The Steelers will look to improve to 4-2 on the season when they make a cross-country trip for their Week 7 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. With the matchup on the horizon, we sat down with Evan Craig of Turf Show Times to get extra insight on the Rams, and what to expect this Sunday.
1. The Rams’ offense and Matthew Stafford have been inconsistent throughout the first month and a half. How has Stafford looked as a whole post-elbow surgery?
Ability wise, Matthew Stafford looks like the same guy the Rams traded for back in 2021. In the season opener, Stafford showcased that he can still play despite missing half of last season. His arm strength rivals anyone in the league and he’s made some beautiful throws this year which again, has been a real pleasure to watch. Throughout all three of LA’s wins, Stafford has displayed his ability to run the offense effectively while not having to do everything himself. He also flashed his toughness on several occasions as he’s helped the Rams do just enough to win. Yes, he threw away games against the 49ers and Bengals with four picks total in those two matchups. Overall, the inconsistency of LA’s offense is a mix between young guys figuring out their roles and not having a balanced attack that has contributed to the unit stalling in the second half in their three losses. Stafford’s stats are unremarkable this season, but he has done enough to lead this team so far through the first six games.
2. Puka Nacua has taken the league by storm. How do you expect him to compliment Cooper Kupp long term, and how much will his production be impacted?
Puka Nacua is the envy of most teams across the league right now. He was hyped up all offseason long and it’s great to see that he was able to live up to the lofty expectations set for him. When Cooper Kupp made his season debut in Week 5 against the Eagles, they complimented each other very well as they combined for 15 catches for 189 yards. The following week, Nacua had his worst performance of the year with four catches for 26 yards. His production has already been impacted as Puka has been targeted only 18 times in the last two games. Nacua was targeted 20 times against the 49ers alone earlier this season. Look, Kupp will receive the bulk of the targets as his chemistry with Stafford is unmatched. That’s great and all but Nacua and Stafford had built a similar rapport in the first four games and it’s seemingly starting to fall by the wayside a bit now which is quite unfortunate.
3. The Rams defense was the butt of many jokes coming into the year because there were a lot of unknown names on that side of the ball. Who are some Rams defenders who have stepped up and helped the unit play above expectations?
I’m going to start this out by saying that defensive coordinator Raheem Morris deserves all kinds of head coaching interviews when the season is over. He’s been the subject of scrutiny from the fanbase since Brandon Staley left to coach the Chargers. Morris has done one hell of a job with this unit despite all the youngsters and growing pains he’s dealt with on that side of the ball. Of course these compliments mean I likely jinxed the guy heading into this matchup. Sorry Raheem!
Anyways, third-year linebacker Ernest Jones has been a monster, ranking up at least nine tackles in each of LA’s six games. It’s evident he learned a lot from Bobby Wagner during his lone year in Hollywood as Jones has become a tackling machine. Another linebacker I want to turn my attention to is rookie Byron Young who recorded his first career turnover to put away the Cardinals last week. Young has been one of the best rookie defenders regardless of position and has provided a stable presence to a lackluster pass rushing unit. The Tennessee product has recorded 11 QB hits on the year and has elite closing speed so quarterbacks and ballcarriers beware. Pittsburgh will be seeing a familiar face in the secondary with veteran corner Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon was a solid pickup for LA and he’s enjoying his best year while allowing only 10 completions on 30 targets with two interceptions and zero touchdowns allowed.
4. With Kyren Williams out, should we expect the Rams to be an exclusively passing offense? And what can we expect from Zach Evans and the other running backs?
If the Rams shift to an exclusively passing offense with Williams out, the Steelers should feel better about their chances. In each of LA’s three losses, they abandoned the run which caused them to go cold in the second half. It felt like last week against Arizona was going to be more of the same as Williams had just four yards at the half as the Rams trailed 9-6. Then, he rushed for 154 yards after the half as LA scored the final 20 points of the game. Good things happen when they have a balanced attack and that has been their recipe for success in 2023.
Sean McVay hasn’t named Zach Evans as a starter yet but I doubt he’ll have a huge day on the ground. McVay has also thrown Myles Gaskin, Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman into the mix as ballcarriers. Nothing against those three players but I would much rather see Evans get the bulk of the carries. He’s been a player I’ve wanted to see get opportunities since he was drafted. Evans isn’t super effective in the passing game but he’s such an explosive and powerful back. I’m expecting a running back by committee approach unless something drastic happens between now and Sunday.
5. DraftKings has the Over/Under set at 43.5. The Steelers and Rams are a combined 3-8 at hitting the over. Does that trend continue?
On paper, this is a game the Rams should run away with, running back injuries be damned. Those injuries have me worried that LA will have a painfully imbalanced gameplan like they’ve had in their three losses. However, I expect the defense to give Kenny Pickett fits while the offense with Matthew Stafford and his quality group of pass catchers carry the load well. This one will be close as it was for the Rams in the first half of their win over the Cardinals but they should pull away after halftime. So they should buck the trend as I take the over here. My final prediction is 27-17 Rams.