It’s been nearly a month since the Rams played at SoFi Stadium. Their last appearance was not chock-full of pleasant memories.
The Rams lost to the Tennessee Titans. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had two passes intercepted, one that was returned for a touchdown.
The defeat started a trend — for the Rams and Stafford — that resulted in a three-game losing streak.
On Sunday, the Rams (7-4) return to the $5-billion house that owner Stan Kroenke built to play the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9).
It’s a prime opportunity for the Rams, in their boom-or-bust season, to get back on track for a possible run to Super Bowl LVI, which will be played at SoFi Stadium.
That won’t happen unless coach Sean McVay, who has never lost four games in a row with the Rams, gets his team to play better. McVay pointed to the World Series-champion Atlanta Braves and last season’s Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers as teams that persevered through midseason challenges to win titles.
“Are we going through a little bit of adversity?” McVay said. “Are we playing like we’re capable of? I don’t think so, but we’ve played the way that we’ve played and we’re going to own that.”
Said receiver Odell Beckham Jr.: “It’s about putting the complete game together and get this thing rolling.”
Beckham had not yet joined the Rams when they lost to the Titans on Nov. 7. Neither had outside linebacker Von Miller.
General manager Les Snead and McVay added the two stars to a team that already featured Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey to ensure the Rams are playing in SoFi Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday in February.
Neither player made much of an impact in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Beckham caught a long touchdown pass in a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
But Beckham‘s and Miller’s performances did not matter in those games, and they won’t matter going forward unless Stafford returns to a semblance of his early-season form.
Stafford’s mistakes put the Rams behind early in each of their three losses.
Miller compared playing from behind in the NFL to playing golf.
“If you mess up the scorecard early,” he said, “it’s kind of tough to really bounce outside of that on the back nine.”
Stafford has played through back and ankle injuries. After the loss to the Packers, he dismissed a television report that he was experiencing arm problems.
“We got to be more consistent, in my decision-making and where the ball goes and how it gets there and all those kinds of things,” Stafford said this week.
Stafford has passed for 27 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. Instructing the 13th-year pro to be less aggressive is not the answer, said Kevin O’Connell, the Rams quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
“You’d be really talking out of both sides of your mouth highlighting some of the times he’s been aggressive and we’re all fist-pumping and excited over on the sidelines,” O’Connell said, adding, “You never want to take that side of him away.”
Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft. On Sunday, the Rams face the top pick in the 2021 draft, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The 6-foot-6 Lawrence knew nothing but winning in high school in Georgia and in college at Clemson. Jaguars coach Urban Meyer won as a college coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State.
Both are off to tough starts in the NFL.
The Jaguars lost their first five games before defeating the Miami Dolphins. Three weeks later, they beat the Buffalo Bills. They have lost their last three games — against the Indianapolis Colts, 49ers and Atlanta Falcons — but Lawrence is “incredible,” Meyer said.
“We drafted the right guy, and we just got to build an offense around him and continue to grow,” Meyer said during a conference call with Los Angeles reporters. “He’s been phenomenal. He really started off struggling, and then had a nice four- to five-game run where his [quarterback] rating was up, we won a couple games and then we’ve kind of put it in reverse but these last few games he played well.… We just got to play well around him too.”
After playing against the savvy and poised Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, Donald is eager to rush a rookie quarterback.
“But if you got the opportunity to do that — that means we got to lead, be playing from the front and we have the opportunity to pin our ears back, and actually get after the quarterback,” he said.