Key Matchups To Watch: Rams vs Broncos
Who McVay Plays vs. Who McVay Rests
This game will be played on August 28th and the Rams will have a roster of 80 players. By August 31st they will have to cut that to 53. For some, they will be given a last chance to show what they bring to the table. For others on the bubble, coach Sean McVay will hold them out so that when they are eventually cut and hit the waiver wire they might fly under other team’s radar. That is to say, McVay wants to be able to stash some of the cuts on the practice squad if they clear waivers.
The most interesting development this offseason has been the emergence of Bryce Perkins. Given how he has played, there will be several teams interested in him as a backup. This means that if the Rams want to keep him, they will likely have to offer him a genuine roster spot rather than hoping he will clear waivers.
Not only that, but the Rams will be playing him against the Broncos. So teams will have yet another chance to evaluate him. Devlin Hodges has been cut and McVay is committed to not playing Matthew Stafford or John Wolford. Although Wolford will be available to play if needed.
McVay hasn’t rostered three quarterbacks since 2017 and furthermore, the Rams face some tough decisions at other player groups that will dictate whether or not a spot will be available for Perkins.
There are some tough battles that are going on for one or two receiver and inside linebacker spots. The tight end room is crowded and they also won’t find much fat to trim at cornerback. So, it makes life much harder on themselves if the Rams decide to keep Perkins around.
Who McVay decides to trot out at those contested and crowded groups should speak volumes about who he is keeping and who he isn’t. A few players to watch on offense are Trishton Jackson, J.J. Koski, Laden Akers, and Jeremiah Haydel. They are all competing for one (maybe two) roster spots. The Rams will likely pepper the guy they want to keep. If one or more of these guys isn’t in that rotation against Denver, they are on the chopping block.
The inside linebacker contest has been truly fascinating and this game will shed light on how it will shake out by cut day. Last week, the Rams started Micah Kiser. Which, on its face, is an uncharacteristic move. Kiser started last season when he was available. The Rams rarely play bonafide second-stringers, much less players who are considered potential starters. This could be a potentially ominous sign that Kiser is in the competition for a roster spot and not a significant role in the Raheem Morris’ defense.
2021 third-round pick Ernest Jones and Troy Reeder have had impressive preseasons. Travin Howard seems like a lock for the 53 man roster. So this leaves Kiser, Kenny Young, and Christian Rozeboom competing for the remaining spot. Unlike the wide receivers, the Rams are much more familiar with these three. So who McVay decides to play may point to who they are moving on from.
Rams Secondary vs Broncos Receivers
Despite the quarterback contest happening in Denver, the Broncos passing attack has been potent throughout the preseason. Their receivers have caught for a combined 465 yards over their first two preseason contests. Jerry Jeudy only has three catches, but one was for 33 yards and another was for 35 yards. Against the Vikings, KJ Hamler took one to the house for 80 yards. And that is only the tip of the spear. Five other receivers have caught passes of 15 yards or more.
This is going to test the Rams’ secondary. In their first two games, the opposing quarterbacks averaged 5.7 yards per completion. Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater have averaged 13.5 yards per completion.
The good news for the Rams is that, so far, much of the defensive backfield has been solid. Bronte Harris, Juju Hughes, and JR Reed have all solidified their place on the team. Going up against a team that can potentially stretch them vertically will be a good test. This game will also be a good opportunity for Kareem Orr to make his case for a spot on the roster. Rookie cornerback Robert Rochell may make his much anticipated preseason debut, as well.
Rams Pass Rush vs Denver Offensive Line
Another reason the secondary has looked so good for the Rams is a highly effective pass rush. The Rams have logged five sacks and 10 quarterback hits over the last two games. A Rams edge rusher has stood out in each of the games; Justin Lawler then Chris Garrett.
It will be interesting to watch if the Rams can continue to look so good against a stout Bronco front five that has only allowed two sacks, both coming against Seattle on consecutive plays on Drew Lock’s first drive. That drive was an outlier from what the offensive line has shown. Some of Denver’s second-string linemen are competing for starting roles along the line, including Rams pre-draft darling Quinn Meinerz. The group of offensive linemen the Broncos will be putting out in this game are a cut above the average.
Rams Passing Game vs. Broncos Defensive Backfield
Perkins has been fun to watch, but not in the consistently connecting with receivers kind of way. He has averaged 4.7 yards per attempt. Just for context, last season Nick Foles was 35th in the league and averaged 5.9 yards per attempt.
Conversely, the Denver secondary has been lights out. The Broncos have picked off three interceptions and nine passes defended in EACH game. First-rounder Patrick Surtain has certainly been thriving in Vic Fangio’s defense. He’s already snagged a pick-six and additionally broke up two passes against the Vikings.
The pass catchers that do end up playing for the Rams in this game will be relying on Perkins to hit them downfield. That isn’t a task that he has seemed up to in the preseason and going against this defense isn’t going to be any easier.