In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, Bolts from the Turf Show Times’ Evan Craig and I sat down for a short Q&A for one another’s publications.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. The Rams sit at 6-6 and just outside the playoffs, but right in the hunt. Was this the expectation for the Rams coming into the season? Big picture, where have they lived up to expectation? Where have they faltered?
I believe the expectation for the Rams was to display progress with their young players no matter the team’s record. Given their three-game winning streak, it’s been a surprise as to how it’s been happening so soon. Heading into the year, I wanted the Rams to be in the hunt past Thanksgiving. With less than three weeks to go until Christmas, they have a very strong chance of sneaking in. Any realistic expectations that were set have likely been surpassed already. That is a testament to the culture and fight LA has displayed under Sean McVay.
If I could, I’ll actually say their defense has easily met or surpassed expectations. The unit was expected to be one of the NFL’s worst given all the inexperience on that side of the ball. However, the defense has been remarkably average, decent even, and has provided the Rams with a chance to stay in most games. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has taken plenty of crap from the fanbase, but his work in 2023 has earned him some head coaching interviews this offseason.
What was supposed to be a strength, was actually a weakness, or not as consistent as the team desired. Aside from the last two games, the offense has faltered or has been inconsistent for much of the year. A lot of that was due to injuries, mainly to Kyren Williams and Cooper Kupp. Matthew Stafford has also not played well, again, aside from the past two games. Kupp has cooled off considerably following his two games back off IR. Despite that, I feel the offense is starting to turn a corner and has a chance to grow into the unit that was initially expected to carry a weak defense.
2. In 12 games, wide receiver Puka Nacua has lit the NFL ablaze with 1,029 yards and four touchdowns. What about his skillset has allowed him to thrive?
What can I say about Puka Nacua that hasn’t been said already? The kid deserves to be in consideration for the OROY award even if he’s going to lose it to C.J. Stroud.
Nacua for one, has maturity beyond his years. There was a reason the coaching staff was talking him up all offseason since he was drafted in April. At first, I was cautiously optimistic about the hype, but he has proven he was well worth it all along. Puka carries himself like a 10-year veteran. Rookie wide receivers generally don’t enter the league and do what he’s been doing all year, especially a late-rounder like him. His overall work ethic is going to serve him well throughout his NFL career.
Nacua also has an incredible nose for the ball and has improved his route running during the season. One of the reasons he fell in the draft was due to his route running at BYU, yet he has seemingly tightened it up well under McVay’s coaching. Back to his nose for the ball, it’s truly remarkable how much confidence the coaching staff had in him early on, and that confidence hasn’t wavered. No matter what, Puka always finds a way to get open. He’s basically like Cooper Kupp 2.0 and that’s a great problem to have heading into his second year.
3. The Rams offense as a whole has picked up steam lately, scoring 36 and 37 points the past two weeks, respectively. What is clicking with the offense? If you were the Ravens defensive coordinator, how would you hope to slow them down?
The run game for one since the return of Kyren Williams in Week 12. LA has rushed for 348 yards in wins over the Cardinals and Browns. Williams has given the offense a significant boost which has enabled the unit to score points in bunches.
Matthew Stafford has also been lights out the last two weeks, throwing seven touchdown passes in that span. Something has clicked within Stafford and it’s great to see. He took a nasty shot late in the Seahawks game a few weeks ago and the fourth quarter of that matchup is where his performance shifted. Perhaps Seattle finally kicked his ass into gear and for that, I’m grateful. I just hope those stupid Seachickens don’t want anything in return.
If I was magically summoned to be the Raven defensive coordinator, I would all-out blitz on every single play to guarantee the Rams an easy win. But to give you a REAL answer, I would limit the run game to the best of my abilities to force Matthew Stafford to pass. Stafford has barely been touched since he returned to the lineup and I would make him as uncomfortable as possible. Whoever dominates this game in the trenches will be the winner plain and simple. Now if that game plan works, I’m sending my resume to John Harbaugh. Or maybe I should send it to McVay instead since Morris could be leaving. Well, it’s always nice to have a fallback option.
4. Who are two Rams players (one offense, one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t household names?
While I’m cheating here, on offense I’d say Kyren Williams. The reason is because the offense was expected to run through Cam Akers this season. After Williams put together a strong performance in the opener, Akers was traded away. On a few occasions, Williams has been putting up games and numbers that haven’t been seen since Marshall Faulk and Todd Gurley. No one expected this type of production from the second-year player. He’s not a household name yet but he’s well on his way.
Defensively, my choice would be rookie defensive tackle Kobie Turner. The rookie has really stepped it up the last two weeks as he’s recorded 3.5 sacks. Turner is coming on strong at the right time and that is incredibly beneficial for Aaron Donald. The question starting out was which young playmaker would step up and help AD out? Kobie has more than answered the call which again has me very excited about the future of this team and what they’re building.
5. The line for this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, is Ravens -7.5. What are your thoughts on this line?
I think this is a fair line for the Rams. This is the third game this season where the Rams have played an opponent coming off their bye. The Ravens should be well-rested in this one which doesn’t bode well for the Rams. LA generally struggles when playing on the East Coast. While I see them giving Baltimore a good fight, I see the Rams’ offense struggling against a tough Ravens defense. Matthew Stafford has been sacked once during the team’s three game winning streak while Baltimore leads the NFL in sacks. Something has to give here and that is why I’m picking the Ravens to cover handily in this one.