Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
Now that Los Angeles Rams have finalized their 53-man roster, the Rams have begun to prepare for their Monday Night Football match-up against the Oakland Raiders. The game is expected to have a sellout crowd at the Oakland Coliseum, and that these two teams will be anxious to get on the field and play.
This game will be the second time in three years that the Rams have faced off against a team from the Bay area on opening Monday night. That game to fare too well as the San Francisco 49ers shutout the Rams 28-0 with a team that was picked to lose to the Rams. The 49ers had just come off one of the worst offseason as they lost their head coach Jim Harbaugh (irreconcilable difference), and with All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis, DT Justin Smith, rookie LB Chris Borland, and OL Anthony Davis all to retirement.
That 2016 Rams were slated to have one of the top five defenses with a solid front seven of DT's Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, DE's William Hayes and Robert Quinn, and LB's Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree. But, the 49ers kept the defense on its heels the entire game frustrating players were fights ensued and ejections given.
This is a changed team and the Rams def---uh well maybe I should mention, this is a whole entirely different team that is coached by a young, smart, intelligent and vibrant head coach. Sean McVay, the youngest head coach to be hired in the modern era engineers the offense while the mad wizard defensive coordinator Wade Phillips mixes up the defense.
The Raiders will be without their All-Pro 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack whom they surprisingly traded on Sunday morning to the Chicago Bears for two first-round drafts picks. Aaron Donald, the reigning 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, ended his holdout with the Rams on Friday signing a record mega six-year contract extension of $141M ($90M fully guaranteed), a $40M signing bonus that will pay him $22.5M per season.
Just one day later after the Mack trade, the Bears solidified him as the highest paid defender in NFL by agreeing with Mack to a six-year $137M deal, ($90M fully guaranteed), a $60M signing bonus paying him $23.5M per year. This trade no doubt will set the Raiders defense and franchise in that matter, back perhaps another five years with trading away arguably the second-best defensive player in the league.
In any event, it appears that the Rams offensive preparation will be a bit relieved they don't have to worry about Mack. Rams running back Todd Gurley was asked by a reporter: Todd- a year ago the outside expectations were really low both for the team and you personally. What--- how do things feel different now as oppose to 12 months ago? Gurley, but--uh say that again? Reporter: The outside expectations you know -- really low a year ago you know and nobody expected a lot out of the Rams uh-- and really you know numbers-wise, you feel different now? Gurley answered:
Um---I ain't really been thinking about half that stuff honestly!"
Gurley received an entirely of laughs and chuckles from the media crew, but that won't stop his wish from meeting Mack. Gurley may have joked a bit prematurely as the Bears will be hosting the Rams Week #14 at Soldier Field. The game will be played early on a Sunday morning perhaps the coldest days of the year.
Last season the Rams had the highest scoring offense in the league averaging 29.9 points per game. They scored 478 points last season doubling the amount in 2016 when the team only score 224 points. They were able to take the worst offensive meltdown the previous season to them becoming the number one productive offense producing the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year in Gurley.
But let's not to stuck on the offense as we address later in this article. However, the hype all offseason long has been about the Rams defense. Les Snead, the Rams general manager, was able to pull off some crafty trades.
First, he accomplished trades with the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins shipping Alec Ogletree to the Giants and Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins. After restructuring Tavon Austin contract, he was able to trade him to the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams were able to obtain two fourth-round picks, and three six round picks for the trades.
Snead did not stop there as he pulled off trade with Kansas City Chiefs acquiring All-Pro corner Marcus Peters, and another deal with the Denver Broncos acquiring corner All-Pro Aqib Talib. The Rams traded away future picks of a second round, a fourth-round, and a sixth-round as part of the deals. The Rams now have two lockdown corners on the outside that covers well. They will also have a lockdown slot corner who can cover the tough slot receivers in the game in Nickell Robey-Coleman.
The Dolphins released All-Pro Ndamukong Suh, and several teams were in the running to collect his service. It all went down to the wire as Suh chose the Rams over the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans, signing a one year $14M contract to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Rams.
The pass rush and run stopping demon playing between the two of Michael Brockers and Donald. Three competent defensive linemen who play well against the run and are excellent pass rushers. The opposing offensive coordinators and quarterback will preview the movie first called "Rush Hour Three," Rated V-(Violent).
