Analysis

After hitting rough patch, Los Angeles Rams aiming to get season back on track

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Not too long ago, it seemed like nothing was standing in the way of a deep playoff run by the Los Angeles Rams.

At 7-1, they had everyone talking. Throw in the addition of Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., and now you have a true Super Bowl contender.

A lot can change in a month.

In that span, the Rams have lost three straight and now sit two games behind the Cardinals in the NFC West.

"I think it's one of those things in a season you really look at, things are never as bad as they seem," veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth said Wednesday. "They're never as good. It's kind of one of those things where, yeah, first half of the season, we're playing well, and offensively, we had some really good games where you don't turn the ball over at all and we're really efficient."

The Rams have had at least two turnovers in each of their last three games, combining for seven total during that losing streak. The team had seven turnovers in its first eight games.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in each of Los Angeles' last three games, coughing up more total interceptions (five) in that span than he did in his first eight games (four).

"I think every single play, he's really played good football," said head coach Sean McVay. "Unfortunately, a couple of those things have been tough outcomes for us. That really puts you behind the eight ball, especially against really good teams. My favorite thing about this guy, he just continues to battle. He's got that same confidence in himself, just like I do in him and the rest of his teammates do."

Whitworth said turning things around is not so much about hyping the team up and locker room talk but more about execution. He said those early turnovers cost them, throwing them off of their game and forcing them to play from behind.

"That's just the truth," he said. "We have to take that harsh reality and go, how do we take care of the football better? Maybe none of this has to do with anything other than just possessing the football and not handing really good football teams points in your territory. A conscious effort to take care of the football and make sure that we're not handing games to people, we're making them go win them."

The offensive struggles come at a time when the Rams are playing without one of their key offensive weapons, Robert Woods, who is out for the season after tearing his ACL on Nov. 12. In nine games this season, Woods had 45 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns, plus another score on the ground. And while Beckham, who joined the team the day before Woods was injured, produced an encouraging stat line (five catches for 81 yards and a TD) in his second game with the team, against Green Bay in Week 12, the loss of Woods will be difficult to overcome.

"If you look at us, we run more '11' than any team in the league," Whitworth said. "There's nobody that runs more three-wide receiver, one-tight end sets than us. It's almost like an offensive line when that's how you play; you don't play in a lot of different groupings. You kind of play in this one grouping. It's no different than losing a lineman.

"This guy was always on the field. You all of a sudden lose one of those pieces, and that's a huge deal, because now guys got to move positions. Guys are in different spots. You don't have that same continuity you had.

"Not to mention Robert Woods is a guy that's a tone-setter or receiver who is just as effective blocking people, running routes with the ball in his hand as a ball carrier. He's really important to our offense."

Despite the struggles on offense, Whitworth believes they have the potential to rebound, noting that even the defending Super Bowl champions lost three games in November last season.

"The reality is to ignore the narratives and just keep being ourselves," he said. "Keep pushing and finding a way to break through this thing and believe relentlessly that we can do it, and we can start winning games the way we should."

"This story isn't written yet," said McVay. "That's what we're going to continue to do."

While any player will say every game is a must-win, Sunday's matchup against the 2-9 Jaguars is one the Rams cannot afford to lose.

"This is an opportunity where there's no excuses, like on paper and everything that you're going to look at, you're better, you should be better than this team. That's just the reality," said Whitworth. "This is a game that you've got to go show up, and we've got to play our best and take care of business."

Follow Bridget Condon on Twitter.

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