The Buffalo Bills marched into SoFi stadium and vanquished the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night, winning 31-10 in a game that, for much of the duration, was far closer than that. Entering the fourth quarter, Buffalo only led 17-10. A pair of long Josh Allen passes, one to Gabe Davis and another to Stefan Diggs, sealed the outcome.
In a game where Buffalo had four turnovers, the results could have been far different. However, excellent game planning on both sides of the ball allowed Buffalo to limit some of the Rams’ stars to less-than-stellar games. Even in the instances where Buffalo couldn’t quite mitigate LA’s star power, Buffalo did enough on their own to render those great performances futile.
Here’s how our Rams players to watch fared on Thursday night.
QB Matthew Stafford
Well, we said that the Bills would have success if they were able to hit Stafford, and boy were we right. Stafford was sacked seven times and hit 13 more, taking an absolute pounding all night long. Worse still for the Rams, that beatdown happened with Buffalo sending extra rushers on exactly zero snaps. That’s right—the Bills didn’t blitz once, yet they were able to harry, harass, hit, harm—whatever verb suits your fancy—a solid veteran quarterback in Stafford. The 14th-year man threw 41 times, completing 26 of those passes for 240 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. One of those picks came when he tried a no-look pass over the middle that was deflected to Jordan Poyer. Another came off a batted ball by Boogie Basham. The first interception came when Stafford misread Buffalo’s coverage, and rather than hitting an open Tyler Higbee in the flat, he hit an open Dane Jackson in the zone he thought was vacant. Stafford targeted Cooper Kupp 15 times, Higbee 11 times, Ben Skowronek six times, and Darrell Henderson five times. He looked in the direction of new No. 2 wideout Allen Robinson II on just two occasions. Buffalo was able to frustrate Stafford and the Rams’ offense all night long.
RB Cam Akers
Speaking of players who seemed underutilized by head coach Sean McVay and the Rams’ offense, Akers played on just 12 offensive snaps Thursday night. That’s not exactly what many fantasy football managers were assuming would be the snap share after Akers led the Rams in every rushing category last postseason. He carried the ball three times and gained zero yards. He saw zero targets in the passing game. As mentioned above, Henderson saw five targets—catching all five for 26 yards receiving. He also carried 13 times for 47 yards. Perhaps Akers’s inability to assess pass block scenarios contributed to his lack of usage, as Nate Time posted a quick video of Akers poorly executing an assignment on Twitter following the game. There’s obviously some danger in looking at one video and rushing to judgment, but Akers’s usage, or lack thereof, is curious regardless.
WR Cooper Kupp
Like many teams before them, the Bills failed to keep Kupp in check. However, Buffalo did so much to limit everything else that the Rams did that it really didn’t matter. This defensive effort reminded me of a strategy from a completely different era—and a completely different sport. When the Boston Celtics played the Chicago Bulls in the 1986 NBA Playoffs, everyone wondered how they’d stop wunderkind Michael Jordan. Rather than stop him, they just made him do it all by himself. Jordan averaged 43.7 points per game, and the Celtics sweeped the series 3-0. On Thursday night, Kupp caught 13 passes on 15 targets for 128 yards and a touchdown. The rest of the Rams’ players caught 16 passes on 26 targets for just 112 yards. I’m sure that Buffalo didn’t sit in their defensive meetings this week and say, “Look, just let Kupp run wild—we’ll stop everyone else.” Ultimately, though, Kupp’s stat line helps his fantasy managers, but it had little impact on the game. Buffalo was able to put forth this kind of defensive performance without All-Pro corner Tre’Davious White, too. If these teams do meet again in February, expect White to shadow Kupp, which will end up being the matchup of the game.
DT Aaron Donald
Were the Bills able to stop Donald completely? No. Were they able to keep him check? Slightly. Was he a topic of conversation all night long as he blew up play after play? Nope. So, in my eyes at least, that’s a very big win for the Bills and their new-look offensive line. Ryan Bates had the unenviable task of lining up across from Donald more often than not, and while Pro Football Focus graded his pass block win rate at a very low 74% (the average, according to Seth Walder, is 91%), let’s cut the guy some slack given that he was lined up across from a future Hall of Fame player. When Donald was lined up across from former teammate Rodger Saffold, he was able to force a false start on the very solid veteran. Given that Saffold was making his 158th career regular-season start, and Bates was making just his fifth, I’m not willing to kill Bates on his performance. Donald had just two tackles, one sack, and one pressure on the evening, so I’d say that the Bills did their job.
CB Jalen Ramsey
Is there anything more fun than watching a player who’s talked poorly about you or your guys perform so poorly all night? Buffalo used, abused, smoked, sautéed, flambéed, roasted, and, umm...violated Ramsey throughout the evening. Josh Allen targeted Ramsey seven times. Six of those passes were completed for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Ramsey allowed a perfect 158.3 passer rating in coverage. It’s safe to say that both Allen and wideout Stefon Diggs, who caught eight balls for 122 yards and one of Ramsey’s touchdowns allowed, thoroughly enjoy reminding the All-Pro corner that Josh is, in fact, not trash. Ramsey is a great player, and even the greats have poor days. This poor day was just exceptionally fun to watch.