The concern with the linebacker core was the main topic going into the offseason, as the Rams trading away two linebackers. They Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam both slated at outside but needed a replacement for Ogletree.
The Rams acquired Ramick Wilson via free-agency this past March as a potential starter, and also drafted Micah Kiser, the rookie from the University of Virginia. Kiser played exceptionally well this preseason as he led all defenders with 22 tackles (three unassisted), doubling the amount to the closest person. They would also sign Tegray Scales from the University of Indiana as a UDFA, but he didn't survive the final roster cuts, and surprisingly not signed to the practice squad.
The Rams are returning two linebackers who are fighting for the other inside position opposite of Barron, Corey Littleton, and Bryce Hager. Hager looked well in the preseason by flying around like a craze stuntman, but it appeared Littleton seemed to impress the coaches to secure the starting job for now.
However, back to Snead, he was able to maneuver yet another intelligent trade just before 2018 NFL Draft by sending the Rams #23rd overall pick to the Patriots including a sixth-round pick in exchange for Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick in return. Many questioned the trade at first, but it made more sense instead of the Rams drafting a receiver they would need to develop. They were efficient by getting a polished receiver who's had four consecutive years of 1,000 yards receiving.
Goff will have Cooks, Woods, and Kupp as the primary go-to receivers which each of the three hides different styles on the field. Perhaps the craftiness of the three, the award has to go second-year receiver Kupp. Kupp has deceptive speed, and his route running put defensive backs on their heels. He disguises his routes to look the same, and they are not sure if he's running deep or underneath.
Woods is speedy and can hurt any defense with any pass route. Just ask the New York Giants and Houston Texans defenses where he scored on a 52 and 96-yard touchdown passes. Cooks, the speedster of the three, can be gadget guy, who can run the reverses, the quick slants, and take the top off the defenses. Rams love acquiring Cooks as he will keep the defenses honest.
The Rams lost Sammy Watkins who opted to sign with the Chiefs this off-season, as it appeared the Rams traded for a much more talented receiver in Cooks. Jared Goff was now equipped with another weapon to compliment Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. They grow a bit thin after those three with Pharoh Cooper used more as a return specialist, Josh Reynolds yet to shine, and Mike Thomas excels in the return game. The Rams have on their practice squad a young rookie receiver from Prairie View A&M of the name of KhaDarel Hodge.
Hodge had a spectacular pre-season with one fantastic reception of 47-yards against the Raiders at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Expect for Hodge to be promoted before the mid-point this season if the number four or five receiver is unproductive. Rams need to elevate Hodge soon, as he is not safe, while another team potentially will sign him off the Rams practice squad.
The tight end core which consists of Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, and Johnny Mundt, Everett is the one who poses the most significant threat as an offensive weapon. Everett which selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft from South Alabama, is expected to have a huge impact this season Everett hampered by an injured shoulder that he sustained early in training camp, is on track to play Monday night. Higbee, the specific red zone threat, will be targeted a great deal around the end zone.
The Rams will return quarterback Jared Goff for his third year and second consecutive season as a starter. Goff under the tutelage of rookie head coach Sean McVay put a lot of doubters to bed with his impressive year as a passer.
Goff passed for over 3,800 yards, 28 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 100.5, completing 62.1 of his passes. Goff numbers were good enough while being selected to 2018 Pro-Bowl as an alternate. Ultimately with the injury to Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, they added Goff to the NFC team.
At times Goff played like a ten-year veteran carving up defenses with his precise passes to his receivers. Goff set a career high in passing in two consecutive games of 311 and 355 yards including three touchdowns in both games to become the first Ram ever to accomplish. The likes of a Marc Bulger, Jim Everett, Roman Gabriel, Norm Van Brocklin, and Kurt Warner was not successful with that achievement. Hard to believe that Kurt Warner never accomplished that fate with the type of number he put to be named the 1999 NFL MVP.
Goff, and San Franciso bay area native from Novato, CA returns home with his backup Sean Mannion, who too is a native also from Pleasanton, Ca.
When it comes to the backup, Mannion and Brandon Allen, their preseason play was nothing to write home about positively. Mannion who had a better game week two against the Raiders than in week one, as a Baltimore Ravens defense battered him. The Rams offensive line will need to protect Goff by all means cost, forbid if he should suffer a severe injury, the dream season for the Rams could come tumbling down fast.
