NFL Q&A: Rams backup QB? Chargers’ Staley seems illogical

The Rams seem to add a superstar to the injury list every week, this week it’s Aaron Donald, and with Sean McVay as head coach, they’ve lost a record five straight games. As they try to find healthy bodies for the field, the Chargers have gotten something back and are within reach of a playoff berth. With six weeks to go, Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, Rams beat writer Gary Klein and Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller speak to fans’ concerns and questions:

When will the Rams attempt to sign a valid backup QB?

Jon van Ness, Los Angeles

Small: They re-signed John Wolford ahead of this season because Sean McVay was confident he could lead the offense if needed. Wolford will be a restricted free agent and Bryce Perkins will be an exclusive rights free agent. The Rams, under coach Sean McVay, never planned on spending big bucks on a backup. Even when Blake Bortles was on the team, it was only because Jacksonville owed him so much money and he and the Rams could afford to cut a deal. With Matthew Stafford aged 34, it will be interesting to see if McVay and Les Snead prioritize finding a more experienced – and more expensive – backup.

I wrote after the Chargers vs. Browns game that Staley’s attempt to lose the Browns’ 46 for the first time when time was up was a head scratcher. You replied that the statistics prove him right. I was at the Chargers vs. Chiefs game when Staley decided to punt in a 4th and inch situation. We all know who the quarterback is for the Chiefs. What gives? Frankly, his actions and your response seem disingenuous.

David Sanchez, Canoga Park

Miller: Up in the press box, some of us were surprised by Brandon Staley’s decision against KC, which went against his usual pattern. I’m sure he would have gone for it last season. The analyzes almost always suggest that fourth and one — or fourth and less than one — matter because the success rate is historically so good. I think he’s been more conservative in those situations this season partly because maybe he’s been burned one too many times. Punter JK Scott’s performance no doubt entered the equation as well. Scott was a huge influence on this team of 2022. Mostly though, I think it’s a reflection of how much the Chargers struggled to keep the ball rolling. Honestly, it’s hard to trust this current version of the offensive line. But, yes you are right, that was a departure from last year and earlier this year.

I’ve been a Rams fan since 1965 (5 years old) and I can’t remember so many of our attacking players being downed with so many leg injuries in less than half a season. Is their blocking technique/scheme the cause of this recurring horror story? It used to be that guys like Charlie Cowan, Tom Mack and Joe Schibeli had to be dragged off the field when they got a dent.

Lorenzo Fuentes, Santa Maria

Small: The Rams’ blocking scheme/technique is no different than last season when they won the Super Bowl. You were just unlucky. And players who suffer knee and ankle injuries or a concussion at the end of the season aren’t just “beaten up”. Most players, regardless of their era, want to be on the field for their teammates and for a living. With a few exceptions, there are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL.

It seems like too often the opposing team is asked for penalties like holding, blocking in the back, etc. in kicking situations. Why is that? What do coaches teach and what do players do to avoid these penalties?

Bill Francis, Pasadena

Farmer: Let’s talk about what makes blocks particularly difficult on special teams. It depends on time and distance. It’s like catching a speeding bullet when a blocker has to fall about 30 yards and then proceeds to block a player running straight at them at full steam. So it’s not uncommon for guys to miss those blocks and then commit a clip while trying to get a guy as he whizzes past. It’s also easy for these blockers to get their hands outside of the frame and on top of the shoulder pads, which attracts hold calls.

Now let’s look at it in a more global sense. These players on special teams have different duties during practice, so they only work on blocking during a very limited period of special team practice. If they’re playing defense, they’re allowed to grab and hold more. They find it difficult to change this attitude in order to play as cleanly as possible on special teams.

The last element is the path of a returnee. It’s not like a prescribed pass route. A returner could go anywhere—much like a crawling quarterback—so his blockers aren’t always in the ideal position to clear a path. This can lead to holding penalties, clips and the like. If an NFL team spent more time coaching special teams, it would have to spend less time on another element of the game. So it’s a difficult balancing act.

When will Brandon Staley be held accountable for the holey defense? I’ve never seen a team miss so many tackles. Alohi Gilman had an obviously missed tackle that resulted in a touchdown. Poor tackle has been a Bolts mantra for about 10 years. It’s the most basic task, but this team is bad at tackle and also at aggressiveness. The Raiders always play the Chargers physically, and next week I expect them to push the Chargers all over the field.

Harvey Smith, Dayton, Nev.

Miller: Trust me, Staley gets asked about his defense every week. About his inability to stop the run, keep opponents in third place, prevent explosive plays. I’m pretty sure bad tackle isn’t a mantra for this team. But I know what you mean. Poor tackling was a big problem against Arizona on Sunday, and Staley admitted it on Monday. I don’t think the Chargers are doing anything or doing nothing that results in bad tackling. I think it’s just players who aren’t playing at a high enough level. NFL Q&A: Rams backup QB? Chargers’ Staley seems illogical

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