According to the betting lines, the Rams pulled an upset in Week 1 of the NFL season with a road win over the Seahawks in Seattle. More should be revealed when another NFC West rival, the San Francisco 49ers, comes to town next week. The Chargers played some good offense but little defense as the Miami Dolphins came to L.A. and won, 36-34. They could not stop the pass against the Dolphins and next have to deal with imposing running back Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans on the road. Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, and columnists Helene Elliott and Dylan Hernández discuss what happened and upcoming prospects:
What was the most surprising aspect of the Rams’ upset victory over the Seattle Seahawks?
Miller: If I were a jerk, I’d make a joke about the most surprising thing being that Matthew Stafford on Sunday didn’t also find time to complete three long passes against the Chargers. But that’s not who I am.
Elliott: Simply winning might be the biggest surprise. Holding Seattle to 12 net yards in the second half was also noteworthy, along with how well the newly assembled offensive line protected Stafford and gave him the time he needed to make reads and throw.
Klein: Plus, the Rams won convincingly. The Rams and Seahawks typically play closer games but the Rams took over in the second half on offense and defense. There were legitimate questions about the Rams before the game — and despite their performance I would say many of the same questions remain. But for one week they proved most observers wrong.
Do you anticipate changes in the Chargers’ secondary or is the Miami Dolphins’ pass offense just really good?
Miller: The issue entering Week 2, as I see it, is what to do with cornerback J.C. Jackson, who is coming back from a ruptured patellar tendon and struggled mightily in the opener. Jackson’s injury was significant and one that has prevented other NFL players from ever regaining past form. Can Brandon Staley continue to rely on Jackson as he works his way back? Or do the Chargers have to turn more to Ja’Sir Taylor given how badly they defended the pass Sunday?
Klein: Hey, I thought it was the Rams secondary that was supposed to be a problem. Look, any offense with Tyreek Hill is going to give a defense problems. Just like you can’t say the Rams secondary is terrific after a victory, you can’t make a definitive judgment about the Chargers secondary after only one game.
Elliott: Not sure what other options the Chargers have to fortify their secondary. Miami’s passing offense is good but the Chargers shouldn’t have given up that many yards. There may be more problems than available solutions.
It is only one game, but can you see either Puka Nacua or Tutu Atwell possibly passing Van Jefferson on the Rams’ receiving corps depth chart after both had 119-yard games in the opener?
Klein: With Cooper Kupp on injured reserve for at least three more games, there is plenty of time for Jefferson to make up for his drop that might have cost the Rams a touchdown. Nacua had a great debut and Atwell took a big step. But there’s plenty of room for Jefferson.
Elliott: Nacua seems to be a quick and eager learner, and it will be fun to watch him develop. I think there’s room for him, Atwell and Jefferson to be valued options.
The Dolphins handed the football to running backs just 15 times against a Chargers team not impressive against the rush last season. Of course, they threw for 466 yards so they didn’t need to run. Do you consider the Chargers’ run defense to be just as suspect?
Klein: The Chargers gave up only 70 rushing yards. That’s not bad. Of course, giving up 536 yards makes everything suspect.
Hernandez: Early in the game, I thought the Dolphins ran fairly effectively. Of course, once they started that passing attack they didn’t need to go back to the ground. What’s disconcerting is Brandon Staley had said they practiced more tackling in training camp than the previous two camps combined. So, no, I am not convinced they can stop it. That has to remain an area of concern.
Miller: But I can’t imagine the run defense being as poor as the pass defense was Sunday. That would be a double-feature nightmare for Chargers fans. Since this is the never-forgiving NFL, we won’t have to wait long for an answer. The Chargers travel to play Tennessee and Derrick Henry in Week 2. The Titans not only lost Sunday but did so with Henry carrying only 15 times and playing fewer than half of their offensive snaps. Don’t think that will happen against the Chargers.
Elliott: Still, it’s tough to say after one game. I think Staley will have to come up with some quick and effective solutions against the pass and the run. Let’s see the reaction.
Do you see Kyren Williams and Cam Akers as running-back-by-committee for the Rams, or is this a battle to see who will be given most of the carries each week?
Klein: The Rams will use both Akers and Williams. It’s one game. They combined for three rushing touchdowns. Doesn’t seem like something to mess with at the moment.
Elliott: It’s a good kind of competition. An unpredictable and multi-layered offense can cause opponents lots of problems.
The Chargers were not a good rushing team last season but ran over the Dolphins for a whopping 234 yards at a 5.9-per-carry-clip. At first glance, does the huge improvement under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore appear to be about scheme, better line play, a leaky Miami defense or … ?
Elliott: I’ll take the or …? It’s too early to declare a huge improvement after one game. Let’s see where they are two or three or four weeks in, after opponents get more video of them and come up with defenses to try to stop them.
Klein: Wait a minute. Austin Ekeler has been pretty legit the last few seasons, right? At the 2020 NFL scouting combine, former Lancaster Eastside High and UCLA standout Joshua Kelley told me a great story about being inspired by a visit to Rams training camp. Good to see a local guy doing well.
Miller: I would say scheme and better play up front, for sure. Moore did get a little too cute for me at times Sunday, but there’s no denying that playing with pace, in particular, seemed to put the Dolphins at a disadvantage. The Chargers, if they can remain relatively healthy, have the makings of a legit offensive line for the first time in a while. They’ve flanked veteran center Corey Linsley with youth and athleticism and the results were impressive against Miami.
What newcomers stood out on a Rams defense that limited the Seattle Seahawks to 13 points?
Klein: Rookie edge rusher Byron Young and rookie tackle Kobie Turner combined for a sack. Ahkello Witherspoon started at cornerback. Linebacker Zach VanValkenburg had a hit on the quarterback.
Elliott: What Gary said.
The Chargers were unable to produce a sack and had just two hurries on 44 pass attempts. What seemed to be the issue with that?
Klein: Miami’s offensive line played well. Any unit that keeps Khalil Mack away from its quarterback deserves praise.
Miller: Staley and a few players talked afterward about Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s speed in getting rid of the football. That’s certainly a part of this, but it’s also something the Chargers are going to face weekly with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack lined up on the edges. One potential solution: cover the damn receivers a little better. In a statistical oddity, the Chargers were credited with a whopping 10 passes broken up against Miami and yet the Dolphins still found an embarrassing amount of open space in the secondary on so many other plays.
Hernandez: (Tua) Tagovailoa was obviously prepared to get rid of the ball quickly, knowing the Chargers had (Joey) Bosa and (Khalil) Mack coming off the edges. Miami was ready for that pass rush.