Overview: Some people are calling this a "must-win" for the Los Angeles Rams. We might not go quite that far, but if they lose this game and if Seattle Seahawks beats the Cleveland Browns, which is highly likely, the Rams hopes for another division title will be on life support.
There are a ton of x-factors in this game, including injuries. The San Francisco 49ers will be without both of their starting tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, which is never good news for any offense in the league. The team also are missing their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. Not many NFL teams even use a fullback anymore, but Juszczyk is an integral part of the San Francisco offense and losing him matters. The latest forty-niners injury news concerns tight end George Kittle, who suffered a groin injury in practice Friday and listed as questionable. He will probably play on Sunday, but if he is not at full speed, that will be a huge deal. Kittle is arguably the best tight end in the game and a match-up nightmare.
Nevertheless, the Rams have their injury issues too. Linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Aqib Talib are out, which is awful news for a defense that has not been very good over the past couple of weeks. Running back Todd Gurley is listed as "doubtful," meaning there is about a 25 percent chance he will play. Some reports indicate the Rams will leave the decision to play up to Gurley. He is a warrior, and expect that he will be on the field if possible. How effective he will be is another question.
Rams Offense vs. Niner's Defense: San Francisco has been stockpiling talent on this side of the ball for years, and this unit is finally living up to the hype. There is no battle more critical to the outcome of this game than the war in the trenches. The Rams offensive line just has not been perfect so far, and if they do not play better on Sunday, the Rams probably will not win this game.
It will not be easy. Defensive Tackle DeForest Buckner is probably the best at his position, not named Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox, and we might even be able to argue about Cox vs. Buckner. However, he is certainly not alone as part of a very talented unit. Defensive end Dee Ford is a pass-rushing demon, and despite the injury, he is expected to play in this game. Ford is sometimes vulnerable to offside penalties, so we can expect the Rams to go to a hard count to draw a flag or two. Rookie Nick Bosa is no walk in the park either. He already has three sacks and 26 quarterback pressures, and the former top draft pick has done everything expected of him and more. The battle of Bosa versus Rams left-tackle Andrew Whitworth will be huge in this game.
Standard operating procedure against an aggressive pass rush would call for a lot of short passes and screens, and that is where the (likely) loss of Gurley hurts the Rams. Malcolm Brown, who will probably get most of the snaps in place of TGII, is a tough, hard-nosed inside runner. However, he is not in Gurley's class as a receiver. Will this be the coming out of Rams third-round pick Darrell Henderson? Henderson has barely seen the field so far this season, but he was an outstanding receiver in college at Memphis.
Some have compared him to New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara as a game-breaker/receiver. We may find out on Sunday if there is anything to that.
Rams tight end Gerald Everett had a massive game against the Seahawks, racking up 136 yards. There has been some discussion in recent days that the Rams might go to more two-tight end sets in this game, with both Everett and Tyler Higbee seeing the field at the same time,
That would be a significant departure for the Rams, who almost always feature three wide receivers with a tight end and a running back. Nevertheless, it would allow them to get a little help for tackles Whitworth and Rob Havenstein upfront, although both Ram tight ends are better receivers than blockers. It might also open up some more options in the short passing game with Gurley out so that we will see.
For all of the bad news for the Rams on the injury front this week, they did get some welcome news on wide-out Brandin Cooks, who appears to be good to go for this game. Rams slot receiver Cooper Kupp has been having a monster year so far, and the three-headed monster of Cooks, Kupp, and Robert Woods is a challenge for any team.
The Niners will be missing regular corner Akhello Witherspoon. However, the anchor of their secondary, long-time Rams nemesis Richard Sherman, is back covering the other corner position. Sherman is back to being healthy after battling injuries last season, and that is bad news for Jared Goff and the Rams, especially given the Rams' recent turnover issues. Sherman had a pick, and four deflected passes Monday night against the Cleveland Browns and he has been stellar so far this season. However, if Rams quarterback Jared Goff can get time to throw the ball, he may be able to pick up some big plays on this secondary. That is a very big IF though.
If Gurley were healthy and playing like his old self, we would give the Rams the edge in this battle. Nevertheless, since he probably will not play, we have to check the box for San Francisco. Our big concern here for the Rams is the battle in the trenches.
If the Rams O-line does not step up, this could get ugly.
