Takeaways from Rams’ loss to Bills: No reason to panic, but plenty to fix

The Buffalo Bills defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Rams 31-10 at SoFi Stadium in the first game of the NFL season Thursday night.

Here’s what we learned from the Rams’ defeat:

Rams fans should not go into panic mode … yet

Look, the first game of any season isn’t a predictor of how a team will fare by season’s end.

Then again, besides the Rams, only two of the last 10 Super Bowl champs — the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2014 New England Patriots — lost their openers.

The Rams will almost certainly even their record Sept. 18 when they play the Atlanta Falcons at SoFi Stadium.

If the Rams lose, panic absolutely will be appropriate.

Sean McVay might want to reconsider his preseason philosophy — if a legitimate Super Bowl contender is the first opponent

You can’t really fault the Rams’ sixth-year coach for not playing starters in the preseason. McVay’s teams won five openers after he kept starters out of harm’s way by not exposing them to injury in meaningless preseason games.

But none of those season-opening opponents were as strong as the Bills, who are among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

Does the offensive line need to block better? Of course. The Rams won’t win many games if they continue to give up seven sacks.

Would the group have benefited from playing together a bit during the preseason?

About that offensive line …

New starting left tackle Joe Noteboom wasn’t the only lineman who struggled to keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright.

McVay and new offensive coordinator Liam Coen said establishing a consistent running game was among their top priorities this season.

The Rams rushed for a grand total of 52 yards. Darrell Henderson gained 47 yards in 13 carries, Cam Akers zero yards in three carries.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford watches as Bills’ Von Miller celebrates a sack.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The condition of Matthew Stafford’s right arm remains an issue

Stafford said he felt great going into the opener, the tendinitis in is his right elbow apparently under control or gone.

Had Stafford played well, there would be no reason to question whether he was indeed 100%.

But three passes were intercepted, two on tipped balls. Others were off target. And though there was no discernible problem to the naked eye, until Stafford plays better, questions will remain about the condition of his arm.

Allen Robinson needs more targets

The Rams signed Robinson to replace Robert Woods and complement star receiver Cooper Kupp.

But Robinson, a ninth-year pro who has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving three times, was targeted only twice against the Bills, catching one pass for 12 yards.

During his pro career, Robinson was targeted three times or fewer only once before, according to In Jacksonville’s 2017 opener, he caught the only pass thrown to him before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Kupp was targeted 15 times and had 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Tyler Higbee was targeted 11 times and had only five catches. He dropped two. Receiver Tutu Atwell dropped the only pass that came his way.

Aaron Donald did not play like the retiring type

Donald, who wears No. 99, began his ninth season by recording his 99th career sack.

Donald had flirted with retirement after winning the Super Bowl. The seven-time All-Pro and three-time NFL defensive player of the year ultimately returned to the Rams after receiving a massive raise.

Inside linebackers Bobby Wagner and Ernest Jones can be a force in tandem

Wagner, an 11th-year pro making his Rams debut, had seven tackles, including a sack.

Jones, a second-year pro, forced a fumble that was recovered by outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.

The secondary needs improvement

Cornerback Troy Hill intercepted a pass but defensive backs otherwise struggled against Bills quarterback Josh Allen, one of the league’s strongest passers and an outstanding runner.

Allen completed 26 of 31 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed for a touchdown.

Allen threw a short scoring pass to Isaiah McKenzie, a medium-range touchdown pass to Gabe Davis and a long scoring pass to Stefon Diggs.

SoFi Stadium is an attraction — for opposing teams’ fans as well

The Rams benefit from playing in a region as large as the Southland. But it is home to transplants from all over the country and world and is also an attractive travel destination.

The Rams, accustomed to an onslaught by a visiting team’s fans — see last season’s games against the San Francisco 49ers — anticipated a strong turnout from the Bills Mafia. Because of the noise, the Rams operated at times with a silent count.

It wasn’t the first time. It won’t be the last.

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