Raiders vs Rams: Key Matchups to Watch
After having some spirited joint practices, the Los Angeles Rams will face the Las Vegas Raiders tomorrow for their second preseason game.
Rams Running Game vs Revamped Raiders Defensive Front
The Raiders used a lot of draft capital and free agent capital in order to improve their defense, specifically their defensive line. And with good reason, they were one of the worst defensive teams in the NFL last season. So far the investment has seemed to pay off. They held Seattle to 68 yards rushing in their first preseason game.
What isn’t great for the Rams is they struggled to run the ball in their first preseason outing with the Chargers. In that game, the Rams running backs combined for a less than inspiring 2.47 yards per carry. There were some highlights, however, including the way Xavier Jones ran the ball, and Jake Funk securing a first down on a fourth and one carry. Those two are in the midst of a position battle, and both need to do better in the second preseason game.
The most electric rush against the Chargers actually came from quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins scrambled out of a rapidly shrinking pocket and stiff-armed a defender and then hurdled a second to pick up the first down. This, while fun and promising to see, isn’t really what the Rams need to see from their running game. The Rams will be relying heavily on Jones and Funk to make an impact in regular-season games, so we would love to see a solid performance out of them against the Raiders.
While the backs have to own their share, the lion’s share of the lackluster performance has to fall on the offensive line, specifically the interior. Collectively, they gave up four tackles for loss and five quarterback hits.
It would take some truly catastrophic bad luck if all five of the backups were in a regular-season game, but this does shine a spotlight on the lack of depth on the offensive line. This leaves the Rams hoping their starting five stays healthy for the duration of the NFL season.
The Raiders defense did a good job against the Seahawks’ offensive line. They managed three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.
Rams Edge Rushers vs The Raiders Quarterback
The Rams have a very intriguing group of green edge rushers and they seem to be taking turns showing off in training camp and now in the preseason. Justin Hollins was the big revelation coming out of camp and against the Chargers it was Justin Lawler who won the day.
Lawler collected five tackles (one for loss), and two quarterback hits, and at times looked like a potential game wrecker. He displayed the ability to create mismatches and tilt the line in his direction which will benefit whole defense.
The other edge rusher that has slowly been making a name for himself is 2021 seventh-rounder Chris Garrett. Garrett played well against the Chargers but didn’t really make any splash plays.
This week might be his week to get on the radar for Rams Nation.
The Raiders gave up seven tackles for loss and Nathan Peterman was sacked four times last weekend. This means that Lawler and Garrett have a good shot to show off their skills and get into the backfield once again. The caveat to this is Marcus Mariota may be available to play. He missed last week’s game with an injury, but practiced with the team the last two days. Mariota is certainly a more elusive target than Peterman and is obviously just a better quarterback overall.
It will be interesting to see if Lawler can repeat his success and if Garrett can break through.
Rams Pass Catchers vs. Revamped Secondary
As mentioned previously in this article the Raiders invested draft capital in their defense. Most of which was for their secondary. How much did they invest in their defensive backfield? Four of their seven picks to be exact. And similarly to their defensive front, it seems to be paying off.
They held the Seahawks to 126 yards passing last week. Cornerbacks Amik Robertson and Blidi Wreh-Wilson played at a high level against their receivers. Rookie safety Tre’von Moehrig started alongside Johnathan Abram. Moehrig didn’t impress, but he also didn’t make any rookie mistakes. Of course, this data is the definition of a small sample size. The Raiders are going to face a much more dynamic set of receivers against the Rams.
They will go head to head with J.J. Koski and Trishton Jackson. Both were favorites of the second team’s offenses in training camp. Jackson scored the team’s only points against the Chargers when he caught a pass in the end zone. Koski caught a pass just past the line of scrimmage and took it 20 yards, setting the Rams up on the endzone’s doorstep.
The big names to watch for are the rookies, Tutu Atwell and Jacob Harris. Harris has been the standout star of this rookie class so far. He was electric in training camp and looks like he will continue to be that in the preseason as well. He played a total of 23 snaps, was targeted seven times, and caught four passes for 43 yards. It was also interesting to see how Sean McVay used him. He played inline on seven snaps, five in the slot, and 11 out wide. The only drawback to his game so far is his ball security issues, he made a great catch over the middle but then fumbled when Chargers defensive back Kemon Hall came to make the tackle.
Atwell hasn’t stood out as much as Harris but has had a few occasions to show off his speed. Last week he caught a short pass and added about 17 yards after the catch. Atwell also exhibited his speed on special teams. He logged a good return, but it was called back due to a penalty. His position on the roster is all but guaranteed, but it would be nice to see him cut loose and blaze down the field if only to provide proof of why he was drafted with the Rams’ first pick. He did miss the first week of camp while in COVID protocols, so that could be a reason he hasn’t been fully implemented quite yet.
Good Football Work vs. Unnecessary Stuff
Tempers flared between the Cowboys and the Rams at their joint practice in Oxnard last week and Sean McVay wasn’t worried by it. This week, things got heated in both of the Rams and Raiders joint practices. Sean McVay was far less nonchalant. The difference? The fights were disrupting what he called “good football work.”
The thing you’ll notice if you ever witness a McVay-led practice is that it is highly efficient and there isn’t a moment wasted. Furthermore, since the Rams opt to rest a good chunk of their team, he needs to squeeze every moment out of these practices for those players.
The biggest question going forward is will this spill over into the game on Saturday. It must be said that these practices were non-tackling affairs. This does tend to bring out the worst in some people whose job it is to pummel.
Given McVay’s level of frustration after the first day was interrupted by what he referred to as the “unnecessary stuff,” the Rams players must have been on high alert not to engage in extracurricular activities. Yet, as the second practice wore on, fights broke out and the practice was cut short. More moments wasted.
It is very possible that this isn’t just pent-up energy. There may be real animosity forming between members of the two teams. What is unique about this is it isn’t very often that McVay isn’t in complete control of his team. So it will be interesting to see if the Rams are able to keep their heads in what is shaping up to be a heated affair.