Rams Need to Stay Focused Against Winless Jets

Focus and concentration. Winners of four of their last five games and in virtual first place in the NFC West, the 9-4 Los Angeles Rams and head coach Sean McVay are preparing to ensure that this Sunday's contest at SoFi Stadium against the winless 0-13 New York Jets won't be a trap game. An expected win will improve the team's record to 2-2 against AFC East opponents this season after disposing the New England Patriots, 24-3, at home last Thursday night.

"Hey, are we in the playoffs yet?" The answer is no. We accomplished a winning season and that's all good and well, but that's not the goal," said McVay on Monday, following a few deserved off-days for his players and staff. "The only thing we can accomplish this week is ensuring ourselves an opportunity to get into the post season and that's by getting our 10th win."

The Jets have been at the bottom of the league rankings all season under head coach Adam Gase, assuredly in his last year with the team. Under Gase, the Jets have a combined 7-22 record in his two years at the helm. It's been a foregone conclusion that the Jets are seeking to make 6'6" Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as the #1 selection in the NFL's 2021 Draft, scheduled for April 29 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold has been the Jets quarterback for the past three seasons, having been drafted 3rd (traded up with the Indianapolis Colts) overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. The experiment with Darnold is winding down and likely over, including a 4-9 starting record during his rookie season under head coach Todd Bowles. He did have a 7-6 starting record last season with Gase, giving Jets fans feigned hopes for this season.

The Rams will be facing a Jets team that was very competitive in three of its last five games. They had the Las Vegas Raiders on the ropes two weeks ago until a defensive formation allowed the Raiders a 46-yard game-winning touchdown at the end of the game. That decision cost Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams his job. However, last Sunday's 40-3 loss to the Seahawks was more reminiscent of their recent futility.

Their 185 yards of total offense against Seattle was their worst production of the season. Darnold completed 14 of 26 passes for 132 yards and was sacked three times. Running backs Josh Adams, Frank Gore and Ty Johnson combined for 66 yards on 22 carries. Braxton Berrios was their leading receiver, catching three passes for 49 yards. The Jets rank 21st in team rushing offense and 31st in passing offense. Defensively, the team ranks 31st in passing defense but 12th in rushing defense. Translation: opponents have taken the easy route against the Jets defense.

The Rams appear to hold most of the cards against the Jets. The defense, led by Aaron Donald (unquestionably, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year), leads the league with only 3,716 total yards allowed. They are ranked first in passing defense, allowing 2,492 yards and third in rushing defense with 1,224 yards yielded. They also rank tied for fourth with 21 turnovers, 13 of them interceptions. The Rams 42 quarterback sacks rank third, just behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (45) and the Philadelphia Eagles (43). The Aaron Donald factor is even more amplified by the fact that the Rams rank only 20th with 138 blitzes, 79 fewer than the league-leading Steelers.

The Rams are starting to gel at the right time of the season as all three phases performed well against the Patriots on Thursday Night Football, December 10. It wasn't surprising that they were prepared as Rams have a 10-5 record in Prime Time games under McVay since 2017, including a 3-1 Thursday Night Football record. They are 4-3 in Sunday Night action and 3-1 on Monday Night Football.

Like clockwork, the defense set the tone by allowing New England only 220 yards of total offense. Starting Patriot quarterback Cam Newton was relieved in the fourth quarter by Jarrett Stidham after completing only nine passes for 119 yards and one interception. Stidham completed five passes for 27 yards with the game winding down. The Rams defense pressured the Patriots pocket all day with six total sacks, 10 quarterback hits and seven tackles for loss.

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers led the team with two sacks, increasing his season total to five. Rams linebacker Kenny Young had his first sack while defensive lineman Morgan Fox had his fourth sack of the season. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had a half of sack to increase his season total to 7.5. But it was Donald's 1.5 sacks, two QB hits, one tackle for loss and ever-presence in the backfield that disrupted the New England offense.

"They're playing as good as anybody and now let's see if we can wrap up the regular season like that," said McVay. "Aaron, Jalen (Ramsey), you see Michael show up in a big way, to see Kenny make that kind of play. There's a lot of guys that are just showing up and I think that's a reflection of the entire unit and the strength of the unit."

It was former UCLA star Kenny Young's 79-yard interception return on a Newton pass that for all purposes sealed the game, 17-0, at the beginning of the second quarter. Young raced down the left sideline into the end zone led by the blocking of defensive cornerstones Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. This is the most solid defense the Rams have shown in the four years under McVay. The transition from three years under legendary coach Wade Phillips to current defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has been a smooth progression.

"I thought the coaches did a hell of a job getting us ready and then we went out there and executed. Up front we played as well as we've played all year. I think Cam Akers obviously had his best game of the year and got to show what he could really do. It was exciting," said quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff had his second consecutive steady outing. His leaping 1-yard keeper over the goal line gave the Rams a 7-0 lead on the team's opening drive. Goff completed 16 of 25 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown pass. He had one interception on a low throw that was wrestled away from wide receiver Robert Woods and was also sacked once. But he managed to direct a solid ground attack led by running back Cam Akers, who rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries, the most by an NFL rookie this season.

McVay: "I think it's really started with the way that he's been practicing. I keep mentioning Thomas Brown's (Running back coach) leadership. This guy is a special coach and he has really taken Cam under his wing. I also think the leadership from Malcolm Brown (Running back) in that room has been instrumental in watching this guy really assert himself as a big-time player for us."

Yet, the eye is squarely on the winless New York Jets this coming Sunday as the Rams can ill afford to let their foot off the pedal with the Seattle Seahawks tied with the same record for the Division title. McVay: "I do not worry about the maturity of this team to understand the focus and concentration that's required every single week to come away with a win, regardless of who the opponent is."


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