Rams Defense vs. Niners Offense: As mentioned above, the forty-niners will be without bookend tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey in this game, which could be a huge deal. Unfortunately, the Rams will be without OLB Matthews, who might have feasted on a pair of back-up tackles. He is out with a broken jaw, replaced by former starter Samson Ebukam. Ebukam is a physically gifted player, but his Rams career has been uneven. He notched only three sacks last season, not what we hope for from an outside linebacker in a Wade Phillips 3-4 defense.
On the other hand, he had a monster game in last year's epic win over the Kansas City Chiefs, so we will never know. He is no Clay Matthews, but he is a fast, athletic linebacker who knows the defense.
Remember what we said above about this game possibly "getting ugly" of the Rams O-line does not step up? It is equally valid (for the Forty-Niners) on this side of the ball. Aaron Donald is due for a big game, and the injuries to the forty-niner tackles increase that possibility. San Francisco will presumably want to double or even triple-team Donald (everyone else does).
However, if they do that will leave untested backup tackles to contain Rams OLB's Ebukam and Dante Fowler, not to mention D-lineman Micheal Brockers. That is asking a lot. Fowler, in particular, could have a big game on Sunday.
For all of the hype about San Francisco quarterback Jimmy "Jimmy G" Garoppolo, this is a run-first offense. Most NFL teams do not even use a fullback. San Francisco does, and the fact that he is out for this game is a big deal. Kyle Juszczyk is an integral part of this offense as a blocker, receiver and short-yardage runner. However, even with that loss, the Niners rushing attack could pose some problems for a Rams defense that has historically struggled against the run. They finished dead-last in the league in rush defense in 2018. They have been somewhat better this season, coming into this game ranked 16th against the run. Speedster Matt Breida open the Cleveland game with an 80-yard touchdown run, setting the tone for what turned out to be a comfortable San Francisco win. They also feature Tevin Coleman, whom Head Coach Kyle Shanahan had with the Atlanta Falcons.
For the Rams, it looks like inside linebacker Bryce Hager will play. That is good news for the Rams. He and fellow inside linebacker Corey Littleton will need to play well in this game.
The Niners got some alarming news on Friday when tight end George Kittle suffered a groin injury in practice. He is listed as "questionable," which means there is a 50-50 chance he will play. Shanahan believes Kittle will play, and we do too. However, will he be 100 percent? Kittle is one of the game's best tight ends in the (some would say the best). If he does not play or is not his usual self, that could be a significant impact on this game. Assuming he does play, the expected match up of Kittle versus Rams safeties John Johnson and Eric Weddle.
The Rams will be without cornerback Aqib Talib in this game who will be replaced by Troy Hill. McVay says he has confidence in Hill. He is another guy like Ebukam that can never be sure what to expect. The Rams need the good Troy Hill on Sunday.
For all of the criticism of Rams cornerback Marcus Peters this season, Pro Football Focus has him listed as one of the ten best corners in the league so far in 2019. Peters tends to gamble in coverage, going for the pick and giving up big plays at times. He also has a well-earned reputation for losing his cool. He needs to maintain his focus on Sunday.
The Niners boast an exciting combination of speed and power in wide-outs Marquis Goodwin, Deebo Samuel, and Dante Pettis. However, provided by the injuries on their o-line, they probably do not expect to rely on their deep passing game too much. The impact of Kittle's health on this game is hard to overstate.
Conventional wisdom would probably check this box for San Francisco. We are not conventional wisdom, and the injuries to the Niners offense may be more damaging than those to the Rams defense.
Special Teams: Both teams have had kicking woes this season, and a rare miss by Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein cost them a win against the Seahawks. We still think the Rams special teams are better overall.
Prediction: There are so many unknowns in this game that it is almost impossible to predict. As a Rams fan, I have been telling people that having a bad feeling about this game. However, when looking at the injuries of both teams, the fact remains that the Rams are coming off a long rest week. The Niners are coming off a short one, and the home-field advantage. Will hesitantly pick Los Angeles. Do not be surprised if we do not see much scoring.
Rams 20 Forty-Niners 17
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams team seemed to have regressed on both sides of the ball this season. Many appeared to have pointed fingers at fourth-year quarterback Jared Goff for the decline in offense. However, people cannot put the blame solely on Goff for the team inadequacy sub-par play.