During the preseason, Coach McVay preferred to have the majority of his starters inactive for preseason games. He didn't only sit Goff, the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley sat the games out too.
McVay's philosophy along with this his Head Trainer Reggie Scott, and Ted Rath Head Strength Coach resting the veteran players and limit the amount of contact and practice to have fresh bodies on game day. This method seemed to be very active as Gurley made an MVP run that fell short.
Gurley's 2017 season had a magical run setting career mark in rushing with 1,305 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, and career in receiving yards of 788 yards and six touchdowns. McVay was able to unleash the beast against the league's defenses, as he played excellently.
Gurley backup is Malcolm Brown, but its very possible that rookie John Kelly will make a strong push demanding to receive a more action. He ran the ball very angrily during the preseason, and nothing was far more beautiful than his third and goal play against the Houston Texans.
Following a penalty, the official marked the ball back to the Texans 15-yard line. Kelly received the handoff, and with a spectacular spin move he was in the end zone for the touchdown and putting the Rams back front breaking a 14-14 tie. A powerful runner with deceptive speed, and shiftiness of a change of pace back, he'll be a complete compliment to Gurley.
The Rams more than likely will rely on the punting of Johnny Hekker and the strong leg of Greg Zuerline as his booming kicks neutralizing returners from advancing the ball. Zuerline as well is capable of kicking field goals just about anywhere on the field. Rams seize the opportunities to take advantage with his leg and is optimistic Zuerline can continue to do what he does in the past. His 2017 season was cut short to a herniated disc that required season-ending surgery, resulting him missing the playoff game. However, it appears he as not had any setbacks and his kicking leg is as strong as usual.
Look for the Rams to have an explosive offense against the Raiders, as they will try and duplicate the 2017 season as the Rams were the highest-scoring offense in the league. The defense is prepared to get to Derek Carr early often and harass him the entire game.
Nonetheless, this team is an early favorite to make a Superbowl run and bring home the Lombardy Trophy and crowned world champions. But let’s not put the cart before the horse, anything could happen on a given Sunday, just asked the Saints or Steelers, two favorites two be upset by lower seeds.
The Raiders will be playing their first season under new head coach John Gruden, the same coach that lead them to 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game in Foxboro, where the infamous tuck rule suddenly introduced into the game.
We all can remember that play as cornerback Charles Woodson blitzing from the slot hitting Tom Brady forcing the fumble as the Raiders recovered the ball that which would have advanced them to the 2001 AFC Championship. That play went down in history as the officiating crew robbed the Raiders. Nonetheless, they received their opportunity the next following season to advance to the super bowl.
But strangely enough, as it turned out, Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that offseason. Yes, Gruden and Al Davis had some internal issues, Davis granted a trade to Tampa Bay when they reached out on an inquiry. Unfortunately, Davis trading Gruden didn't work to his advantage as the Bucs ended up advancing to the super bowl handed out a beat down to the Raiders. The Raiders seem to never recover from that super bowl lost until they advanced to the playoff in 2016 for the first time since 2002.
Paul Guenther, the Raiders defensive coordinator, will need to prepare a perfect game plan for the Rams offense that featured no plays worth scheming or any starters playing during the preseason. The Raiders defense took a catastrophic hit from the Mack trade. There is no other defender on that roster that has registered over than ten sacks in a season.
However, the Raiders signed veteran defensive players such as LB Tarik Whitehead (Lions), DE Tank Carradine (49ers), CB Leon Hall (49ers), S Marcus Gilchrist (Jets), DB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie (Giants), and MLB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs) to the team during the free-agency period.
The Raiders also drafted on the defensive side of the ball selecting in the second-round PJ Hall DT (Sam Houston St), third round Arden Key EDGE RUSHER (LSU), fourth round Nick Nelson CB (Wisconsin), and Maurice Hurt DT (Michigan). Hall has tremendous upside almost of a caliber of Donald, strong, dominant defensive lineman that has excellent speed for his size, is listed as a starter.
The Raiders drafted a steal with their fifth-round selection with Hurst. Hurst was sent home early from the 2018 NFL Combine. During a medical evaluation, the physicians determined there were medical concerns with his heart. There was unable to participate in the combine with the worries of getting his problem corrected.
Hurst was cleared to participate again with football activities just before Michigan's pro-day. However, Hurst draft status became affected and scared several teams away who removed him from their draft boards. Hurst was projected to be a top ten draft pick; however, teams avoided him in the early rounds as the Raiders steal a gem in the fifth. Hurst will back up Hall, as he's the defensive tackle on the depth chart.
