Rams takeaways: Plenty to pick on, especially Stafford picks

The Rams defeated the Atlanta Falcons 31-27 Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

What we learned from the Rams’ victory:

Quarterback Matthew Stafford still must reduce turnovers: Coach Sean McVay and Stafford are quick to explain that every interception has a different story.

OK, no argument there.

But Stafford, who had a league-high 17 passes intercepted last season, already has had five intercepted in two games.

Stafford insists that his throwing arm is fine and Sunday he completed 27 of 36 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns.

But if the Rams want to repeat as Super Bowl champions, Stafford cannot continue at this turnover pace.

Receiver Allen Robinson can be a factor: After targeting Robinson only twice in the season-opening defeat to the Buffalo Bills, McVay and Stafford said they needed to involve him more.

Against the Falcons, they waited all of one play.

Robinson was targeted five times. He had four catches for 53 yards, including a touchdown.

Cooper Kupp remained Stafford’s go-to receiver, catching 11 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns in 14 targets. Tight Tyler Higbee was targeted nine times and had seven catches for 71 yards.

Running back Cam Akers responded to McVay’s call for more urgency: Akers rushed for 44 yards in 15 carries against the Falcons. He also caught two passes for 18 yards.

The third-year pro delivered on McVay’s request after he gained zero yards in three carries against the Bills.

“Got more reps, got more burn,” Akers said. “Made the most of them.”

What must he do to get more opportunities?

“Do more of what I did,” he said.

Receiver Ben Skowronek added another role: Throughout the game, Skowronek lined up as a fullback in the I-formation.

“Just to be able to mix it up a little bit,” McVay said.

Skowronek caught two passes for 16 yards, helped protect Stafford and cleared the way for Akers and Darrell Henderson.

He remains a special teams staple.

Offensive lineman Alaric Jackson provides versatility: Right guard Tremayne Anchrum suffered an ankle injury on the second play of his first career start, so Jackson stepped in.

Jackson, a second-year pro, was set to serve as a swing tackle.

But he showed he also can play guard, and he helped an offensive line that gave up seven sacks against the Bills surrender only one against the Falcons.

Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant is a playmaker: Durant, a fourth-round draft pick from South Carolina State, intercepted a pass and recorded a sack in his debut on defense.

Durant entered Sunday’s game at cornerback after Troy Hill suffered a groin injury in the second quarter. One series later, Durant picked off a pass by Marcus Mariota that tipped off the hands of Cordarrelle Patterson and returned it 51 yards to set up a touchdown that gave the Rams a 21-3 halftime lead.

Rams defensive back Cobie Durant, right, celebrates with linebacker Terrell Lewis.

Rams defensive back Cobie Durant, right, celebrates with linebacker Terrell Lewis after his interception set up a touchdown.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“On tips and overthrows, you got to execute,” Durant said, adding, “I was like, ‘Dang, here you go, have my pick and was like get to the crib.’ … I just take advantage of my opportunities.”

The defense was much better on third down: After allowing the Bills to convert nine of 10 times on third down, the Rams stopped the Falcons seven of 10 times. The Falcons converted two third downs on the first drive and only one thereafter.

Linebacker Ernest Jones had a game-high 12 tackles for the Rams.

Durant, inside linebacker Bobby Wagner and outside linebacker Justin Hollins sacked Marcus Mariota, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.

The punt unit needs work: In the second game of the 2022 season, the Falcons blocked a punt by Riley Dixon and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.

It harked to last season when, in the second game, a snap bounced off the Rams punt protector and the Indianapolis Colts recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

Rams special teams units showed last season that they could improve by season’s end. They need a repeat if they aim to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

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