Playoff Profile: LA Rams
The 6th seed Los Angeles Rams (10-6) play the top seed Green Bay Packers (13-3) at Lambeau Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Rams went on the road during Super Wild Card Weekend and avenged their week 16 loss by defeating the 3rd seed Seattle Seahawks (12-4) 30-20. The divisional rivals each won their home game during the regular season, with the Seahawks win coming in week 16 to seal the NFC West title.
Jared Goff (thumb) missed the final regular season game and was regulated to emergency quarterback duty in the Wild Card game. John Wolford started the game, but a scary head injury knocked him out early. Goff was resilient but inconsistent after being forced into action. Goff has been a full participant in practice all week, and Sean McVay expects him to play against the Packers.
Stars Aaron Donald (ribs) and Cooper Kupp (knee) were also injured during the Wild Card game but both appear to be on track to play Saturday. How they cope with these injuries during a hopefully cold game will be a big factor for the Rams.
The Rams are an extremely talented team that relies on a powerhouse defense with an inconsistent offense. Let’s take a closer look at how the Rams have been successful this year.
First things first, this defense is the best in the league by far. Led by two first-team All-Pros Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, the defense finished first in points allowed, yards allowed, 1st downs allowed, passing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed.
The best pass rush in the NFL (53 sacks) is led by Leonard Floyd and Donald, who have combine for 24 sacks, 25 TFLs and 46 QB hits.
The dominant pass rush sets up the ball-hawking secondary. Led by Ramsey the defensive backfield has accumulated 52 pass deflections, 14 interceptions and three touchdowns. While Ramsey gets the recognition, Darius Williams, Troy Hill, John Johnson and Jordan Fuller have all been excellent Robins to Ramsey’s Batman.
Not only has this disruptive defense been excellent at preventing points all season (18.6 points per game), but recently they have become adept and putting points on the board themselves, scoring a defensive touchdown in five of the last seven games.
As good as LA’s defense has been, Green Bay’s offense has been just as good. Green Bay’s offense against LA’s defense is the classic ‘unstoppable force vs. immovable object’ theory. Something has to give.
The two teams with the most success against LA’s defense this year were the Bills (week 3) and the 49ers (week 6 & 12).
The Bills were the only team to score 30+ points on LA’s defense all year. Josh Allen threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns, and the run game combine for 17 attempts for 93 yards.
The 49ers scored 24 and 23 in their two wins. In the first meeting, Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, while the run game had 32 rushes for 120 yards. In the second meeting, Nick Mullens threw for 252 yards, while the run game combine for 112 yards.
The common theme from all three of these games was LA’s opponents insistence on being two-dimensional. The running stats do not jump off the screen as spectacular, but the threat of the run (especially on the outside — away from Donald) opens up the middle of the field for the play-action passing game.
The Packers have the tools to emulate the Bills and 49ers game-plan on Saturday.
Sean McVay’s offense burst onto the scene in 2017 with a 46-point performance in his head coaching debut and finished first in points scored on the season . In his second season as head coach, with Matt LaFleur as his right hand man, LA’s offense finished third in points per game (33.5) and rode their hot offense all the way to the Super Bowl. The Rams scored only three points in that Super Bowl ultimately ending in a loss, and LaFleur departing to Tennessee for an opportunity to call plays. Since then the Rams have struggled to recapture that production.
LA’s offense still looks the same — motion, power run game, play-action, screens. But the results have not been as promising as they were early in McVay’s tenure.
The offensive line is still elite and paves giant holes in the run game — McVay loves to use WR-motion to act as lead blocks for power runs. The offense also utilizes their WRs in the run game as often as they can. The running back by committee has been successful all season, but Cam Akers has separated himself from the group with his determined running late in the season.
The great running game sets up Jared Goff’s wonderful play-action sell. LA’s offense is all about forcing the defense off-balance and attacking holes. Yards after the catch is going to be the biggest stat to watch, if Green Bay defenders are not making the tackle right at the catch bad things are going to happen. This also factors into the ridiculous amount of screens that McVay runs. Everyone on the offense is a threat in LA’s screen game, the Packers will have to stay disciplined.
One weakness in LA’s offense is the lack of a deep threat. Robert Woods and Kupp are both speedsters, but they are more intermediate/YAC WRs as opposed to deep threats. Akers (8.8) and Tyler Higbee (8.7) lead the team in average yards per target.
Another gap is their red zone efficiency. The Rams scored 33 touchdowns in 57 Red Zone appearances — 57.9% (19th in NFL).
The biggest offensive challenge for the Rams is turnovers (25) — the only playoff team to cough it up more were the 7-9 Washington Football Team. Goff had 13 interceptions (2nd worst in NFL) and four fumbles lost (seven total). The only position players not to fumble were Darrell Henderson (154 touches) and Tyler Higbee (45 touches).
While turnovers were a major flaw in the offense during the regular season, the Rams offense played a clean game and did not have a single turnover against Seattle.
While Brady and Brees might get the headlines, I believe this matchup will be the most entertaining of the Divisional Round weekend. Buckle up Packers fans and enjoy the ride!