NFL roundtable: Rams should be kicking selves; Chargers fans should be wary of Bears

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Rams kicker Brett Maher reacts after missing a field-goal attempt against the Steelers.

The Rams could not score in the fourth quarter as the Steelers scored two touchdowns to grab a 24-17 road win. The Chargers could not muster a point in the second half as they lost to the AFC West rival Chiefs for a fourth consecutive time. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, NFL columnist Sam Farmer and columnist Dylan Hernandez discuss what happened and upcoming prospects:

Remember a few weeks ago when it was discussed whether the Rams should be looking for a placekicker to replace Brett Maher? Did his performance against Pittsburgh, two missed field-goal attempts and a missed extra point, mean he might be gone before anyone can answer this question?

Hernandez: Considering how noncommittal McVay was when asked about Maher, I’d be surprised if he hangs around. This isn’t a Rams team that can afford to make mistakes, and Maher basically cost them seven points. Their season is now at a fork in the road. They can’t risk losing another seven points to their kicking game.

Farmer: Yes. Rams should be working out kickers Tuesday. They aren’t good enough to have the luxury of an unreliable kicker.

Klein: Speaking of remembering … you might recall a few years ago when Sean McVay called out quarterback Jared Goff. Or when he called out Cam Akers. Both players were eventually traded. McVay’s postgame comments about Maher needing to be better historically implies the Rams will attempt to find a new kicker.

Read more: Commentary: Rams were robbed in game against Steelers. NFL needs to make fourth downs reviewable

After watching the film, as they say, why do you think Cooper Kupp disappeared from the Rams’ offense? He was thrown to three times in the second half and his only two catches came in the first half.

Klein: I’m no film expert so I could not say what the Steelers were doing specifically to negate Kupp. But he looked off from the beginning, when he dropped the first two passes that came his way. Anyone can drop a pass. But two in a row by Cooper Kupp? Kupp made another terrific catch along the sideline but Puka Nacua emerged as Matthew Stafford’s go-to receiver in that game.

Farmer: The Steelers have coaches too, and they made it a point to take Kupp out of the game as much as possible. That means shading coverage to him and letting other guys beat them. It worked on the opening possession of the second half, when T.J. Watt stepped in front of that pass intended for Kupp and picked it off. Also, the Rams have a tendency to swing the spotlight around in their offense, so it might be a big game for Puka Nacua, Tyler Higbee, Tutu Atwell or somebody else, depending on the week.

Darrell Henderson looked fresh and strong despite not having played since November 2022, when the Rams waived him. With the top two backs on injured reserve, do you think Henderson’s performance earned the starting spot?

Hernandez: Henderson looked dynamic running the ball. He also did a nice job of picking up blitzes on a couple of plays. The guess here is that he starts again.

Farmer: Henderson knows the offense, has lots of experience and can break a big run from time to time. That’s much more than you’re going to get from a typical street free agent. So yes, let him try starting.

Klein: Henderson started against the Steelers, so I would think after his performance he would retain the job. But it will be interesting to see how Henderson’s body reacts and how Myles Gaskin comes along after having more than a few days in the system. And Royce Freeman did a nice job complementing Henderson.

Read more: Hernández: No burnout? Amid formidable challenges, Sean McVay ‘having a whole lot of fun’

The Rams face another formidable defense next week, going on the road to play the Cowboys. How many points do you think it will take to beat Dallas?

Hernandez: They’ll have to score more than the 17 they scored against the Steelers. Just as important will be Stafford’s ability to avoid the kind of turnover he made on Sunday. That was a killer.

Farmer: Cowboys can pass and run, and they’re at home, so I would think the winning team will score 27 or more. Now watch, the winning score will be 13-9. That’s the way this crazy season has gone.

Klein: Won’t know until we see who is available and not available for both teams. But the Cowboys are averaging almost 26 points a game. So there you go.

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. seemed to be saying after the loss to the Chiefs that playing zone was their downfall in the first half when K.C. amassed 333 of their 483 yards.  Last in the NFL against the pass, do you feel this is a scheme, gameplan or talent problem?

Miller: The decision to “populate” — coach Brandon Staley’s word — the middle of the field and play more zone against Kansas City in the first half was a disaster as evidenced by Travis Kelce’s first-half dominance. The gameplan was ill-fated to start and then exposed as the wrong approach almost immediately Sunday. The fact it took until the second half for the Chargers to solve the problem was quite damning.

Klein: I’d say, all of the above. When there is a breakdown, it’s usually not just one thing. And I would add another variable: Patrick Mahomes!

Farmer: Far be it for me to correct Derwin James, who understands the inner workings of that defense much, much better than I do. But it would seem Patrick Mahomes is going to beat you whether you plan zone or man, and it might get lopsided much more quickly if you’re in man. The Chargers were within striking range for most of that game, and against the best player in football, that’s saying something.

Chargers receiver Joshua Palmer (5) tries to elude Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed (38) after making a reception.

Chargers receiver Joshua Palmer (5) tries to elude Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (38) after making a reception. Palmer finished with five catches for 133 yards. (Peter Aiken / Associated Press)

Joshua Palmer (five catches, 133 yards) keeps showing he is very formidable as the Chargers’ No. 2 receiver since Mike Williams was lost to a season-ending knee injury.  Has this been surprising or could you see this coming?

Miller: Sunday was a career game for Palmer yardage-wise and just the latest example of his development into a solid NFL receiver. Palmer emerged last season as be the team’s most reliable wideout when Williams and Keenan Allen were injured. There’s nothing surprising about what he has been doing since Williams went down. Just more validation of the hard work he has put in.

Farmer: Joshua Palmer is strong and experienced. He can make some heads-up plays, such as that deflection he caught against Minnesota while he was falling back into the end zone. He’s a solid player.

Chargers fans learned who Dean Marlowe was this week when L.A. lost three safeties to injury and he was promoted. He led the team with 11 tackles, 10 solo. Did he have a positive impact on the defense or was he just doing a lot of tackling downfield?

Miller: Marlowe has been solid as a late roster addition signed just before the start of the season. He has a history with coach Brandon Staley — having played for Staley at James Madison — and was a notable depth piece for Buffalo before joining the Chargers. With Alohi Gilman out because of a heel injury, Marlowe has filled in admirably.

Read more: Chargers-Chiefs takeaways: ‘Nobody would have predicted that,’ says Derwin James Jr.

Chargers likely will be favored against the Bears at home next week after failing in tough matchups against Dallas and Kansas City. What should worry fans about that scenario?

Miller: Chargers fans should be worried about their team right now whether a favorite, an underdog or a pick ’em. The Chargers defensively continue to disappoint, and their offense has sputtered over the past 2 1/2 games. Quarterback Justin Herbert, who is dealing with a broken left middle finger, has not been his typical self of late. Against the Bears, the Chargers opened as nearly double-digit favorites, which seems wildly off target given their recent play.

Farmer: Buffalo just lost to 1-5 New England. Detroit, at 5-1, got stomped so fast by Baltimore, the Lions were out of it by halftime. There are no sure things this season, and particularly not with a Chargers team that gets wobbly down the stretch.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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