Bills serve Rams slice of humble pie

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Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Time

There’s not much to feel good about. The feeling is, perhaps, dispiriting and discouraging because the Rams suffered a 31-10 loss, the worst loss in an opener by defending champions since 2013. There’s a reason to overreact to every little thing after the first week of the season. Take a deep breath. 

And yes, the Rams looked terrible at Sofi Stadium and in front of a national television audience on Thursday night in the first real test of the 2022 season, the most anticipated matchup against the Buffalo Bills, a team that is a betting favorite to win the Super Bowl. But it’s too early to sit here and try to say they’re comically bad, as evidenced by the team’s performance against a complete Bills squad. 

Yes, that was a bad, bad loss.

This one was never really close, and the Rams got clobbered in an NBC-televised game. Most of the viewing public was fixated on what was supposed to be a marquee matchup of two of the best teams. What was expected to be a heavyweight contest didn’t live up to its billing as the Bills controlled the game for the better part of the second half. What could have been and should have been a much closer game turned out to be surprisingly a boring matchup as the Bills outplayed the Rams in all three phrases of the game.

It was an incredibly lopsided end to a kickoff game that was, um, not very good or very competitive. This game was over, it seemed like, from the moment the Rams stepped onto the field. The offense, loaded with star power and more, looked out of sorts and stagnant. The defense, loaded with top-flight talent, looked somewhat discombobulated and lost. There was the unusual and rare miscues, but as strange as that is, we know it most likely won’t happen next Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. 

Rust may have also been an issue. It could be in part because McVay elected to not play his regulars in preseason. But still, in their first home game to open the season, as miserable and horrible it most certainly was, and having to watch the Bills’ defense pulverize the Rams’ offense into submission, a bad Week 1 is not a cause for alarm, nor reason to panic. Amidst all the negatives, they still have 16 games remaining on their schedule and more than enough time to gradually regroup and rectify mistakes to finally crack the win column.

An ugly night from the Rams was punctuated by three interceptions thrown by beleaguered quarterback Matthew Stafford. It was a surely a night to forget for the Rams, especially for the guy who threw the ball to someone wearing a different color jersey. Whether it was his elbow injury, poor offensive line play, or a a little rust, he had a lot of excuses for his inability to impose his will on the game and elevate what’s around him. It was an uncharacteristic performance from Stafford, to say the least. There was a lot of chatter about his lack of execution and production to begin the season. It was presumably his worst showing since he joined the Rams, when he proved to both himself and everyone in the NFL that he can play at such a high level and lead a franchise. It was the first time Sean McVay has lost a season opener. 

The high-flying Rams offense was slowed by Buffalo’s solid game plan, a stifling defense and miscues by the Super Bowl-winning quarterback. This was not an efficient and explosive bunch Rams fans are used to seeing since the start of the Sean McVay era. This was no easy task for the Rams, against a Bills pass rush that wreaked havoc on Stafford. It’s only one game and, for much of the night, Stafford was staring at a beast in Pro-Bowl linebacker Von Miller, the former Ram.

But Stafford was extremely disappointing, he appeared easily rattled as he was pressured on dropbacks, chased down and dragged down by a Buffalo defense that swarmed its way to seven sacks. He threw the team’s only touchdown pass when he hit a toe-tapping Cooper Kupp in the back corner of the end zone late in the second quarter. Obviously, we know there’s a lot the Rams didn’t do well. The team’s lack of efficiency on third downs and lack of creativity on offense were noticeable, and in case you’ve missed it, there wasn’t much to see. The inability to establish the run game was culprit, first downs a problem, careless turnovers and too many sacks. Their offense didn’t score enough points and their quarterback wasn’t good enough. 

It’s not the way they wanted to start the season, but they can almost certainly paint a picture of optimism despite a deflating loss. Let’s be honest. The positive, despite losing ugly, is that the Rams are one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL, on paper. Long season to go and, for the Rams especially, it’s still not too late to turn things around. It’s early September. The season, well, there’s still plenty of time left. Too much time if you’re concerned about the Rams. They didn’t look like a team going all-out to win, but it’s hard to imagine them not turning it on next weekend. And the Rams are still odd-on favorites to win the NFC West, and they’ll probably end up winning the division. 

