THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — When the Los Angeles Rams suffered their second straight loss last Sunday, head coach Sean McVay absolved his quarterback.
“I think he’s doing everything he can,” McVay said of Matthew Stafford after the Rams managed just 10 points a week after producing only nine. “I think he needs more help.”
Stafford has completed 60-of-90 pass attempts (67%) for 562 yards and a touchdown across the two losses. He’s also thrown one interception and lost three fumbles while absorbing 12 sacks and 33 pressures in the stretch. The result: The Rams scored just one touchdown across both games.
“Guys,” McVay said, “(have) got to play better around him.”
That starts with the Rams' offensive line, whose issue is apparent. An injury streak has prompted nine players to start along the line in five games, Los Angeles cycling through three right guards and three centers — the latter an integral part of in-game communication.
Players and coaches this week parroted that injuries are part of the game. Excuses, McVay quipped, are for the “weak-minded.” So the Rams are not considering that turnover their problem. Rather, they’re exploring the intricacies of what went wrong amid the carousel of protectors.
"We've had more mental errors and busts that are just a little bit foreign to this offense," coordinator Liam Coen said Thursday before practice. "I think right now it's a little bit less about players than it is about the overall execution. … We're focusing on, how do we just function at a high level?"
Put another way: A single player’s drops or accuracy or even block set is not plaguing an offense netting the fewest yards per play of the NFL and fourth-lowest points per game (16). The Rams, eight months removed from a Super Bowl title, are struggling to operate cohesively as a unit. Their communication has been insufficient, attempts to streamline messages amid the center changes and silent counts falling short.
Members of the organization understand some of this is part for the course as young players adjust to unexpected opportunities, and yet: Stafford, their veteran quarterback, has been unable to elevate the group without time to throw or a run game to offset defensive attacks. Per PFF, defenses have generated 75 pressures on him in five games — the fourth-most any passer has withstood this season — and no player has been sacked more than his 21 times. PFF analysts also agree with McVay’s assignment of blame: 95.6% of pressures were due to offensive line moves, the most of any quarterback who has started all five games. Stafford warrants responsibility for the remaining 4.4%, the site says.
“We’ve got to be able to help him give himself a chance to sit on his back foot, just pass, even a hitch on some things,” McVay said. “But I love Matthew Stafford. I’ll ride with that guy to the end of time. He’s continuing to do everything in his power to try to help our team move the football score points. And we got to be able to help him out more.”
Thursday, Coen challenged his running backs to rise to that occasion. The unit has managed just 62.4 rushing yards per game, worst in the league. Turnover at offensive line clearly challenges the consistency of run fits and timing as backs attempt to clear lanes. So the position group’s mission in a single word: “creativity.”
"It's not always going to be clean, not always going to be a perfect, wide, gaping hole," Coen said. "Running backs are special because they're creative, right? … Guys need to go be playmakers and be special with the ball in their hands.
“When we’re one-on-one and have space, we need to take advantage of that.”
Running back Darrell Henderson, whose 206 yards from scrimmage leads Rams backs, pointed to versatility including as a pass-catcher as one way to complete that mission. Henderson has netted 68 receiving yards atop his 138 yards and a touchdown by ground — but those 68 emerged from 79 yards after the catch. Running backs, he understands, must create yards after contact.
How can he do so?
“Being able to find holes in the defense that maybe aren’t there, understanding where a run is supposed to hit and then seeing where it’s hitting based on how those blocks are playing out,” receiver Cooper Kupp, who has amassed 267 yards after the catch this season including 71 on the Rams’ lone touchdown the last two games, told Yahoo Sports. “Creativity in terms of offensively, how are you going to get your angles back and set, how are you going to set up the offensive linemen to be successful? Creativity when it comes to an OC coming up with the best plays.”
Coen believes the Rams are capable of each if they sharpen their mental game, a reflection of in-week preparation. He’s also examining the volume of concepts, formations and situational plays to prioritize quality of execution over quantity in play variation.
“It’s not like we don’t play hard,” he said. “We’re just not playing very smart. And we’re kicking ourselves in the butt in a lot of instances.”
The possible bright side for the defending Super Bowl champions: They believe, and have seen, their group capable of executing assignments in concert. Each week of familiarity and chemistry-building brings players heightened understanding of each other’s in-game tendencies. McVay and Co. will keep retooling.
“Right now, it’s just time for us to get on the same page,” Henderson told Yahoo Sports. “Get all the kinks out of the way and it’s time to go now. I believe in everybody in this offense, we all know the assignments and we’ll get it done.
“This offense is very explosive. When we’re all doing our one-eleventh, we’re a hell of an offense to stop.”
Follow Yahoo Sports' Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein