Expectations were high heading into the season opener against the Bears, and the Rams delivered
The Los Angeles Rams dazzled in Matthew Stafford’s debut, defeating the Chicago Bears 34-14. All eyes were on LA’s new signal caller Sunday night at SoFi Stadium, and from the start the Rams seemed ready to star under the primetime lights.
The victory marks Sean McVay’s fifth Week 1 win in five seasons. While the margin of victory was fairly wide in the end, it was a one-score game at halftime. There were a number of encouraging individual performances, especially driven by the franchise’s cornerstones, but there were also some results that may be cause for concern over the course of the next 16 regular season games.
Matthew Stafford, QB
It was fair to expect Stafford to start slow, possibly needing to shake off a bit of rust after not appearing in the preseason and navigating a complicated offensive system. Then, on his second pass attempt, he fired a rocket to second-year receiver Van Jefferson for a 67-yard touchdown.
After spending 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford in his Rams debut notched his first career game with multiple touchdown passes of 55 yards or more. From the first drive the Rams’ offense seems to have evolved into an efficient but opportunistic attack, shedding the training wheels that grounded them a year ago. LA punted only once, after being pinned deep into their own territory and Stafford taking a coverage sack by Akiem Hicks.
With touchdown tosses of 67 and 56 yards in his @RamsNFL debut, Matthew Stafford has multiple TD passes of 55+ yards in a game for the first time in his career.
— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) September 13, 2021
Stafford completed 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 12.3 yards per attempt – the highest single game mark of his career. This measure is even more impressive when you consider the Rams did not have much of a running game until well into the fourth quarter. There will be games this season where the production does not come as easy for LA, but it’s hard not to be impressed by what the Rams and their new signal caller put on tape Sunday evening.
Jalen Ramsey & Darious Williams, CB
Jalen Ramsey had an energetic start to the game, setting the tone for the defense against an overall ineffective Bears offense. In just the first quarter, Ramsey recorded 4 tackles, 2 TFL’s, and a fourth down pass breakup that stopped the Bears’ momentum. Early in the game he played mostly in the “Star” role and close to the line of scrimmage, which allowed him to impact both the run and pass game.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 13, 2021
Darious Williams had a seemingly quieter night than Ramsey, but he was certainly still effective. According to NextGen Stats, when Williams was the nearest defender he allowed a mere 5 receptions for 36 yards. This performance was not due to an absence of receiving threats, as Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney form a duo that can be problematic for a fair amount of defenses in the NFL.
Other than the consistent elite performance of DL Aaron Donald, Ramsey and Williams were among the top players on defense against the Bears. It was encouraging to see the formidable pair of corners continue their strong play from a season ago.
The Rams CB duo of Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams continued their success in coverage from last season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 13, 2021
David Long, Jr was also solid against the Bears, but he exited the game early due to injury. Long is filling the important role of outside corner when Ramsey is playing inside at the “star” position, so it would be notable if he had to miss much time. Rookie CB Robert Rochell stepped in during Long’s absence to record a fourth down pass breakup against speedster Darnell Mooney. Rochell is currently considered a developmental player, and it’s good to see him make a big play during his first NFL game.
— Southland Conference (@SouthlandSports) September 13, 2021
Kenny Young, ILB
David Montgomery and the Bears were driving on their first series of the game, but Kenny Young was able to tip an Andy Dalton pass just enough for David Long, Jr to get under the deflected ball for the interception. This was the first big play for Young in what become an evening full of notable moments for the fourth-year linebacker. As expected, Young and Troy Reeder were the the two inside linebackers with primarily Reeder coming off the field in sub packages. The inside linebacker recorded 10 tackles, one shy of Jordan Fuller who led the team against the Bears.
Two players who have put in a hell of a lot of work under a lot of pressure combined for that Rams takeaway. ILB Kenny Young tipped Dalton’s pass; CB David Long JR slid under it in the end zone.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) September 13, 2021
Darrell Henderson, RB
The Rams had only 18 rushing yards in the first half, with 7 of those coming from WR Robert Woods. LA’s rushing attack was not overly effective until well into the second half when the game was mostly out of reach for Chicago. Henderson finished with 16 rushes for 70 yards and a touchdown along with a 17-yard reception. In somewhat of a mild surprise, the third-year runner played the vast majority of offensive snaps and newly acquired running back Sony Michel had only a single rushing attempt. Rookie Jake Funk did not participate on offense.
