should worry the Chargers most? The offense trying to score against that defense or the Chargers defense making a shaky Jets offense look good?

Farmer: Yes, the Chargers have given up more than their share of big plays, but the real pressure here is on the Chargers offense. Holding that Jets defensive front at bay will be a big challenge, because Justin Herbert has taken a beating in recent weeks. Losing All-Pro center Corey Linsley has been especially tough in this regard.

Miller: The Jets have limited four of their seven opponents to 16 or fewer points. They haven’t yet allowed anyone to score more than two touchdowns in a game. And they’ve already played Kansas City and Dallas. The Chargers’ offense against the Jets’ defense will determine which team wins this game.

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