Last weekend, the Rams survived injuries and beat the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle sending Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson to Cabo. Their reward is a date in the icy tundra of Green Bay to face a rested Packers team. It’s understandable that the Packers would open as a seven-point favorite given that the quarterback situation of the Rams is once again murky and they had several players get dinged up as the Seahawks game wore on.
Aaron Rodgers has had a late-career resurgence and is likely to win the MVP and their defense, while not as battle-tested as the Rams, is still dangerous. The Rams’ offense is oddly a weaker link this season but Cam Akers gave it a Vincent Vega shot of adrenaline. This game is a lot more even than it would appear and there are five big matchups that could decide who moves on to the NFC Championship.
Matchup One: Packers OL vs Rams DL
The Packers have done a great job protecting Aaron Rodgers this season and opening up holes for Aaron Jones. Unfortunately, for them, they are going to be without left tackle David Bakhtiari for this playoff run. That’s a problem considering they have to go against one of, if not the best defensive line unit in the league.
Aaron Donald is playing with torn rib cartilage and the unit survived after he left the game against Seattle. Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox, Michael Brockers, A’Shawn Robinson, and even Greg Gaines all contributed in ways, big and small, last week. Fox got in for a sack, plus pressures. SJD, Brockers, and A’Shawn all provided pressures and run-stopping, and Gaines was even able to get a holding call against the Seahawks. All that matters. Rodgers, like Wilson, is an adept scrambler but unlike Wilson, Rodgers has more options downfield at all times. The Rams have enough talent to get penetration and clog the running lanes but they can’t let Rodgers be comfortable out of pocket.
Matchup Two: Rams Receivers vs Packers Secondary
It’s going to be 36 degrees and rainy in Green Bay which means the Rams are likely to run the ball a lot with Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown. Of course, Jared Goff and his two gloves will eventually have to make throws downfield. That’ll be easier said than done since not only will the weather make life difficult, but the Packers’ secondary, while not as vaunted a unit as the Rams’s secondary, are talented none the less.
Goff is likely to be under pressure all day so it’s on the receivers to get open. The Packers are likely to put stud corner, Jaire Alexander, on Robert Woods given Cooper Kupp is dealing with bursitis. Kevin King, Josh Jackson, and Darnell Savage will be tasked with containing Kupp, Josh Reynolds, and the tight ends, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. The Packers secondary will keep the windows tight and if the receivers can get any kind of separation that could make all the difference.
Matchup Three: Rams Linebackers vs Packers Tight Ends
One thing the Rams didn’t have to worry about much against Seattle was a dominant tight end. That made life ALOT easier for the linebackers. Green Bay, on the other hand, has two tight ends that will really push the limits of the Rams’ linebackers. Robert Tonyan has become a reliable option for Rodgers when he’s under duress and Marcedes Lewis is dangerous in the red zone. That’s likely how the Packers will try and neutralize the pass rushing of Leonard Floyd by forcing him to focus on containing Tonyan or Lewis. That is unless Micah Kiser, Kenny Young, or Troy Reeder can pick up that slack.
The Rams have struggled all year on tight ends (see George Kittle) so this will be an advantage for the Packers unless the linebackers can actually keep the tight ends in check and maybe, possibly, create a turnover.
Matchup Four: Jared Goff vs The Packers Defense, the Elements, and Himself
Jared Goff didn’t like the fact that John Wolford, AKA the Wolf of Ball Street, got the start despite Goff having surgery on his thumb days before the Seahawks. It signaled that Sean McVay didn’t trust him and allegedly there was a rift. McVay did what fans had been clamoring for ever since Goff went into a tailspin this season, and went with Wolford.
Jamal Adams gave Goff a chance to prove himself after knocking Wolford out of the game. Despite some classic Goff moments, he didn’t turn the ball over and as the game went on, played with a fire that we hadn’t been seen in quite some time. The signature play was the throw to Akers where he scrambled, climbed up the pocket, and found Akers. Goff moving with that sense of urgency was a welcome surprise to both fans and the rest of the team.
Now, the Packers have a solid pass rush headlined by Za’Darius Smith. The Rams line played much better with Andrew Whitworth back in the game but they’ll have their hands full against the Packers. Goff can’t take bad sacks, he has to release the ball quicker, and he absolutely can’t fumble the ball as he tends to do. McVay won’t ask him to pass very much, but when he’s asked to, he needs to be able to read more than his primary option downfield.
The rain will make this even more of a dicey proposition but Goff is actually better in the elements than people think. Goff was feisty about McVay benching him and like Champ Kind, he was tired of the putdowns. This might be the biggest game of Goff’s career because if he Kendall Roy’s the bed, perhaps those DeShaun Watson trade ideas become less and less of a pipe dream.
Matchup Five: Jalen Ramsey vs Davante Adams
This is the main event, the matchup everyone has been talking about all week. Jalen Ramsey hasn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver all season. That is nothing short of remarkable. He erased D.K. Metcalf three times this year, DeAndre Hopkins twice, and only allowed one touchdown which was to Stefon Diggs (Diggs would only get four yards on Ramsey that game) in week three.
This week he has another absolutely brutal assignment. Davante Adams has 18 touchdowns and 1,374 yards this season. He’s Barry Allen fast and if Ramsey can’t stop him the Rams are screwed no matter what. Ramsey has played all season like the highest-paid corner in the league but this is his toughest assignment yet. This matchup is the definition of unstoppable force vs an immovable object. Ramsey will likely be one on one with Adams all day but it might be wise for the Rams to bracket Jordan Fuller over the top just in case.
Troy Hill, John Johnson, and Darious Williams will have to rein in Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. That’s an easier task if Ramsey can lock down Adams. If he can, that also bodes well for a possible future matchup with Tyreek Hill but he has to win here first.
The Rams are definitely underdogs in this one, but as imposing as the Packers have been, they haven’t faced a defense like the Rams. Rodgers is 0-2 against the number one scoring defense in the league and hopefully, this unit can make it 0-3. That won’t be easy given how dominant the Packers’ offense has been almost all season. The Rams need to show up on offense, but luckily, it’ll be Cam Akers leading the way.
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