Overall, Henderson’s ability to play on all three downs and over the course of a game was a positive development for the team. Ability has not been the question with the Rams’ lead back, but rather durability and availability. There will be games this season where LA will need to rely on Henderson and the run game more heavily, but until then this efficient performance should be considered a win.
While a number of attempts came on designed movements of the pocket, Matthew Stafford had sufficient time to push the ball downfield. The Rams’ new signal caller was only sacked once when the Rams had their back to their own end zone. While center Brian Allen could probably be credited for this sack by Akiem Hicks, Stafford had time to go through his third or fourth read before being taken down. This was a very encouraging performance by the Rams offensive line, especially considering the opponent’s formidable defensive front. Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, and Hicks were hardly disruptive outside of the run game Sunday night.
Los Angeles’s offensive line did not create much space on the ground in the first half for Henderson, but the pass blocking deserved a gold star.
Justin Hollins, EDGE
The Rams’ defense did not get much pressure on Dalton during the first half, but the Bears focused on short targets and getting the ball out quick. Chicago was forced to rely on their third string left tackle after injuries to veteran Jason Peters and rookie Larry Borom; however, credit still needs given to Justin Hollins for taking advantage of the opportunity he was presented with. Hollins finished the evening with 8 tackles (1 for a loss), 2 sacks and a forced fumble. One of his sacks was the result of cleaning up the wreckage caused by Aaron Donald, but he still gets credit for being in the right place at the right time.
Leonard Floyd also had a favorable matchup against right tackle Germain Ifedi, but Hollins felt like the more disruptive of the EDGE players.
Tyler Higbee, TE
Tight-end Tyler Higbee played every snap on offense and was targeted by Stafford 6 times, notching 5 catches for 68 yards (including a long of 37). While these statistics are not necessarily eye-popping, it seems Higbee was being utilized different than he had been in past years. Stafford looked the veteran’s way multiple times in the quick game, and Higbee could become a dependable third down and/or short yardage option for the Rams this season.
His number was also called on at least two tight-end screens; however, right guard Austin Corbett missed a block on the second screen and Higbee was tackled with a lot of green grass in front of him. The arrow is pointing upwards for the veterans and his growing relationship with Stafford.
Tutu Atwell, WR/PR
In what may have been the most surprising development of the night, veteran WR Cooper Kupp fair caught the Bears’ only punt of the game. While this may have been a strategic move by the Rams to have the sure-handed Kupp field the ball, it’s fair to wonder what role Tutu Atwell will have on the team this season. The wide receiver rotation seems to be a four-man group between Kupp, Woods, Jefferson, and DeSean Jackson, though Atwell may work in from time-to-time for gadget-type plays.
Do coaches trust Atwell to be a contributor for LA this season, or were there just too few opportunities for the rookie to find his way onto the field?
Sony Michel, RB
Sony Michel was acquired via trade with the New England Patriots about two and a half weeks before Sunday night’s game, so realistically speaking he likely has not had time to develop a deep understanding of the Rams offense. However, it seems the expectations for Michel may have been higher than subbing in for Henderson when the started needed a breather. It was a mild surprise that the Rams did not have a plan to work Michel into the game other than spelling Henderson for a play or two at a times, resulting in a single carry for the Rams’ new running back. The veteran’s role could certainly change as he has more time to acclimate to the team, but currently it would seem catastrophic if Henderson would have to miss much time.
The Rams surrendered 108 yards to David Montgomery on just 16 carries, representing an average per attempt of 6.8 yards. Other members of the Bears contributed another 26 yards on the ground, including a three-yard run by rookie Justin Fields for a touchdown.
While it would certainly be good for the Los Angeles defense to be more stingy on the ground, I’m not sure it’s the end of the world. Montgomery was clearly the Bears’ best player Sunday night, but to what point are you willing to give up 6-7 yards a pop in order to limit the threat of the passing game? The Rams’ apparent weakness on the ground is mostly schematic and risk-based. When you consider the pace at which the offense could score, the Bears were effectively suffocated as the night went on. This approach worked as intended against Chicago; however, LA may face other teams better equipped to take advantage of openings in the run game as this season continues.
Certainly this list seems a tad lopsided, but so was the Rams’ margin of victory against the Bears. Any other additions to the “Losers” list would err on the side of nit-picky. Overall, this was exactly the outing the Rams needed Sunday night in order to quell most of the lingering concerns heading into the regular season.