3 Biggest Matchups For The Rams In 2020
A quick glance back at the Rams last two schedules demonstrates just how important certain games are. In 2018, they swept the division, they won the games they should have, and most of the games they had to and ended up in the Super Bowl. In 2019, the Rams went 3-3 in division games, they should have beaten the Steelers and had to beat San Francisco and Dallas, but fell short against both and subsequently missed the playoffs.
With the 2020 schedule hot off the presses, we can already see which games will be determining the Rams postseason chances. If the Rams win the following games their playoff dreams will become reality.
The caveat for the Rams this season is that the NFC West is getting harder and harder to win outright. So, each and every divisional game looms large for the Rams, as it does every season.
Dallas Cowboys – Week 1 – Sunday Night Football In Los Angeles
Dallas put up 44 against the Rams in their 2019 meeting, outscoring the Rams by more than three touchdowns. A big chunk of the damage was done by the Cowboys run game. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard rushed for 248 yards. Dak Prescott didn’t have to do much to throw two touchdowns. He only threw for 212 yards on 23 attempts. Compare that to his 2019 season average of 306 yards and 37.3 attempts per game. To say the Rams defense shut Dak down in this game would be a mischaracterization. The Cowboys just kept running because the Rams couldn’t stop them.
This may have been the worst outing for the Rams defense last season. They allowed 7 of 13 third downs, created no turnovers, nearly no pressure on the quarterback, and couldn’t stop the run. And with all that, Dallas looks to be even more potent in 2020 with the additions of Mike McCarthy, CeeDee Lamb and, former Ram, Greg Zuerlein. This game is going to be tough for the Rams.
The outcome of this game will fall squarely on the shoulders of the defense. Which, at this moment in time, it is hard to imagine that they will be up to the task. As of now, it takes a lot of faith to believe that the Rams defense has improved this offseason. The defensive coordinator is green and the Rams lost several known entities. But in defense of the true believers, there is a lot to hang your hats on. Troy Hill, Samson Ebukam, and Troy Reeder are moving into starting roles, they all have been solid backups and have shined when given the playing time.
While Bradon Staley is untested, he is also thought of as one of the most innovative young defensive minds in the NFL. The Rams also added to the defense with the draft and free agency. Terrell Lewis has the raw potential to be a game wrecker. In terms of improving their run defense, the addition of A’Shawn Robinson will go a long way into slowing down the Cowboys. And, to be frank, the team still has Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, and Jalen Ramsey.
This rematch will be a chance for the Rams to get some revenge by showing defensive competence. More importantly, this game will have huge playoff implications, even though it is the first game of the season. Not too mention, it will be the NFL opener at Kroenke’s Kingdom, the beautiful SoFi Stadium. The evening will certainly be electric and a lot will be hanging in the balance for a Rams victory.
At Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Week 11 – Monday Night Football
There are several similarities to this game and the Cowboys game. To name two; both are rematches to frustrating Rams losses in 2019 and both will have huge effects on the playoff standings for the whole NFC.
As we all know, the Bucs signed Tom Brady, which flung them instantly into the NFC playoff picture. They will be a relevant threat to the Saints to win the South and certainly will be jostling for a playoff position of some sort. The additions of Brady and Rob Gronkowski aren’t the only reason they are playoff favorites. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both caught for over 1,000 yards last year. Despite Jameis Winston’s 30 interceptions, the team was tied for third in the league with 28.6 points per game. They also had a solid run defense that only allowed 73 yards per game and Shaquil Barrett led the league in sacks.
Given the giant seachange that adding Tom Brady to an already dynamic offense, looking to last years match up to glean something about this year’s is a bit of a stretch. The Rams defense will no doubt have its hands full with that offense. That said, what last year’s game does point out is the importance of keeping a clean pocket for Jared Goff. Tampa Bay picked off Goff three times, resulting in 21 points. They picked up another touchdown off a Goff fumble in the fourth quarter when Barrett stripped Goff and Ndamukong Suh scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown. The final score of that game was 55-40 with 28 points as a result of turnovers. If it can be said, Goff had a good game otherwise. He threw for 517 yards and two touchdowns.
It is well known that Goff becomes a bad QB when he is under pressure and unlike the efforts made to shore up the defense, the Rams have done little to nothing to give him more protection. They re-signed Austin Blythe and Andrew Whitworth but waited till the seventh round of the draft to add any offensive line talent. That leaves a lot of hoping the front five will stay healthy and there will be a vast improvement from Rob Havenstein.
The good news for the Rams is that the Bucs haven’t addressed their biggest liability. The secondary. Last season they gave up just over 270 yards per game, third-worst in the league. If the Rams defense is able to contain Evans and Godwin, and Jared Goff is given enough time to pick apart the secondary, the Rams will win this game and give themselves a huge boost toward getting back to the playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers – Week 6 Away – Week 12 Home
Noting the aforementioned caveat, this pick may seem a bit redundant, but these games cannot simply be glossed over. The NFC West looks like it could be one of the best divisions in football this year. While Arizona is looking like the next up and comer and Seattle is a perennial threat, San Francisco is by far the favorite to win the division. They went to the Super Bowl last season and they don’t look like they are slowing down heading into this season.
The two games between these squads last season couldn’t have been more different. The first could have been titled “How the Rams lose games” and the second “How the Rams win games.”
Even though they didn’t win the second game, they played much better football. In the first game, Goff was sacked four times, with 11 pressures on 33 passes. He ended up throwing for 78 yards, the fewest yards in his career. The entire offense only moved the ball 157 net yards. The Rams fared a little better on the other side of the ball, but when your offense only puts up seven points there’s only so much a defense can do to win a game. They lost 20-7.
In the next meeting, while Goff faced just as much pressure they did enough to keep him off his back. The Niners were held to zero sacks. With Goff able to keep his composure, he had a much better game, throwing for 323 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams went toe-to-toe with the eventual NFC champions that night, but with some last-minute heroics, Jimmy Garoppolo got the 49ers into field goal position with seconds left on the clock and Robbie Gould kicked a 33-yard field goal to seal the victory for San Francisco, 34-31.
In order to win against the 49ers in 2020, the Rams will have to contain Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, slow the running game down and create the space for Goff to have a great game. But they will also have to bring some fire. The 49ers won that second game because they wanted it more.
The saving grace for the West is that the 49ers face a bear of a schedule. No game is a gimme in the division, plus they will play Green Bay, Philadelphia, Dallas, and New Orleans. Despite San Francisco’s tough schedule, the Rams will have to take home at least one “W” to have a chance at winning the West.