The Los Angeles Rams travel back east, again, to face the 2-0 Buffalo Bills this Sunday. Here are the 5 key matchups to watch for!
5 Key Matchups – Rams Vs Bills
Josh Allen is off to a very good start this season. He leads the league in passing yards with 729 and is tied for second with 6 touchdowns. It should be noted that Allen did this against two teams that are bad at defense. The Jets are ranked 20th in pass defending DVOA and Miami is ranked 32nd. In the simplest terms, this Rams game will be a litmus test for Allen. Is he actually this good or just good at beating bad teams.
He will square off against the eighth-ranked pass defense, led by the best rusher in the game, Aaron Donald. The Rams passing defense has held QB’s to a 73.6 passer rating, while only blitzing 15.7% of the time and Donald is a big reason why. He’s racked up six of the teams 15 QB pressures, according to pro-football-reference.com. Last week, the Eagles were able to contain him by double-teaming him. Donald is often doubled, but the Eagles have elite talent in Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce.
From a talent perspective, the Bills will be the weakest offensive line that the Rams have faced so far. To account for an injury to their best lineman, Jon Feliciano, they are still tinkering with the front. Never a good thing, when you are about to face an elite pass rusher.
It would be unfair to say that Allen is going to fall on his face against Aaron Donald. Allen is a difficult QB to tackle and is among the best passers under pressure. He has faced a good amount of pressure already. Allen has been blitzed 37 times and has had only 2.2 seconds per attempt in the pocket, which is tied for second least in the league but has achieved a 122.9 passer rating.
Now, no quarterback is truly “better” under pressure. Last season, when he was under pressure Allen would often try to extend plays, leading to some very bad decisions. So far, it seems he has matured out of that. But Donald is going to get penetration and that heat will expose if Allen has grown out of playing hero ball.
This is the kind of matchup that football fans live for. Two bonafide talents clashing in the prime of their careers. And, no matchup in football is as singular as a cornerback vs a wide receiver. Diggs vs. Ramsey is primed to be a classic one.
Diggs is credited with flipping the switch of the Bills offense, as a deep threat for the big arm of Josh Allen. Ramsey made a few of the biggest plays against the Cowboys and Carson Wentz wouldn’t even think of throwing his way. Ramsey was only targeted two times in the Eagles game.
Not throwing to Diggs is not an option for the Bills. So far Allen targets Diggs on 27.2% of passing attempts.
Heading into this weekend, John Brown and Dawson Knox are both listed as questionable for the game and Cole Beasley just returned to practice on Thursday. So, Diggs will see a lot of action on Sunday, which means fans will get to see plenty of these two battling it out.
And Diggs is just fine with that. Diggs said of avoiding Ramsey, “As far as shying away, it’s football. At the end of the day, we don’t really shy away in anything. I would just say trust in Josh, trust in Josh’s decision making. Each play is going to be big because he’s been playing some good football, and we trust him to make decisions and put the ball wherever it needs to go.”
So far this season, the Rams have favored zone coverage. It will be interesting to see if the Rams alter their game plan and go with man coverage to attempt to shut down 2020’s most dynamic receiver.
The two squared off once before when Ramsey was a Jaguar and Diggs was a Viking. When covered by Ramsey, Diggs was thrown to three times, catching only one pass. Mark one for Ramsey. The rematch is a toss-up, but whoever comes out on top will propel their team to a win on Sunday.
Rams Running Backs vs. Bills Defensive Line
For the most part, the Rams have avoided the very vicious injury bug. The only exception is at running back. Last week, both Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown left the game with injuries. Akers is likely out with separated rib cartilage. Brown will likely play with a splint on his left pinkie. It was operated on, on Monday. Darrell Henderson was also hurt earlier in the year. He missed time due to a hamstring injury. But according to his results against the Eagles, he’s doing just fine.
