The Rams’ record improved to 7-1 overall with a 38-22 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium What we learned from the Rams’ victory:
Rookie inside linebacker Ernest Jones is a playmaker: The Rams drafted Jones in the third round, thinking he could eventually step in and supply the defense with a productive, cheaper alternative to veteran Kenny Young.
The game against the struggling Texans offered a perfect opportunity for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Jones to demonstrate he was ready. So, the Rams dealt Young and the rest of his $2.2 million salary to the Denver Broncos.
Then they essentially told Jones, “OK, kid, show us what you can do.”
In the second quarter, Jones intercepted a pass by Texans quarterback Davis Mills is the left flat. He returned it 19 yards before he was forced out of bounds at the Texans’ 12-yard line, but Jones kept running across the back of the end zone and was mobbed by teammates offering congratulations.
Jones finished with a team-best nine tackles and he shared a sack.
His only major mistake: He was penalized for illegal use of hands, nullifying an interception by cornerback Dont’e Deayon.
Deep routes are no problem for Van Jefferson: DeSean Jackson was supposed to be the Rams’ deep threat, and with good reason — he is one of the best in NFL history.
But coach Sean McVay apparently could not figure a way to work Jackson into the offense enough. Now the Rams are trying to trade the 14th-year pro.
Jefferson does not have Jackson’s speed, but showed Sunday that his 67-yard touchdown play in the opener against the Chicago Bears was not a fluke.
Jefferson broke free and caught a 68-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford, setting up Stafford’s touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp that gave the Rams a 31-0 lead.
Tutu Atwell remains a work in progress: Last week, McVay said he wanted to see more of a sense of urgency from Atwell, a second-round pick in the 2021 draft.
Atwell, 5-9 and 165 pounds, did not return many punts or kicks in college at Louisville, but on a team that includes receivers Kupp, Jefferson, Jackson and Robert Woods, that has been his main area of opportunity.
Kupp fielded punts early in the game against the Texans before Atwell came on. He appeared to be unsure of himself in three opportunities.
After his last, he had to be helped off the field because of a shoulder injury.
Darrell Henderson and Robert Woods can be dual threats: On a day when the Rams rushed for a season-best 165 yards, Henderson ran for 90 yards and a touchdown in 14 carries. He also caught a touchdown pass.
Woods caught three passes for 35 yards, including a two-yard touchdown. He also took a pitch from Stafford on a reverse and scored on a 16-yard run.
The emergence of Henderson as a capable receiver — he made a tough catch on a touchdown against the New York Giants — gives McVay multiple options.
Woods has lined up wide, tight, in the slot and in the backfield this season. He is no doubt capable of playing running back if needed.
Joe Noteboom might be an undervalued commodity: Noteboom was drafted in 2018, seemingly as the heir apparent to Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. But Whitworth, who turns 40 in December, just keeps going.
After Whitworth suffered a knee injury last season, Noteboom stepped in to start in his place. With Whitworth sidelined Sunday because of a knee injury, Noteboom started and helped anchor a line that did not give up a sack.
Noteboom has a salary-cap number of $1.1 million in the final year of his rookie contract. He is due to become an unrestricted free agent and could cash in — with the Rams or another team — if he remains injury free.
Special teams remain an issue: After failing to recover an onside kick and giving up first downs on two fake punts against the Detroit Lions, the Rams did not suffer similar embarrassment.
However, they once again failed to recover an onside kick during the Texans’ run of 22 unanswered points.
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee recovered another onside kick after the Texans’ final touchdown and two-point conversion.
That shouldn’t necessarily be a cause for celebration. But given the way Rams special teams have performed of late, it qualified.