Despite Goff's horrible first quarter performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, aside from his three interceptions and one fumble, he did not allow those negative plays to prevent him from continuing to compete throughout the game. Goff finished the game 45-68 (45 competitions tied for NFL record), 517 passing yards, and two touchdowns.
The Rams fell to the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday, in a heartbreaking loss 30-29. Kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal with 11- seconds left in the game. Two crucial penalties on the drive led to the long field goal attempt, which pushed slightly to the right of the goal post.
Here are three contributing factors that led to the Rams loss to the Seahawks last week:
Todd Gurley fumble in red zone
Todd Gurley has fumbled against the Seahawks for the fourth time in his young NFL career, which could have made a pivotal outcome of the score. Trailing by eight points with 5:25 left before halftime, Goff would find Cooper Kupp across the middle for a 25-yard reception setting the ball at the Seahawks 20-yard line.
Now with first and ten, Gurley takes a hand-off to the right for a short gain but is stripped by linebackers Jadaveon Clowney and Bobby Wagoner. Surprisingly enough, it is the third time that Wagoner been able to force a fumble from Gurley. The Rams were driving with four minutes before the half, and Gurley fumble took what could have been a golden opportunity to put points on the board.
Nonetheless, it did not; however, the Rams would receive the ball back with one more opportunity as Goff found Kupp for a short touchdown pass with 12 seconds left before the end of the half. If not for Gurley fumble and the offense could not score, the percentage of Zeurline converting a field goal was high.
Clay matthew roughing call
The Rams appeared to have stopped the Seahawks on a third down and long, however, they penalized for a shocking roughing the passer call by Clay Matthews on Russel Wilson. The awful penalty extended the Seahawk's drive trailing the Rams by six late in the fourth quarter.
The Rams were out of challenges as replay visibly showed Matthews indeed did not inflict a personal foul on Wilson. Video replay showed Matthews turned his head to the side and nudged Wilson with his shoulder, causing him to go down the turf. Wilson appeared to have given up on his read and was throwing the ball away.
Nonetheless, Matthews could of just his extended his arms out using his hands to contact Wilson more than likely would not have been flagged. The Seahawk's capitalized on the penalty and ended up taking the lead on a fantastic scramble by Wilson and finding a wide-open Chris Carson in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
Gerald everett drop result in turnover
On a drive after relinquishing their lead to the Seahawks, the Rams received the ball back with 2:29 remaining in the game. It was a third down and ten on their 34-yard line. Goff drops back to pass and would find an open Gerald Everett at the 43-yard line.
Whether a slightly errant pass, this was a very catchable pass for Everett to have made in which he would not only pick up the first down but also gain additional yardage. It appeared that Everett might have misjudged the trajectory of the ball. Catch it with his body or his hands; it was a very catchable pass. The drop resulted as a deflection that ended up in the hands of a diving Tedric Thompson. It was a fantastic catch as Thompson was able to get his hands underneath the ball for the turnover barely.
Everett did not allow that miscue to remove him mentally from the game. On the very next possession, Goff would connect with Everett on the same route that led to an interception, for a huge 32-yard reception.
On a third down and 15 yards to go, the two connected again on a 12-yard reception, which put them in field goal range. Had Everett ran for one more yard, that may have been a difference of Zeurlein missed winning field goal.
However, we have to give Everett credit after playing merely the best game of his career with seven receptions and yardage total as he gained 136 yards on seven catches. It was Everett's first career 100-yard receiving game and has seemed to start delivering as McVay been expecting.
Brian allen losses focus of snap counts
The Rams would not resign veteran center John Sullivan and lost their longest-tenured starting guard Ram Roger Saffold to free-agency. Moving forward with two second-year players at those positions have shown a tremendous difference on the offensive line.
The first-year starter at the center position Brian Allen has struggled significantly this season. At the crucial point on Ram's final drive, Allen was the culprit of two mental errors causing penalties.
On a second-down and one yard to go, Allen somehow did not focus on Goff, who was clapping for him to snap the ball. The miscommunication resulted in the play clock running down, and the offense penalized with a five-yard delay of game penalty.
On the same possession with 36 seconds left and on a third down and one, a mental lapse caused another penalty. Allen forgets the snap count that resulted in the entire offensive line with a full start penalty. The penalties stopped the momentum of the Rams defense that had the Seahawks on their heels. Allen would get bailed about crucial catches by Robert Woods and Kupp, who were able to pick up the first downs.
