This week the Los Angeles Rams face off against the Las Vegas Raiders in week two of the preseason. The most important thing in these games is staying healthy and evaluating the back end of the roster. Which players will be the x-factors to watch against the Raiders? Which players will make the difference between a win or loss this week?
Let’s dive in.
The Rams struggled to find consistency at kicker after Greg Zuerlein left in free agency after the 2019 season. The Sam Sloman experiment was slow and painful. Then Johnny Hekker persuaded Les Snead to bring in Matt Gay. The Rams quickly found the consistency they were desperately missing in the kicking game. Matt Gay ended the season going 14/16. Gay also went 6/7 from 40+ yards and 1/1 on kicks 50+ yards. Against the Los Angeles Chargers last week, Gay missed an extra point attempt. It will be important for Gay to show the Rams there is no reason for concern.
This offseason the Rams also brought in punter Cody Bojorquez. Though the Rams have insisted Hekker is their guy, people have speculated that Bojorquez was brought in for competition. Both punters performed well against the Chargers. Bojorquez is younger and cheaper and we saw how the ball exploded off his foot in week one of the preseason. If Bojorquez continues to show what led him to lead the NFL in average punt yards, the Rams may actually have a position battle. The specialists could be the most important x-factors to watch against the Raiders.
John Wolford has been out after an emergency appendectomy. Meanwhile, Devlin Hodges and Bryce Perkins have been battling for a roster spot as the team’s third quarterback. Perkins by all accounts outplayed Hodges in week one against the Chargers. He was making good reads, accurate throws, and showing off his athleticism. Perkins looked so good that if he continues to show off the next two weeks, the Rams may not be able to hide him on the practice squad.
It will be interesting to see this quarterback battle play out as Hodges still has time to make his case. However, my money is on Perkins to solidify his place on the depth chart. If Perkins gets more snaps against the Raiders he could make for an exciting game with his blend of decision-making and mobility. He and Jacob Harris clearly had a connection going against the Chargers. Perkins could be one of the more exciting x-factors to watch against the Raiders.
Brontae Harris / Robert Rochell
The Rams have been great at developing talent in the secondary under Sean McVay. Les Snead drafted Robert Rochell in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft. He then added Brontae Harris as an undrafted free agent. Rochell missed week one with an injury. It looks as though he will play against the Raiders as he has been practicing in full contact and making plays in joint practices. If Rochell can continue to show off his ball skills it could be a boost to the defense this week as well as earn him playing time sooner than later.
Harris was active against the Chargers. He played a little up and down though. He was frequently targeted and the Chargers made their fair share of plays on him. At one point, Chase Daniel missed his receiver deep on what likely would’ve been a touchdown as Harris was clearly beat. Harris did show off good tackling though and most importantly, outside of that one deep pass, he was generally in a position to make a play. Harris did not allow many yards after the reception and if he can clean up some things he could start to turn those plays into incompletions.
Raheem Morris admitted that he was pressing the wrong button on the headset during the first defensive series against the Chargers. That forced rookie, third-round pick, Ernest Jones to show what made him the Rams pick this year. Jones was known in college for being a team leader and calling the defense, the Rams mentioned when scouting him that it was like he had a GPS in him tracking the football. Jones made all the defensive calls in that first series without a coach to lean on. Wearing the green dot is not something to take lightly and the fact that he was given that honor in his first week of preseason (Jordan Fuller will have the green dot in the regular season) is nothing short of incredible.
Jones showed off his GPS constantly being around the football and making good reads. He wasted no motion and was consistently headed to the right spot. No play showed this more than when he snuffed out a screen attempt by the Chargers. Jones will continue to lead the defense in the preseason. How Jones handles such big responsibility and expectations in the next couple of weeks could determine his position in the depth chart. He is currently behind Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard, and Kenny Young but Jones’ play may force the Rams to put him ahead of everyone on that list.
The Rams are holding out their starters as well as key backup Joe Noteboom. A few players showed some flashes against the Chargers but the offensive line was too inconsistent and sloppy. Coleman Shelton was very solid in both the run and passing game but had a major gaffe causing a screen to get blown up. Tremayne Anchrum was decent but gave up a couple of pressures. Bobby Evans had some good moments but overall wasn’t good and looked like a liability in pass protection.
Alaric Jackson and Chandler Brewer had the left side of the offensive line looking bad all night. Hopefully, they can clean that up. I’ll grade them on a curve for now as Brewer is coming off a missed season due to sitting out because of COVID-19. Meanwhile, Jackson is listed at only 285 lbs. after changing his diet and routine pre-draft, it will take him some time to gain some mass and strength back.
Unfortunately, we did not get to see Max Pircher at all. Hopefully, that changes this week as it would be nice for us to have some idea of exactly how far he has to go to become an NFL player and just how athletic he is. The biggest surprise was Jordan Meredith at right guard. Meredith was an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky. He played exceptionally well in his limited time. If he can continue to do that he might overtake some more experienced players on the depth chart. Regardless, the offensive line as a whole needs to open up some room for the running backs. Run blocking in particular has been a concern with this Rams offensive line. How they respond coming off a down week is one of the more intriguing x-factors to watch against the Raiders.
Vote below on who you think will be the biggest factor in the game!