Daily Press (Sunday)

Rams are expecting challenge

Playoff-minded LA is not taking team with ‘nothing to lose’ lightly

- By Greg Beacham

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Matthew Stafford has played some of the best football of his 15-year career over the past month, and now he’s about to lead Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua and the Los Angeles Rams against the worst pass defense in the NFL.

Yet the Rams (6-7) and their offense-minded head coach are not excessivel­y confident about their chances against the Washington Commanders (4-9), whose four-game skid and brutal defensive efforts appear to pave Los Angeles’ path to a prolific game today at SoFi Stadium.

“You don’t get into that,” said Sean McVay, an assistant for seven years with Washington before getting the top job with LA in 2017.

“The film is what talks to me. I think sometimes stats can be really inflated and very misleading based on how some games unfold. … I don’t see those types of things when I flip the tape onto this defense.”

McVay identified talent throughout the Commanders’ defensive lineup, and he praised Washington coach Ron Rivera for keeping his team together during a challengin­g stretch. He also noted that the Commanders are coming off their bye, allowing them to get refreshed and refocused on the four games ahead.

Yet the final stretch means much more to the Rams, who are in the thick of the NFC playoff race despite a heartbreak­ing overtime loss to AFC-leading Baltimore that stopped their three-game winning streak last weekend.

LA’s next three games are against teams with losing records, creating a reasonable route to the postseason just one year after an injury-plagued team went 5-12 in its Super Bowl title defense.

“They’ve got nothing to lose,” Rams safety John Johnson said of the Commanders. “They can come out here, visit LA, have fun. They’re not really stressed out about a loss.

“We’re fighting for our postseason. Definitely a must-win for us. They’re basically playing with house money.”

Howell’s health

McVay and Johnson both expressed respect for Sam Howell, the mobile Washington quarterbac­k who hasn’t allowed frequent sacks to deter his swashbuckl­ing style.

“He’s definitely a guy that can torture you, and he’s been doing it week in and week out,” Johnson said.

Howell has topped 300 yards passing four times in his past six games despite getting sacked 18 times in that stretch.

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