The loss to the Bills served as a friendly reminder that the Rams have plenty of work to do. Their offense was anemic for much of the night and will have to adjust, find a remedy to the Week 1 woes and implement a quick fix. It wasn’t Stafford’s best play against a defense that’s expected to be one of the NFL’s best this season. What’s next depends on how the offensive line protects Stafford. The wall built around Stafford looks a lot different this season without the veteran presence of Andrew Whitworth. The area of concern for the Rams this season will be the large bodies up front, because in order to make the passing game more reliable and effective, it has to start with protecting Stafford. Five of the six big men tasked with standing in front of him to allow him to comfortably stand in the pocket and sling the ball to all parts of the field, must line up to ensure that he can deliver.

Stafford’s first season with the Rams, his best year as a pro quarterback, added weight and expectations coming into this season fresh off a Super Bowl victory this past February. He is mentally tough. He is used to the scrutiny and criticism. He played in Detroit, where they failed to put the best talent around him and expected him to make it work with limited depth. We saw Stafford hone his craft and impressively grow into his new role as the Rams quarterback. Of course, the blame falls on him for the Rams’ loss. He’s the same guy who pulled out playoff games and delivered every time his team needed a big play in their quest to win the Super Bowl. 

This is a Rams team built for a long playoff run. For this offense to work as it is now, establishing the run game would be a nice start. The running back tandem of Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson behind Stafford can run the ball effectively if they make a commitment to do so. There’s nothing wrong with showing off and playing with your offensive toys. That’s going to happen because the Rams are equipped to move the ball through the air. 

Much of the conversation revolves around Stafford, who resembled his old self and reverted to old habits. The more the pocket collapsed, the more he was forced to throw while under pressure with very little time to get rid of the ball. But it’s not only on Stafford to change the team’s fortunes as the season plays out. It shouldn’t be all on the quarterback. 

Their pass rush was woefully inadequate, and the Rams monster defensive tackle Aaron Donald was nonexistent. The Rams have shown early signs that their secondary, a major point of concern, might have a tough task trying to thwart the passing attack. You can say ballhawking cornerback Jalen Ramsey wasn’t good enough to cover his man for the life of him while he’s not as fast but physical. And it was solely because he seemed lost, confused and was unable to keep up with Bills’ stud receiver Stefon Diggs, who finished with 122 yards. If they didn’t know already, Ramsey isn’t capable of taking away part of the field anymore. Put another way, he just isn’t that guy anymore. He got beat by Diggs for a 53-yard touchdown.

While the Rams will be deservedly criticized for giving up big chunk of yardage, they took the ball away four times. And yes, they intercepted the Bills gunslinger Josh Allen twice. They have plenty of playmaking defenders who can set the tone and get the ball back for the offense. Linebacker Terrell Lewis and returning cornerback Troy Hill each had picks. 

We can agree the Rams defending their title might be feasible, but after just one game, they have to watch film and make the necessary adjustments. Nobody should be surprised that the Bills made a strong statement that they’re a real contender. The Rams turned in an absolutely embarrassing effort, but it would be foolish to overreact despite a struggling offensive line. It was ugly, it was brutal, it was awfully bad, but given how the team is constructed, there is a great chance the Rams can run it back. It’s about winning, and nothing less. If they clean up the mental lapses and play good, sound football, another championship run could be possible. 

In a very short sample size, they did not show up ready to play nor show up ready to take on an AFC powerhouse. Most folks expected Bills vs. Rams to be a close game, an intense dogfight, a back-and-forth shootout. There is not a quarterback in the league more fascinating than Allen. Some see him as the top-ranked quarterback in the NFL, the next big thing.

Don’t feel too bad for those guys. They’re a team that’s widely projected to win the NFC West, but it’s a team that got outplayed, outperformed and outshined by the Bills who are just as good. Perhaps a loss is not a huge deal. We shall see. It’s tough to say as of right now. Still, good or not, Rams players must be able to overcome the massive hangover they apparently could be suffering through.

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Jonathan Mathis as known as The Sports Judge is the founder of SoCalChronicle. He is a professional Sports writer, contributor, Youtuber, podcaster @ ASAP Network, and co-host of Gonzo & The Judge Sports Talk. Follow the SportsJudge@ https://twitter.com/Sportsjudge85

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