The Rams rolled over the Houston Texans as expected, but have a huge test next week against the Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, the Chargers lost their second in a row and must travel cross-country to face the rebuilding Eagles. Moderated by Los Angeles Times NFL editor Athan Atsales, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, columnist Helene Elliott and NFL writer Sam Farmer discuss the teams’ futures:
The Rams made a big move Monday, trading for eight-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Von Miller. How do you see him fitting in with the defense?
Klein: Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has to be giddy. Miller will fit in just fine on a defense that includes three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and edge rusher Leonard Floyd. The collection of defensive stars is reminiscent of 2018, when the Rams made a Super Bowl run with a roster that included Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Floyd has 6½ sacks, and outside linebackers Terrell Lewis and Obo Okoronkwo have been playing well. Opposing offensive coordinators already had to be nervous preparing for the Rams. Adding Miller ups the anxiety level.
Farmer: The Rams getting Von Miller is huge, and reflective of the swing-for-the-fences philosophy they’ve embraced since returning to Los Angeles. The Rams essentially are renting him for the final nine games of his contract, which expires after this season. It’s similar to the acquisition of Dante Fowler in 2018. The impact should be immediate, as Miller will be ready to go for the Sunday night game against Tennessee. He was kept out for injury Sunday but could have played; the Broncos wanted to keep him fresh for a trade. With Miller on L.A.’s defensive line, opponents will have a much harder time double-teaming Aaron Donald. And if Leonard Floyd is your third-best pass rusher, you’re doing pretty well.
Is Von Miller worth the price they paid, a second- and third-round pick next season? Because of the salary cap, teams always need the draft and free agent signings to successfully fill the roster. The Rams have traded plenty of picks over the years.
Farmer: Hey, it’s their philosophy. If they can bolster a good team right away, they’re willing to mortgage their future. It worked with Dante Fowler in 2018, and there’s a good chance it works with Miller. Will they have to pay the price down the road? Probably. But this team has made the most of some modest picks over the years. Consider 2017, when they got Cooper Kupp and John Johnson in the third round, and Josh Reynolds and Samson Ebukam in the fourth. Trading away high-round picks isn’t always a recipe for disaster.
Klein: Miller is only costing the Rams $700,000 for the rest of the season, so that would have to be considered a bargain. Are the Rams getting the same player at 32 that he was when he was the Super Bowl MVP following the 2015 season? No, but Sean McVay said Monday that Miller can still affect a game. Of course, the Rams gave up two more draft picks. This from a team that — at the moment — won’t have a first-round pick until 2024. McVay scoffed at the notion that the Rams don’t value picks, saying there was “a formula” with lots of things being done “behind the scenes.” He said there’s a vision in place, and while it might not be for every team, it fits for the Rams. Well, if you’re a Rams fan, it’s hard to argue at this point. This is L.A. The Rams are competing for attention with the Lakers and the Dodgers. You need star players. Lots of them. The Rams are in contention for another Super Bowl run. Maybe it catches up with the Rams at some point. Maybe not. For now, it seems to be working.
The Chargers’ offense looked confident and scary to the opposition over the first five weeks. Have you noticed any adjustments made by the opposition the last two weeks or are the Chargers simply messing up?
Farmer: First of all, consider the teams they’ve played the past two weeks. Baltimore on the road and New England. Both very well coached and daunting, whether Tom Brady’s playing for the Patriots or not. Also, earlier in the season, the Chargers were operating at a third-down-conversion clip that was probably unsustainable. That wasn’t the case for every game, but they put up some pretty jaw-dropping numbers. In their opener against Washington, for instance, they converted 14 of 19 third downs. They had to come back to earth after that. In their four wins, they’ve had a third-down conversion rate of 50% (28 of 56). And in their three losses, they’ve converted 33.3% (12 of 36). They’re a good offense, not a great offense, and the recent dip has been a combination of strong opponents and the law of averages catching up with them.