EDGE RUSHER Arden Key is another Raider's defensive rookie that to projected as a late first rounder. Key had some off the field issue subsequently to leave school for a semester. He returned to school later rejuvenated but failed to answer any questions for his leave. Not being forthright caused teams to turn away ultimately prompting him to slip in the draft.
Key is a very athletic player, who has tremendous speed from the outside with a variety of pass rush moves. Very explosive in getting around the tackles from the edge with extremely long arms. I certainly can't wait to seem to line up opposite of the Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, who will win those matchups? The other interesting matchup will be Hall against Rodger Saffold, and Justin Ellis against Austin Blythe, who will replace the Jamon Brown the suspended starting right guard. Blythe who is the backup center has a few games under his belt at playing at the guard position. Who gets the edge in this matchup, I will wait to view this battle.
The Raiders defensive backfield will have their hands full with covering Rams receivers. Second-year corner Gareon Conley will be more than likely covering the speedy Brandin Cooks. Cooks the talented receiver who can do it all on the field from short routes to taking the roof off the defenses. Raashan Melvin will have the assignment of cover Woods, but he will have his work out with the smart receiver.
The million dollar question is who will be responsible for Kupp. Of the three receivers, Kupp is most craftiness. He has deceptive speed with excellent route running that will drive the defenders crazy. Rogers-Cromartie or Hall will be matched up with Kupp, can't wait to watch that program.
Finally, there is Karl "The Hitman" Joseph, he's certainly one person the Rams will have to keep a watch on throughout the game. Joseph is a fierce hitter that will come up crush a back or punish a receiver. However, he tends to hit with the crown of his helmet and will collect penalties just about everytime he's tackling. As a safety, his coverage skills are reliable, and he's deceptive in the defensive backfield.
Goff will not get away with staring down his receivers as Joseph will make a break on the ball. I will love to see the Rams in a four-wide receiver set with Reynolds or Everett, curiosity with a vertical passing game will be a problem for the defensive backfield.
Determining factors for the Rams to win versus the Raiders:
The Raiders offensive line vs. the Rams defensive front:
The Raiders will be starting a rookie at left tackle Kolton Miller on the same side Aaron Donald will line up inside of his gap, and Ebukam or Longacre is bringing pressure from the outside. Gruden must feel very confident starting a rookie at left tackle and trusting him to protect his franchise quarterback. Carr had a transverse process fracture to his back last season that caused him to miss several weeks. Whether he's fully recovered from that injury, Gruden convinced that Miller could keep Carr upright.
Brockers will be a tough matchup for Donald Penn as the veteran left tackle has shifted to the right tackle. Penn admitted himself that its a work in progress being accepting the fact he never played that position.
Suh, well expect Suh to be Suh, as he'll be lined up over Raiders starting center Rodney Hudson. Suh will attract a lot of attention from double-teamielp byng h Gabe Jackson or Kelechi Osemele, and the Rams linebackers will plug the gaps.
I love this Rams defensive front, as it seems as if it will be a nightmare for the Raiders "big uglies." Suh, can control a double team and nevertheless can still disrupt a play by his size and strength. Continuing to write on this matchups is entirely indescribable and wait to Monday night to witness.
Amari Cooper vs. Marcus Peters
In 2016, early in these two player careers, Peters was matched up against Cooper. Peters, a natural press corner, inserted into a defensive alignment that played against his strengths. Playing off seven to nine yards from the line of scrimmage, Cooper was able to expose Peters weakness with doubled moves routes.
The Chiefs coaching staff realized Peter's exposure and fulfilled an adjustment that served as Peters strength. Peters weakness at that time, he didn't possess the recovery speed to was required to stay step for step with Cooper. Cooper only had his way with his passing routes getting open for many targets.
You should expect to notice that Peters will accompany Cooper all over the field as the game starts. I'm confident that Phillips has studied game film of the past matchups and he will have Peters pressing Cooper early and often. Jack Olsen, the two-time former offensive coordinator of the Rams, decides to signal in the double move routes, surely Phillips will have Joyner shading over the top for secondary assistance.
When in its all said it done, it will come down to the teacher versus the student, will Chucky prevail or will the energizer bunny turn in his textbook, stay tuned.