NFL roundtable: Did Rams' win over Lions validate Stafford-Goff trade?

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INGLEWOOD, CALIF. - OCT. 24, 2021. Lions quarterback Jared Goff is fluished from the pocket by Rams defenders.
Lions quarterback Jared Goff scrambles as Rams Leonard Floyd (54) and Terrell Lewis pursue. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The much-anticipated Rams-Lions matchup, pitting quarterbacks Jared Goff of the Lions and Matthew Stafford of the Rams against their former teams, is history. Goff kept Detroit in the game, but superior talent was the difference in the Rams' 28-19 victory. Next on the Rams' schedule is a road game against the 1-6 Houston Texans. Moderated by Los Angeles Times NFL editor Athan Atsales, Rams beat writer Gary Klein and NFL writer Sam Farmer discuss the Rams' past and future:

The Lions' defeat was sealed when Aaron Donald hit the Lions' Jared Goff as he was throwing, and the quarterback's pass in the end zone was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey. Was this the type of play that led to Goff's departure from L.A.? What reminders of his play came to mind while watching Goff as a Lion?

Klein: Rams fans no doubt said aloud — and Sean McVay perhaps to himself — “See, that’s exactly why we had to get rid of Goff!” To that point, Goff had to be driving the Rams nuts. He was reading blitzes, executing screens. OK, he did throw one pass to an offensive lineman, but he otherwise was playing an error-free game. This was Goff’s first experience playing against Aaron Donald. In time, that catches up with anybody.

Farmer: Not a lot that Jared Goff could have done different there. He’s got the best defensive player in the game bearing down on him and maybe the league’s best corner looking to jump the route and make a play. That’s a tall order. But yes, Goff did have a propensity for turnovers that cost him with the Rams. The fact the Lions were even in the game was a credit to what they’d done to that point. Detroit didn’t ask a ton of Goff in that game. The Lions ran draws and screens and the like, and they didn’t really put the game in his hands. Unfortunately for him, when he had to make a play, he couldn’t. Sunday was a great example of Matthew Stafford making plays to win the game, and Jared making plays to keep his team in it but not to win it.

Describe the differences in the Rams' approach on offense and defense when they are trailing in a game and when they are ahead.

Farmer: Well, the Rams were pretty aggressive in coming after Goff, which hurt them from time to time. Set them up for those draws and screens. In some games this year, we’ve seen the Rams mix in the run when they get ahead to chew time off the clock. We didn’t see a lot of that Sunday because they were trailing at the start of the fourth quarter. They didn’t really have the luxury to stop throwing. Basically, the Rams have been pretty aggressive on both offense and defense this season, no matter what the scoreboard reads. And Sunday, they had their heads in the clouds on special teams.

Klein: I’m not certain that they changed their approach much at any time against the Lions. McVay was going to make sure Matthew Stafford passed for numerous touchdowns, to win the game and to not leave any doubt that the Rams made the right move by trading for him. The Rams brought pressure throughout the game. Goff handled it well … until he didn’t.

Cooper Kupp has had extraordinary production over the first seven weeks. Where would you rank him among receivers in the NFL?

Klein: Well, how can you not rank him among the best? He’s catching short, mid-range and deep passes. He’s getting wide open. He gaining yards after the catch. He’s scoring touchdowns. Credit some or a lot of that to Matthew Stafford. Credit some or a lot of that to McVay’s play design and the fact that Robert Woods is a proven threat and Van Jefferson is a fast-emerging one. I won’t even mention DeSean Jackson because McVay appears to be struggling to find him targets. Credit most of Kupp’s success to Kupp.

The Rams' Cooper Kupp is congratulated after grabbing a TD catch from Matthew Stafford (9) against the Lions.
The Rams' Cooper Kupp is congratulated after grabbing a touchdown catch from Matthew Stafford (9) against the Lions in the second quarter. Fellow receiver Robert Woods (2) also made his presence felt. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Farmer: Really hard to rank receivers, because the different quarterbacks factor into that too. Point is, Cooper Kupp is an elite receiver. Is he better than, say, the Chargers’ Keenan Allen? They’re both pretty spectacular, and check the boxes that their respective teams want them to check. What’s interesting to me is it wasn’t so long ago that people were wringing their hands about the Rams lacking a true No. 1 receiver. Some people thought that would be Sammy Watkins. But now they have two true primary guys in Kupp and Robert Woods, and a legitimate up-and-comer in Van Jefferson. At some point they’re going to have to break up the band, because all three will be able to run their own receiver rooms.

Even though they are winless, many would say the snake-bitten Lions are better than the Houston Texans, the Rams' next opponent — on the road. What did the Lions expose for the Texans and others that follow?

Farmer: The Lions definitely pulled out all the stops, especially with those three trick plays. Maybe they exposed a weakness in Rams special teams, although it’s hard to construct a comprehensive game plan around that. Besides, the effective thing about surprises is they’re surprising. Teams aren’t going to burn them like that every week. Against the Texans, the Rams’ biggest opponent is themselves. And weird things can happen in the NFL. Look at Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes on Sunday. His passer rating at Tennessee (62.3) was lower than the Nashville temperature at kickoff (70). So while the Lions didn't create a blueprint for beating the Rams, they remind people that even bad teams can scare good ones. Or worse.

Klein: Can’t imagine that the Texans will follow the Lions’ lead and try onside kicks and multiple fake punts, but special teams has definitely been a weak spot for the Rams. The Texans scored five points against the Cardinals. They are not going to come close to beating the Rams. Other teams that watched Lions receiver Kalif Raymond catch and run free on crossing routes might have taken notice.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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