Allen, who has played back to back nightmare games, will not get any easier this Sunday against a defensive line that applies much pressure with their front four. Allen will practically need to flawless against the San Francisco 49ers front seven in a game will also be missing starting running back Todd Gurley to assist with protection.
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams have ruled out their starting running back Todd Gurley for their game against the San Francisco 49ers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Gurley, who appeared late during the week on the injury report with a bruised thigh, will sit out what will be a pivotal game for the Rams. The Rams will seek to prevent a three-game losing streak for the first time under head coach Sean McVay's tenure.
The Rams have activated second-year running back John Kelly from the practice squad whom the team cut in a fierce battle during the pre-season. The Rams drafted Kelly in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft from the University of Tennessee, where he split carries with the New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
Kelly is a powerful runner between the tackles who also is an excellent receiver from the backfield. The 215-pound ran a 4.50 second at Tennessee's pro-day and is shifty but a powerful back. During his short NFL career, Kelly has rushed the ball 27 times for 74-yards and also has two receptions for 27 yards. A significant decline in numbers from Gurley, but is amicable enough to contribute on Sunday.
The 49ers will bring their number two overall defense to the Coliseum that has a front seven that applies significant pressure to the quarterback. Kelly more likely will be used on passing down to help restrict some of the Niners pressure of quarterback Jared Goff.
In a corresponding move, the Rams released rookie wide receiver Nsimba Webster from the active roster.
Overview: This is a tough game to forecast because, at this point, we do not know who are either of these teams. Are the Rams the team that breezed to a home win over New Orleans Saints and a road win over the Cleveland Browns, or the team that imploded last week against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that most consider mediocre? Are the Seattle Seahawks the playoff contender that their record says they are, or the team that barely beat a terrible Bengals team and had a meltdown against New Orleans in an ugly loss? Throw in a short week of practice and an intense divisional rivalry, and it all adds up to one big question mark.
Rams Offense vs. Seattle Defense: For all of the criticism of Rams quarterback Jared Goff over last week's meltdown against Tampa Bay, let us not forget that he put up some huge numbers in that game. Five hundred seventeen passing with the offense scoring 34 points is an effort that will add up to a win at least 80 percent of the time. The flip side of that is three turnovers, which is the number most people are referring to. In fairness to Goff, two of the picks were on tipped passes. He has developed a bad habit of fumbling on sacks, which has mostly been the result of trying to get away a last-second pass instead of just taking a sack. It is a problem that needs fixing in a hurry if the Rams will have any hopes of returning to the Super Bowl or even the playoffs.
The Rams offensive line was pretty bad on Sunday against Tampa Bay, and they will be tested again this evening. Nobody on this unit has played well this season, but right tackle Rob Havenstein and guard Austin Blythe have been especially problematic. Havenstein has the unenviable task of trying to contain the Seahawks Jadeveon Clowney tonight, one of the leagues better pass rushers. Having to do that on a short week playing in one of the league's toughest venues will be a considerable challenge.
The Rams only ran the ball 11 times last week against the Bucs, a number we expect to change dramatically this evening. Seattle has arguably the best middle linebacker in the game in Bobby Wagner, and outside linebacker, K.J. Wright is no slouch either. On the other side of the ball, Rams running back Todd Gurley has had some of his biggest days against the Seahawks. Gurley only carried the ball five times last week against the Bucs, sparking a new round of the ''Is he injured or not" debates. One of the best ways to dampen that Seattle pass rush would be an actual running game, and we have to think Rams Coach Sean McVay will call more than 11 running plays this week, if for no other reason than to protect Jared Goff.
The Rams receivers had a big week against Tampa Bay last week, and if the O-line can protect Goff, they should put up decent numbers tonight. That is a big 'if," though.
Edge: Rams (slight)
Rams Defense vs. Seattle Offense: The Rams are a little banged up on this side of the ball, and will be missing rookie safety Taylor Rapp and inside linebacker Bryce Hager. They are also coming off their worst performance in years against Tampa Bay. However, the upside for Los Angeles is the prospect of facing a Seattle offensive line that has been less than stellar this season. Seattle will have their best offensive lineman, left tackle Duane Brown, who missed practice earlier in the week. The Rams, meanwhile, are hoping for a big night from defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Who has historically tormented Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in these matchups? Wilson so far this year has been his usual fantastic self, racking up eight touchdowns and zero interceptions and a 114 passer rating. However, Seattle's rushing offense has been so-so this year, ranking 16th in the league after finishing first last season. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is an old-school ''ground and pound" guy at heart, and Seattle probably does not want to get into a shootout with the Rams, even at home. That probably means Seattle will at least try to run the ball tonight.
