Rams limp into matchup against Chargers with big task at hand

The so-called “Fight for LA” never meant anything to the Rams.

In 2017, the team’s executive brushed aside the Chargers’ marketing tagline and didn’t look back as coach Sean McVay’s teams made four playoff appearances in five seasons, one Super Bowl appearance in 2018, and then last season’s Super Bowl LVI won.

The Rams won the Super Bowl at owner Stan Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium, which is also home to the Chargers.

The Rams will be visitors when the teams play there on Sunday. And while Rams players have no emotional interest in what others might see as a rivalry, it’s a certainty that Kroenke couldn’t face losing to his tenant at his stadium.

That would be the case at any time of the year, but maybe especially this one.

The Rams are in the final stages of an embarrassingly lost season. They are 5-10 and under McVay will only be at home in the playoffs for the second time.

The Chargers, led by coach Brandon Staley, record quarterback Justin Herbert and other stars on offense and defense, are in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

McVay and Staley, the Rams’ defensive coordinators in 2020, will no doubt want to clash in their first regular-season matchup.

McVay said the Chargers’ game-day branding at the stadium was not uncomfortable, and the prospect of being the visiting team was only a minor inconvenience.

“They’re staying at the same team hotel the night before the game, so we’ll have to stay at a different team hotel,” McVay said, before jokingly adding, “Damn, Brandon.”

This is the second regular-season game between the teams since 2017, when — a year after the Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis — the Chargers relocated from San Diego to LA

In 2018, the Rams defeated the Chargers 35-23 at Memorial Coliseum.

The Rams finished the game 13-3. The Chargers, coached by Anthony Lynn, ended the game 12-4. The New England Patriots beat both teams in the postseason – the Chargers in the AFC divisional round and the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019 but won the Super Bowl two years later. The Chargers missed the playoffs two straight years and replaced Lynn with Staley prior to last season.

With a team that includes Herbert, running back Austin Ekeler, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and defensive stars Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Derwin James Jr., the Chargers are currently the sixth-seeded team for the AFC Playoffs.

The Rams, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, and star defense lineman Aaron Donald, who is out for the season with injuries, are preparing for an off-season restart.

However, the Rams are riding something of a climax after beating the Denver Broncos 51-14 on Sunday.

Running back Cam Akers rushed for three touchdowns, quarterback Baker Mayfield threw two touchdown passes to Tyler Higbee, and the defense intercepted four passes. Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant returned one of his two interceptions 85 yards for a touchdown.

However, neutralizing Herbert will be a big challenge.

The third-year pro has rushed for 4,254 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. His 13,604 yards in his first three seasons is more than any quarterback in NFL history.

“He was able to show the tenacity, confidence and leadership that you need to have in your franchise quarterback if you want to be a world champion,” Staley said.

Herbert, 6-foot-6 and 236 pounds, has impressed the Rams with his accuracy.

“He can do all the throws,” said cornerback Jalen Ramsey, “puts it on the money, good ball placement, it’s usually on a line, like a dart is usually.”

Also of note is Herbert’s ability to make plays from all angles.

“There aren’t too many quarterbacks that can roll out to the right and then throw their body across the field, right, and 60+ yards across the field,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Wagner emphasized the rarity.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not in the Quarterback Handbook,” he said.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-12-31/los-angeles-rams-chargers-sofi-stadium-nfl-game-preview Rams limp into matchup against Chargers with big task at hand

Emma Bowman

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