In Week 4, our Indianapolis Colts will host the Los Angeles Rams. Knowing the party was coming to town this weekend I sat down with Evan Craig of Turf Show Times. Evan is an enigma, I couldn’t find him on Twitter at all, so no link to any socials this week. We swapped questions about the Colts and Rams and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
You can find my answers to his questions here.
Chris Shepherd: The Rams have gained the 9th most yards and allowed the 7th fewest, they’ve scored the 15th most points and given up the 13th fewest, yet they’re 1-2. In years past Colts fans remember teams that felt better than their early season record. Are the 2023 Rams one of those teams that are better than their record but feel like they just haven’t figured out how to win? What do they need to do to turn it around and start getting victories?
Evan Craig: This Rams team is so much better than they were in 2022 it’s refreshing to watch. One thing to note is that they have been playing the hardest early slate of games in the league with four playoff teams from last season in their first five games. LA hasn’t been pushed around by any of those teams which bodes well for a possible playoff run late in the year if they’re in position.
The Rams have a lot of young players figuring out their roles and stepping up so they will figure out how to win. Although the defense I’ve been very surprised by. With as bad as analysts were talking about them, I figured they would be allowing 70 points every week. So as long as LA can stay better than the Broncos on a weekly basis, I’ll be happy. As much as this pains me to say, Matthew Stafford has been a major reason for losses in the last two weeks. After not throwing a pick in Week 1 in Seattle, against the 49ers and Bengals, Stafford threw two interceptions apiece late in those games which swung the outcome in their opponents’ favor. They were horrible picks as well. Stafford needs to quit throwing games away and rely on the playmakers around him. McVay also needs to call a more balanced attack which worked the first two games but he abandoned that approach on Monday for whatever reason. If the Rams can return to the approach that was working and Stafford can quit being such a gunslinger, LA will win several games, some of which they weren’t supposed to.
CS: Matthew Stafford was sacked six times on Monday Night Football. As a team, the Rams haven’t rushed for 100 yards in a game this year. Against the Bengals, who are giving up more than 150 rushing yards per game at 5.1 yards per carry, the Rams finished with just 71 yards on the ground (22 of those yards coming on a nice Tutu Atwell end-around). Is the Rams offensive line as big of a concern as these numbers make it seem and if so what has Sean McVay done in the past to overcome similar roster shortcomings?
EC: My feelings are that the Bengals caught the Rams’ O-line on a bad night. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still an average group but they were holding up throughout the first two games where they only allowed one sack total. I’m still slightly concerned about this group as Monday night gave me awful flashbacks to last season. However, I believe the poor line play was a result of a boneheaded game plan from Sean McVay, part of which I alluded to in my earlier response.
The Rams gained 71 yards on the ground but only 38 of those yards came from an actual running back. Starter Kyren Williams took 100 percent of the running back snaps yet he was given just 10 carries on the night. Williams has played 184 snaps through three games which is absurd to think about. I’m not sure whether giving him more carries in the game would’ve changed the final result, but it wouldn’t have hurt. The fact is, Cincy was able to attack the O-line with ease as they knew LA was going to pass. Stafford passed 33 times and the run-pass ratio Monday night was 33-13. That’s just not sustainable. McVay is usually so much better at attacking an opponent’s weakness which is why his play calling against the Bengals was so disappointing to see.
I know that to fix these shortcomings, I’ll shift to a year ago when all the injuries were plaguing the offensive line. McVay had no choice but to start a different lineup every week to combat the injuries and depth issues. He kept rotating the players he had until he found a lineup that worked. The line appeared to play a tad better late in the season compared to where they were early in the year. McVay has a tendency to ride the hot hand to success and I don’t anticipate things to go any differently especially if the line continues having issues.
CS: If you were designing an offensive game plan to beat the 2023 Rams defense, what would it look like? What groups or areas of the field would you attack, what would you force the Rams to prove they can stop? What would you avoid?
EC: I would devise an offensive game plan that emphasizes the passing game and I would attack the secondary for sure. LA’s secondary is the one true weakness of the defense and while they’ve held up relatively well, I don’t expect that to continue. Second-year corner Derion Kendrick is a liability against the pass as he’s given up either a touchdown or big passing plays to DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel. If there’s one player in the secondary I’d attack, it’d be Kendrick so the Colts could make his life a living hell. The rest of the secondary is full of either first or second-year players so the inexperience is there, it’s whether Indy can take advantage of their shortcomings. Prove the Rams can indeed stop the pass and go on from there.
While I’m not saying to entirely abandon the run, I would avoid making it a focal point. San Francisco was the only team to go over 100 yards rushing on this defense. Running on this group is a struggle. The Bengals found that out on Monday as they averaged 2.9 yards per carry on 23 total carries. Although I would like to see how Zack Moss fares against LA’s run defense. Dominating the trenches in the run game and on offense will go a long way toward deciding the outcome of this game.
CS: Can you give Colts fans a couple names of guys they might not be familiar with that will have a big impact on Sunday?
EC: I’m sure by now, everyone and their mom knows about Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell so those hidden roster gems aren’t a surprise anymore. Instead, I’ll center on two rookie defenders: linebacker Byron Young and defensive end Kobie Turner.
I’ll start with Young who has remarkable speed at his position. Young has recorded at least half a sack in every game this season, something no player in Rams’ history had ever done before. He has also recorded at least two QB hits in every game as well. Last season, LA struggled to find players to compliment Aaron Donald which is why their pass rush wasn’t great. Now, they have several young and hungry players eager to rush the quarterback and that has to make AD smile. That brings me to Turner who hasn’t been as effective getting to the QB, if you were to only judge the box score. Turner plays alongside Donald and might be the best young pass rusher on the team just three games into his career. He’s been so close to getting multiple sacks the last two weeks so his presence has been felt early and often. LA’s draft class has been paying dividends so far which has me feeling better about this season compared to where I was at the start of the offseason. Those were some dark days indeed.
CS: DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Rams as 1.5-point underdogs. Is that line fair? What do the Rams need to do to prove the oddsmakers wrong and come away with a victory on Sunday?
EC: That line is completely fair as the Rams haven’t been blown out in a single game to date in 2023. They’ve made the scores appear close late in their games against the 49ers and Bengals. I don’t anticipate anything differently this week. What LA has to do to prove the oddsmakers wrong is to have a better and more balanced game plan like they had in Week 2 versus the Niners. The Rams gave their archrival everything they had and came closer to beating them than they have in years past in the regular season. LA was physical and handled SF’s pass rush well and that’s exactly what they need to do against the Colts. If they can win or hold up in the trenches on both sides of the ball, the Rams will win this game. Add on Anthony Richardson being due for some rookie mistakes and the recipe for a Los Angeles win is well within sight.
I want to thank Evan for taking the time on his questions and answers this week, he was great to work with. I’m less confident than he that the Rams offensive line will be able to hold up against the Indy front seven but the season is still young. There’s still a lot we just don’t know and anything can happen. If the Colts control the line of scrimmage and Anthony Richardson avoids making big, rookie, mistakes, I believe the Colts should leave week four with their third win in a row. Change either of those things, however, and a desperate Rams team will make the Colts pay.
Another week is here. They’re coming quickly! As always, go Colts!