The Rams pass defense made Jameis Winston look like Aaron Rodgers last week, and they face the challenge of containing a much better quarterback tonight. Seattle's non-lethal receiving corps with big names, but veteran Tyler Lockett and rookie D.K. Metcalf are not bad players. Lockett racked up 11 catches and 154 yards against the Saints a couple of weeks ago, and Metcalf offers an exciting blend of speed and power. The Rams are expected to have cornerback Marcus Peters, who cleared concussion protocol after taking a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
For the majority of this game, this game will be hard to predict due to the inconsistent of the Ram defense. The defense played well before an awful showing last week against Tampa Bay. Factor in the injuries to Rapp and Hager, and we are going to check this box for the home team.
Special Teams: Rams placekicker Greg Zuerlein showed why he is one of the best last week, nailing a 58-yarder with room to spare against the Bucs.
Otherwise, these units are pretty close.
One thing we have not see this year is the fake punt attempt in which Rams quarterback Johnny Hekker reverts to his days as a high school quarterback. That has been a staple of the Rams special teams going back to the Jeff Fisher era. Will we see it tonight?
Prediction: Who knows? This game could be almost anything from a down-to-the-wire nail biter to an ugly blowout win for somebody. Our advice for anyone thinking of betting on this game is "do not." Seattle is a perfect nightmare venue for visiting teams, and the crowd noise can be very disruptive to opposing offenses. When considering our prediction for this game, we were strongly tempted to forecast a Seahawks victory at home.
However, as a Rams fan, I could not do it.
Rams 31 Seattle 30
Overview: On paper, the Los Angeles Rams should win this game. They are at home, odds-makers are making them a 10-point favorite, and they are facing a struggling team with an inconsistent quarterback. However, this is the NFL, and the other guys get paid too. A couple of other concerns include the fact that Tampa Bay Buccaneer's Head Coach Bruce Arians knows the Rams from his days leading the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West and the fact that the Rams faces a big test against division-rivaled Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. We never want to assume lightly of a team, and we cannot afford to look ahead in this league.
Rams Offense vs. Tampa Bay Defense: In one way this game presents a good challenge for the Rams offense, which has struggled through the air. The Buc's defense has been relatively good against the rush, giving up just under 70 yards per game. That is good for sixth in the NFL. However, they are 21st in pass defense, giving up 261 yards per game. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has not quite looked right since the Super Bowl loss to New England. He may have a chance to get back on track on Sunday.
For that to happen, the Rams need to find a way to contain Buc's outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who insanely have eight sacks through the first three games of the season. That ties the record at this point of the season, held by the late New York Jet's Mark Gastineau in 1984. The Buc's also feature former Rams d-lineman Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line. New defensive coordinator and former Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles have implemented an aggressive 4-3 defensive alignment that focuses on pressuring the quarterback. They will need to do that on Sunday to help out a suspect secondary.
The good news for the Rams is that guard Austin Blythe is expected to play after missing the last 1.5 games with an ankle injury. Tight end Tyler Higbee also returns to action after missing last week with a lung injury. As the Rams rarely have the luxury of a clean injury report going into this game, this will help. If the Rams can do a decent job of protecting Goff they have a chance to score 30 plus points in this game.
Rams Head Coach Sean McVay, said this week that despite any appearances, Todd Gurley is not on any snap count and that ideally the Rams running back should be in line for 25 carries per game through the rest of the season. The jury remains out on whether Gurley is healthy this year. The extraordinary thing has not been his rushes per game, although comparing to the past seasons have declined. However, the meaningful decline has been in Gurley's touches as a receiver out of the backfield. Will that change on Sunday?
Rams Defense vs. Buc's Offense: Whatever we might think of Buc's quarterback Jameis Winston, he is rarely dull. At times the former Florida State Seminole star has shown flashes of the talent that made him the top pick in the draft a few years back. He had that kind of week against the Giants last week, passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns in a game the Buc's should have won. He has one of the best wide receivers in the game in Mike Evans, who caught eight passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rams so far this season have done an excellent job of limiting elite receivers such as Micheal Thomas of the New Orleans Saints and Odell Beckham of the Cleveland Browns. Whether they can reciprocate the same with Evans on Sunday may well determine the outcome of Sunday's game. The Rams pass defense enters this game ranked fifth in the NFL, and with the additions of safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, they seem to have given this unit a huge jump-start. Matthews already has four sacks, compared to 3.5 all of last season with the Green Bay Packers.
