Rams remain confident with time running out to build winner

December 2, 2021 GMT
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Los Angeles Rams' Matthew Stafford fumbles the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
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Los Angeles Rams' Matthew Stafford fumbles the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — With losses piling up and the doubters of their audacious plan growing louder, the Los Angeles Rams realize the clock is ticking on this midseason attempt to transform a good team into a star-studded Super Bowl contender.

Von Miller still believes the Rams will beat the buzzer with time to spare.

“It’s going to happen for us,” Miller said Wednesday as Los Angeles (7-4) began preparations to face Jacksonville on Sunday.

“We’ve just got to keep pushing, and we’ve got to continue to stay together. That’s really just been my message to the guys: Don’t let the negativity and the outside world get us down. This is a time where we’ve really got to just double down on our team.”

The Rams have lost three straight games in the month since they swung a trade to add Miller to Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Jalen Ramsey atop their roster. Their fortunes didn’t improve when receiver Odell Beckham Jr. joined the group a week later as a free agent.

Once 7-1 and trailing only Arizona in the NFC standings, the Rams are now in the thick of a wild-card playoff fight. Their schedule is difficult, and their remaining time to turn it around is growing short.

The Rams are far from panicking publicly, even after three fairly dismal performances during only the second three-game losing streak of coach Sean McVay’s five-year career. McVay and Miller are both preaching patience with the process of building a team — even though that team only has six regular-season games left.

“It’s not a time for us to relax,” Miller said. “It’s a time for us to get even tighter and make this push toward the playoffs. ... This is why this team is assembled. That’s why we’ve got all these guys, is for a playoff push. It’s not about these last three games. I feel comfortable about the Rams and where we are.”

Still, the disadvantages of forming what Jaguars coach Urban Meyer described as “an All-Star team” are becoming apparent. Miller is still getting to know his new teammates’ tendencies as the coaches figure out where best to deploy his skills, while Beckham and Matthew Stafford had to start from scratch in building the quarterback-receiver chemistry so vital for success.

Miller thinks the Rams are too talented for it to go wrong.

“It’s like the (Miami) Heat when they first got (Chris) Bosh and LeBron (James) and D-Wade,” Miller said. “It just took a couple of games for them to figure it out, man. We’re doing the same things here ... and when we do, I’m super excited about this team and this defense and this rush and this secondary. It’s going to be fun to watch this on the home stretch.”

A ticking clock is also the problem for the Rams’ pass rush, which was expected to be formidable with Miller added to Donald and Leonard Floyd. San Francisco and Green Bay both made the most obvious adjustment to neutralize a vaunted pass rush: They strived to get rid of the ball quickly on every pass play, creating a plan that other opponents can follow.

While the Rams still applied plenty of consistent pressure in their first two games with Miller, they got only two sacks — by safety Taylor Rapp and defensive lineman Greg Gaines.

In the bigger picture, everything is harder for any defense when its opponents are playing on short fields and taking early leads — and that’s where the offense’s struggles come in.

The Rams have given up 95 points in their three straight losses, and it’s not all the defense’s fault: Three of those touchdowns were scored on interceptions thrown by Stafford, whose steep decline in effectiveness and ball security has mirrored Los Angeles’ downturn. The 13-year veteran has committed six turnovers in the three losses.

Stafford remained every bit as calm and as upbeat as Miller on Wednesday. The veteran quarterback insisted he isn’t significantly injured, as many observers and broadcasters have hinted or surmised, and he remains confident in the offense that has sputtered since Beckham was forced in as a replacement for Robert Woods, who is out for the season.

“The last couple of games, we’ve for sure played from behind a little bit, which is not fun in the NFL,” Stafford said. “That’s part of playing complementary football, something that we can do a better job of. As a team, being able to start faster is definitely a big goal of ours.”

Miller and Beckham will play in front of their new home fans for the first time Sunday at SoFi Stadium against the Jaguars in what appears to be the least daunting game left on their schedule. The Rams remain confident their breakthrough is coming.

“It’s just taking a little bit more time than we anticipated,” Miller said. “We wanted to come in and have a sack party the first game. It doesn’t happen like that. It’s pro sports. But I’ve still got all the money on the Rams. I’ve still got all the money on this Rams direction. I’m really excited to see what we do in the future.”

NOTES: RB Darrell Henderson (thigh) and CB David Long Jr. (illness) didn’t practice Wednesday, while Beckham (hip) and rookie WR Ben Skowronek (back) were limited. McVay believes all four will play Sunday.


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