April 13, 2024

The Rams moved into an NFC playoff spot with their 28-20 win over the Washington Commanders. Meanwhile, the Chargers lost so horribly last Thursday, succumbing to the Las Vegas Raiders, 63-21, that their coach and general manager were fired the next day. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, NFL columnist Sam Farmer and columnist Helene Elliott discuss what happened and upcoming prospects:

As much as the healing of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Kyren Williams has boosted the Rams offense, how much credit should be going to the young defense?

Elliott: The Rams’ defense deserves a lot of credit for keeping them in games and making this whole unlikely playoff pursuit possible.

Klein: Yup, until Jacoby Brissett and Terry McLaurin started beating the Rams deep, the story of the game against the Commanders would have been the Rams defense. But cornerback Derion Kendrick’s coverage struggles — and penalties — remains an issue. Still, the Rams of late have seen production and key plays from players such as safety Quentin Lake and rookie outside linebacker Nick Hampton.

Farmer: I think the Rams have been OK on defense, but they haven’t created enough turnovers. Their average of 0.9 takeaways per game puts them near the bottom of the league, and their minus-two turnover differential suggests this team is going to have to score a lot to keep its head above water. By comparison, the 49ers have a league-leading differential of plus-13. The Rams’ three remaining opponents — New Orleans, the New York Giants and San Francisco — all have done a respectable job of protecting the ball, so let’s see what happens.

Fumbling the football can become a mental problem and also the opposition becoming aware of the issue often increases attempts to strip. Considering how dominant Kyren Williams has been over the last four games, how much of a concern is his fumbling? Does he have any such reputation?

Elliott: I think one game — though two fumbles — is too small a sample size to draw any conclusions. He hadn’t fumbled before today. It’s worth watching but I wouldn’t label him as fumble-prone at this point.

Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste forces Rams running back Kyren Williams to fumble.

Commanders cornerback Benjamin St-Juste forces Rams running back Kyren Williams to fumble.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Klein: Agreed, two fumbles in one game do not make a trend. If anything, Williams and the Rams are lucky it happened in a game against a weak opponent such as the Commanders because it has now heightened awareness for the stretch and, possibly, the playoffs.

Farmer: Still, Williams fumbled twice Sunday and that’s really bad. “Fumbleitis” can be a terrible problem. But let’s look back at his college career. Three years at Notre Dame, played in 28 games, 419 carries with eight fumbles. He has been trending down since his five in the 2020 season. He’s probably harsher on himself about Sunday’s turnovers than any fan could be. Too early to say this is an issue.

Is Rams placekicker Lucas Havrisik still under roster scrutiny considering he missed another field goal against Washington that kept the Commanders within striking distance.

Elliott: Havrisik should be under scrutiny but what are the Rams’ options at this stage of the season? They signed Mason Crosby but released him from the practice squad. Do they go back to him? That’s a tough situation.

Farmer: Unless you’ve got “Tucker” on your back and play for the Ravens, you’re always under scrutiny. And let’s face it, even future Hall of Famer Justin Tucker would be under scrutiny if he missed a few that he normally would have made. Havrisik is eight for eight inside of 40 yards — 14 of 15 on PATs — but has missed half of his eight kicks longer than that. It’s a concern with two of the last three games outdoors — at the New York Giants and at San Francisco. He’s a rookie and on a short leash, so he doesn’t have much more margin for error.

Klein: Sam’s right. All kickers, even the best ones when they struggle, are under scrutiny. Sean McVay acknowledges that he was spoiled by Greg Zuerlein and Matt Gay. Havrisik did not flinch when the Rams brought in Mason Crosby. Havrisik beat him out in practice and made big kicks against the Ravens. But the Rams cannot afford for Havrisik to remain inconsistent.

 Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) warms up before a game.

The Rams are familiar with Saints quarterback Derek Carr, having faced him three times when he was with the Raiders.

(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

The Rams only have three days to prepare for a huge Thursday night home game against the New Orleans Saints, also 7-7 and vying for an NFC playoff spot. What problems do the Saints present to the Rams?

Farmer: The Saints have turned it around in the red zone. They were awful in those situations for much of the season but in the last three games have scored touchdowns on nine of their last 10 trips inside the 20. Keep an eye out for tight end Jimmy Graham, who’s in the midst of a career resurgence. At 37, he’s the oldest player on the roster, but he’s still a sure-handed, 6-foot-7 target. Also, the New Orleans secondary is really good and leads the league in pass breakups. And they haven’t had star cornerback Marshon Lattimore for the past four weeks. But keep in mind, the best quarterbacks the Saints have faced this season are Trevor Lawrence and Jared Goff. So let’s see how they handle a red-hot Matthew Stafford.

Klein: I say the Saints’ record is misleading. Their schedule is devoid of top teams the Rams have lost to, including the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys and Ravens. The Saints have twice defeated the lowly Panthers and have other wins over the Titans, Patriots, Colts, Bears and Giants. Quarterback Derek Carr faced the Rams three times while playing for the Raiders. He passed for zero touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Thanks, profootballreference.com! Running back Alvin Kamara has scored five touchdowns in four games against the Rams.

Elliott: I hate to resort to coach-speak but I think the Rams’ biggest concern is themselves. McVay said a lot of the errors they made against Washington were fixable, and that has to be their focus.

If you were hiring the Chargers next coach and general manager, what would you be looking for and where?

Miller: Luckily, I don’t have to hire the next coach because this is a tough business in which to get the right answers. But trying to think along with the team’s decision-makers, I’m guessing the Chargers will look first at hiring a head coach with an offensive background, given that teams frequently zig after they’ve zagged. There will be a push among the fans to look only at experienced head coaches since the Chargers haven’t done that lately. But I’m not sure how big of a deal that will be in the end. You can find plenty of examples of head coaches succeeding and failing in recent years regardless of how much previous head coaching they’ve done.

Farmer: I’m with Jeff on this. I think the Chargers hire an offensive coach, looking for maximum mind meld with Justin Herbert. The hot prospects out there are Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik. But do the Chargers really have the luxury of rolling the dice on a first-time head coach? Their last three hires were all newbies: Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn and Staley. What’s more, the Chargers don’t like to spend a lot of money, at least by NFL standards, so they’re probably not going to get into a bunch of bidding wars. Bill Belichick will be out of their price range, and probably wouldn’t be a good fit anyway. Jim Harbaugh brings a full set of baggage. The Chargers need a strong GM who will go toe-to-toe with owner Dean Spanos and put his mark on the franchise, with a philosophy that’s in lockstep with the new head coach. It’s not going to be easy to right this ship.

Elliott: I will yield to my more learned colleagues here regarding the specifics of the best coaching candidates, but I do think the Chargers need a coach with some NFL head coaching experience. The lack of experience was a huge disadvantage for Staley. The Chargers absolutely need a head coach with a strong background in running the offense and can work well with Justin Herbert, who is the franchise. I agree with Sam’s suggestion that the Chargers should hire a strong-willed GM who will stand up to owner Dean Spanos, but chances are that Spanos wouldn’t want someone who has a big personality and might say “No” to him. Then again, no one expected Spanos to fire Staley — and Telesco — before season’s end, but the loss to the Raiders created an untenable situation. If Spanos considers this a turning-point moment for the franchise — and he should — maybe he’ll take the dramatic step of hiring a forceful GM.

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