Of course, any conversation about the Rams defense starts and ends with Aaron Donald, generally considered the best defensive player in the NFL. Those who have not seen the Rams play this year might look at AD's paltry sack total of one through three games and assume the Rams defensive tackle is off to a slow start. That shows how numbers can be deceiving. The fact is that Donald has been in the opposing team's backfield on almost every play, wreaking havoc and occupying blockers. He draws double and even triple teams, freeing up players like Matthews and Dante Fowler. The Buccaneers offensive line is reliable, but certainly not spectacular. Aaron Donald is a one-person wrecking crew, and if he can force Winston into making some crucial mistakes, the Rams defense could have an important dayof
Special Teams: Buc's placekicker Matt Gay made four of five field-goal attempts last week, including a 52-yard against the New York Giants. The problem was that he also missed the potential game-winning field goal. Tampa Bay's Bradley Pinion is one of the game's better punters, but he is no Johnny Hekker. The Rams special teams have been showing slow improvement after something of an ideal rough start against the Carolina Panthers, and we think that will continue this week.
Prediction: The Rams SHOULD win this game, in which they are playing at home and frankly have a better team. If Jameis Winston and Mike Evans can have the type of day that they had last week, it could get interesting. Perhaps the most significant danger for the Rams outside of Evans and Shaq Barrett going crazy is complacency as they look ahead to the Thursday night match-up against the Seahawks. We do not think Sean McVay will let that happen.
Rams 34, Tampa Bay 21
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams today have added former University of Florida EDGE rusher Jachai Polite to their practice squad. Polite's signing comes just two days after the Rams lost linebacker Dakota Allen to the Oakland Raiders after signing him to their active roster.
The New York Jets selected Polite in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The talented EDGE rusher had him projected as a late first-round or early second-round draft choice. However, from bad team interviews, and his poor performances at the 2019 NFL Combine, his stock plunged to the third round. Polite expressed that he had issues with a lingering hamstring that supported with his lousy performances at the combine.
Polite's time with the Jets became short after the team released him during the preparation of the final cuts. Polite continuously compiled internal fines of about $100K from his $1.1M signing bonus for violating team rules and being late for team meetings.
The Seattle Seahawks would sign Polite to their practice squad after clearing waivers in which he only as spent just three weeks with the team. There was no explanation from the Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll in regards to Polite's release. Carroll only indicated that they needed to make a roster spot and they were moving on from Polite. He was released from the practice squad on Monday, as the Rams signed him this morning.
The Rams were pretty high on Polite during the draft process, after inviting him a couple of times for private workouts. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was knowledgeable of Polite's skill of being an elite pass rusher.
Now bringing in yet another player who had baggage to this team, only exemplify that the Rams can sign any player to play under their "We, Not Me" philosophy. The organization has brought in other players who fell under the "so-called" horrible guy label, and had done nothing but blossomed under head coach Sean McVay's philosophy. It is paramount that Polite buy-in to the McVay's system as he is running out of chances in the league. If he adapts well, never will know when he will get the chance for promotion to the active roster.
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
After having a stellar performance on Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns, the Los Angeles Rams linebacker Clay Matthews Jr played well in front of family. Matthew's first season with the Rams after signing with the team as a free-agent this past off-season play has paid off immensely.
Matthews excellent play against the Browns could not come at a better time as his father Clay Matthews Sr, was being inducted into the Brown's Ring of Honor. The Matthews family were in full attendance to witness Matthew Sr induction of the Browns where he played linebacker for 16-seasons. Mathew's Jr was not able to be present during the ceremony, however, just after the conclusion of Clay Sr. speech, Clay Jr surprised him at the podium with a hug.
On his father's commemorative night, not only did Clay Jr show up, but he also showed out on the field. Matthews Jr posted his first multi-sack game in nearly two seasons on Sunday night. He ended the night with three tackles (three for loss), two sacks, one forced fumble, two quarterback hits, and one pass deflection. Matthews great night helped the Rams defeat the Browns 20-13, after stopping them on a fourth and goal.