Elliott: What Sam said. They struggled on third down on Sunday (four for 12). And maybe, just maybe, their coach was outcoached by the guy on the other sideline, the one who has six Super Bowl rings for his coaching work. I think his name is Belichick, or something like that.
Miller: Quarterback Justin Herbert has been noticeably out of sorts the past two games. He’s looked confused at times and hesitant at others. The Chargers’ struggles to protect him Sunday certainly played a part, coach Brandon Staley saying Herbert was “sped up” too often by pressure. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the young quarterback’s past two games also have come against experienced coaches in John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick. Belichick has now put the clamps on Herbert twice since December.
The Chargers’ next opponent, the Eagles, plays a lot of zone defense and plays deep, forcing teams to throw short and make long drives to score. Over the last two weeks, the Raiders dominated against that scheme and the Lions failed miserably. How do you think the Chargers might fare against such a scheme?
Miller: That’s exactly what they faced against New England and the results were not great. Staley referenced the need to be more disciplined and patient under such circumstances. Herbert agreed. So, perhaps the Chargers’ experience in this 27-24 loss can be immediately applied next weekend in Philadelphia. We’ll see if they learned from their mistakes.
Farmer: This is a litmus-test game for the Chargers. Good teams win the games they’re supposed to win. Whether they have to chip away underneath, or go over the top, Justin Herbert & Co. are equipped to beat Philadelphia. Of course, there’s a difference between winning on paper and winning.
Elliott: I think this is a pivotal game for the Chargers. Losing back-to-back games isn’t a huge deal. Three losses in a row would be a huge deal, possibly eroding their confidence. It’s a test for coach Brandon Staley too. He has to keep them believing in him and their systems. A big game and show of leadership from Justin Herbert would go a long way toward putting them in position to beat a team they should beat.
The Rams have been fooled by fake punts, not handled onside kicks and not done particularly well in the return game. Special teams has been their most glaring weakness. Will this eventually cost the Rams games unless they make major changes?
Farmer: Their special teams have been abysmal, and they’d better fix that or it’s going to cost them. Detroit burned them with two fake punts and a surprise onside kick last week, and then Houston had a successful onside kick Sunday. In a close game, a single breakdown could be the decisive play. As special teams coaches go, Joe DeCamillis is as experienced as they come. So this has been a head scratcher.
Klein: Sean McVay, and all coaches, talk about championship teams needing to be consistently strong in all phases. Rams special teams are the weak link. That’s not a problem against teams like the Colts, Giants, Lions and Texans. It easily could cost the Rams a victory against the Packers, Cardinals, Buccaneers or Saints. I don’t know if major changes are necessary — kicker Matt Gay has made all but one field-goal attempt — but there needs to be major improvement.
Chargers cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. both suffered injuries against the Patriots. With the trade deadline Tuesday, might that be a place they seek help? Or are there more glaring needs?
Farmer: Chargers GM Tom Telesco isn’t a wheeler-dealer during the season. He’s pretty careful in that regard, and I wouldn’t expect him to be trying to swing a big deal. The Chargers aren’t the only team looking to restock at corner. The Buccaneers and others would like to do the same. If they do make a deal, the Chargers would want to bring in someone who knows Brandon Staley’s scheme, someone who could hit the ground running. So think about places where Staley has coached — Chicago, Denver and the Rams. The Broncos might consider dealing cornerback Kyle Fuller, but the chances of that plummeted when Bryce Callahan suffered an apparent knee injury Sunday. Obviously, in this passing league, that’s a coveted position.
Miller: Entering Sunday, the Chargers’ glaring needs were along the defensive front and on the right side of the offensive line. Those remain and now, cornerback could be an issue. No idea yet on the severity of the injuries to Davis and Samuel, but the Chargers’ depth there certainly is being tested. Telesco never has made such a trade-deadline deal. It seems unlikely, but, with Davis and Samuel both unable to finish the game Sunday, maybe that changes now.