The Chargers and Rams lost on the same week for the first time this season. Problem for the Rams is, they have to wait two weeks to respond to consecutive losses … and then they have to visit powerful Green Bay next. Meanwhile, the Chargers have a chance to respond at home Sunday against the Steelers. Moderated by L.A. Times NFL editor Athan Atsales, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, NFL writer Sam Farmer and columnist Helene Elliott discuss the teams’ futures:
Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers have beaten Sean McVay’s Rams five times in a row. Is McVay getting outcoached by his mentor?
Farmer: The Rams were outcoached and outplayed Monday night, that’s for sure. The week off couldn’t come at a better time for the Rams, who need to regroup for their stretch run. McVay’s clearly a good coach, but the sting of this one will linger.
Klein: Sean McVay said again after Monday night’s loss that each of those five games has a different story, a different narrative. And he’s correct. But Shanahan and his staff — with two different defensive coordinators — clearly have had the Rams figured out. McVay is hypercompetitive and doesn’t like losing to anyone. If you believe McVay, who to a fault always says it’s his job to put his players in the right positions to succeed, then you have to conclude that Shanahan has outwitted him five times in a row.
The Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers both bullied the Rams physically. Do you think this is a mentality, size or scheme problem?
Farmer: Partly mentality, partly scheme. As they consistently have, the 49ers have played an extremely physical game against the Rams and have run the ball effectively. As I mentioned last week, we’re seeing George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk all getting back up to speed at the same time. That convergence is devastating.
Klein: Well, I don’t think the problem is necessarily the scheme. McVay’s offense is regarded as one of the NFL’s most creative. But that only works if you can keep pressure off Stafford — and trust that Stafford will make good decisions and that receivers won’t drop passes. The Titans and the 49ers — as well as the Cardinals — all decided they weren’t going to get into the finesse game. The Rams defense did not give up a long run against the 49ers, but Shanahan kept pounding away with Elijah Mitchell. Their first possession lasted 18 plays, the vast majority rushing plays. That was a statement, a way to control the clock, and a method for establishing dominance.
Justin Herbert said after the Vikings game, on three losses in four games, that it’s a new team, new coaches, new playbook … so, they don’t have it together yet. But how do we explain the 4-1 start?
Elliott: I’d say raw talent carried them in those first five games. Then, opponents got a good read on them and found weaknesses to exploit. The Chargers haven’t been able to respond to the adjustments in how teams are playing them. Staley is getting an on-the-job education in making counter-adjustments to the measures that opponents take against the Chargers.
Farmer: That’s fair by Herbert. New team, new coaches, new playbook. That cuts both ways, too, because opponents are getting a new look and something new to adjust to, and that can benefit the team that’s made the changes. But don’t dismiss the quality of the opponents they beat — or the quality of those teams that beat them. The losses in the past month came to teams guided by some of the best defensive minds in football — Wink Martendale (of Baltimore), Bill Belichick (New England), Mike Zimmer (Minnesota) — and it would have been an upset for a second-year quarterback to decipher them with ease.
Miller: There’s no question teams have adjusted to what the Chargers did over the first five weeks of the season. The impact wide receiver Mike Williams had in that start can’t be overstated and serves an illustrative point. He had 165 yards against Cleveland in Week 5 and has 137 yards since. The Chargers need to find answers to how teams are defending them now.
What do you think opposing defenses are doing differently since the off week to make things difficult for Justin Herbert and the Chargers’ offense?
Farmer: It’s part what the defenses have done, and part what the Chargers haven’t. The Chargers haven’t had a consistent running game and consequently have been thumped in the time-of-possession battle. Herbert hasn’t done a good enough job of getting the ball down the field. Again, consider the defenses. He has looked confused and impatient at times. Still an exceptional quarterback, especially in light of his age and limited experience, but these rough patches were going to come.
Miller: The common dominator seems to be that the offense has struggled against three very good and respected defensive coaching staffs — Baltimore, New England and Minnesota. Don’t forget that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi called plays in the NFL for only a year and a half before this season. The struggle remains finding ways to make Herbert comfortable while operating this system. I’d expect to see them try to get him on the move more with rollouts and bootlegs, something that was effective against Philadelphia.
After Week 10, the AFC West seems totally up for grabs. What division rival should the Chargers be most worried about?
Miller: The Chiefs obviously aren’t as cooked as they appeared to be just a short time ago. It looks like this will be one of the more volatile NFL seasons on record, and I don’t expect that to change. Every team can beat every other team. But Kansas City is still the team to topple in the division. Just look at how the Chiefs’ defense has played the past five weeks.
Farmer: Definitely the Chiefs. The Raiders are starting to circle the drain. The Broncos really don’t have an answer at quarterback. But Kansas City is showing flickers of who it has been the past few years. That team is likely to start heating up in December and January. The good news for the Chargers is they typically play the Chiefs well. They’ve already beaten them at Arrowhead this season and the rematch is on a Thursday night at SoFi. Hard to win as a visitor on Thursday nights, especially when you have to cross two time zones. Regardless, the Chiefs are the team to beat in the division.
Elliott: Sure, they have their nemeses, but I think their biggest worry is themselves and how they can get more possession time and play at the tempo they want to play. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does if they can’t find some level of consistency in every phase of the game.
The Rams have a tall task ahead to end their two-game skid, a road game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after a week off. With only one weak opponent the rest of the way, what do you think the Rams’ regular-season record might be?
Farmer: This league is about keeping your head above water, then getting hot in December and January. To me, this feels like an 11-6 team — a 17-game schedule still sounds strange — so that means they can lose three more games. Maybe they get hot and that doesn’t happen, but that sounds about right to me.
Klein: Sam’s been doing this a long time and knows what he’s talking about, so I’m not going to disagree. But I’m not going to put a number on it. Too much can happen — with the Rams and their opponents — to know how this will play out. I will say this: The Rams have defeated only one team with a winning record. Going to Green Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore, all on holiday weekends, does not bode well. And the Rams also play the Cardinals on the road.