This week will be the biggest test for the Rams running game. Buffalo has only allowed 151 rushing yards in their first two games, third-best in the league, and only 10 of the 43 first downs they’ve allowed have come on the ground. The line is often overlooked because the Bills secondary is star-studded and dominant. But this line has the potential to improve. Second-year, tackle Ed Oliver is showing signs of improvement and veteran Mario Addison is off to a great start. But they haven’t faced a team that runs like the Rams. Both the Jets and the Dolphins are near the bottom in rushing percentage.
The Rams run the ball a lot. They’ve rushed 56.8% of plays on offense, which is the most in the league. They have also been good at running the ball. They have the second-highest rushing DVOA and have the third most yards on the ground. Malcolm Brown has been the team’s most consistent rusher and Darrell Henderson led the team in rushing against the Eagles, averaging 6.75 yards per rush.
The rushing game may be even more important if Tre’Davious White and the Bills secondary are able to lock down the Rams receivers. But if the Bills offense is able to take the top off the Rams defense and score points, they may be forced to throw the ball.
Tyler Higbee vs. Bills Linebackers
Tyler Higbee had a monster game against the Eagles. He racked up five catches, three of which were touchdowns. The Dolphins, Mike Gesicki, also had a good game. He caught 8 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Gesicki did this against the Bills. And the Rams and Tyler Higbee should try to do the same this week. Miami was able to take advantage of several injured linebackers, a group that wasn’t deep, to begin with.
Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds are both listed as questionable to play on Sunday, but even if they do, Milano is the only linebacker on Buffalo that could compete with Higbee. Sean McVay has been opening up to using more 12 personnel and this game would be a good game to fully embrace two tight ends. Last season, Edmunds was bad in coverage. Using Gerald Everett in addition to Higbee will create a big mismatch in the middle of the field. Using short passes over the middle will also allow the Rams to control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Josh Allen.
Sean vs. Sean
This is the first time the two micks will spar as head coaches. They faced off twice as coordinators when Mcdermott was DC in Carolina and McVay was OC with Washington. Mcdermott outshined in both games. McVay won’t lend any credence to those defeats, saying “..it’s different. We have different players. He’s adjusted and adapted. We’ve got some things that are totally different from how we operated in Washington.”
Both coaches seem to be firing on all cylinders this season on both sides of the ball, which is why both teams are 2-0. While the Rams woes from last season weren’t abundantly clear, Buffalo’s were. Their offense was inconsistent and slow-moving. For that reason, McDermott can credit his offseason acquisition of Stefon Diggs for his team’s high flying ways. McVay’s offseason was more defined by the players he lost. He cut Todd Gurley, traded Brandin Cooks, and didn’t re-sign Dante Fowler. Those are hard decisions to make, but McVay has been able to field a good team.
There is nothing but mutual admiration between the two heading into this game. They have both expressed their respect for one another to the media. Game recognizes game, as the kids say.
For the Bills, the big question is can they be as efficient on offense against the Rams. In the first game, the Bills used 10 personnel packages to help Allen to find his rhythm and in the second game, they increased the usage of the package to stretch the defense downfield. But, against the Rams pass rush that won’t be viable. McDermott will have to figure out how to create those big plays without having four wide receivers playing sandlot football. Dallas ran primarily 11 and Philadelphia ran mostly 12. Buffalo runs most of its plays from 11 personnel but has a 48% success rate in that grouping. They don’t have the talent at TE to play much in 12. This is a bit of a rock and a hard place for McDermott and Brian Daboll.
For the Rams, the question is what will the Rams do if the Bills are able to score early and often. The Rams have only trailed for about 10 minutes against the Cowboys and they weren’t down by much. The overused Mike Tyson adage is true here. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. The Rams have yet to get punched in the mouth and the Bills seem like the kind of team to be able to do that. The plan over the first two games has been to lean on the running game. Which is taken away if the Bills go up by a few touchdowns.
A clash between a young offensive guru and a young defensive guru makes this one of the key matchups to watch.