Matthew's two sacks on Sunday now puts him as the team leader and tied for fourth with leagues best. He will seek to increase his sack total on this up-becoming Sunday against a Tampa Bay Buccaneer's pass happy offense. The veteran linebacker has fitted in perfectly with this Rams defense as their 16.3 points allowed have the Rams defense ranked fifth in the NFL
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
The Oakland Raiders have signed linebacker Dakota Allen from the Los Angeles Rams practice squad. Allen, who impressed just about everyone on the coaching staff immediately became the fan-favorite in Los Angeles from competitive play.
Shock-waves went through the Rams fan base once the final cuts of the 53-man roster finalized, and Allen was not listed.After not making the final cuts, the Rams quickly signed Allen as a practice squad player after clearing waivers. The rookie linebacker from Texas Tech University was grateful even to have the opportunity to be with a team. Head Coach Sean Mcvay and Les Snead remained optimistic that Allen would clear waivers and they made it a priority to get him signed.
Allen fulfilled his childhood dream and a promise that he committed to after a brush with the law. During his sophomore year at Texas Tech, Allen got arrested for breaking into a home during the winter school break stealing a gun safe containing seven firearms, a 40-inch TV, and two digital cameras. Following his arrest, Allen was subsequently dismissed from the Texas Tech football program and school transferring to an East Mississippi Community College.
Allen starred in the NETFLIX documentary on "Last Chance U" as he revived his career by winning a national junior college championship with East Mississippi Community College. Allen would contact Texas Tech shortly after graduating from EMCC and spoke to the coaching staff and administration and won them over for a second chance. It paid off as the Rams drafted Allen in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The practice does not protect any player as any other NFL teams can sign a player off any practice squad to their active roster. Like the case, the Raiders who injuries to their defense have decimated a team, signed Allen who will have the opportunity to play immediately.
The Rams will genuinely miss this kid who defied against all the odds to get his life right and make it at the next level.
Ed “Pi Double i” Henderson
The Oakland Raiders have signed the Los Angeles Rams seventh-round linebacker Dakota Allen to their active roster. Allen, the fan-favorite did not make the Rams initial 53-man roster was released but was the first player to be signed to the Rams practice squad. (click here FULL STORY)
Overview: It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that this could be a Super Bowl preview, although the Cleveland Browns haven't exactly looked ''super" so far. Even so, we are only two games into the season and there is a lot of talent on the Browns roster. The Los Angeles Rams, meanwhile, are coming off a big win against their NFC arch-rival New Orleans Saints and sport a 2-0 record. They need a win to potentially keep pace with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom carry unbeaten records into play this weekend.
Rams Offense vs Cleveland Defense: This game could very well be decided in the trenches as both defensive fronts have top shelf talent and are going against O-lines that have some questions. For the Rams, it's looking like starting right guard Austin Blythe may not play with an ankle injury, although that isn't certain at this point. If he can't go, Jamil Demby will start at guard. Demby frankly played poorly in the preseason, but seemed to hold his own last week against the Saints. The Rams will likely need him to step up again, assuming Blythe is not available. Center Brian Allen and guard Joseph Noteboom, both new additions as starters on the Rams O-line this year, have been solid so far this season and will need to play well on Sunday night. It's looking like that Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who has been battling injury, will play on Sunday night. While the Browns defensive end Myles Garrett gets most of the headlines, tackles Sheldon Richardson and Ogunjobi are no walk in the park either. The Rams interior O-linemen have a big challenge facing them on Sunday night, and their success or lack thereof could be critical to the outcome of those.
Speaking of Myles Garrett, his battle with Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth is one of the better matchups you are likely to see all season. Whitworth is a perennial All-Pro candidate who seems to have lost little, if anything, at age 38. Garrett is a former top draft choice who notched 13.5 sacks last season, and we all know Rams Jared Goff is not the same quarterback under pressure as he is with time to throw the ball.
Of course, a lot of the Rams passing game works off of the play action pass, which in turn needs an effective running game to work. While Todd Gurley has been used somewhat less so far this season compared to past years, he has looked more or less like his old self. He's a dynamic playmaker who can take it to the house either running the ball or as a receiver. This year he's been effectively paired with Malcolm Brown, a tough, hard nosed back who fights for the last yard and breaks tackles. Brown was battling an ankle injury earlier this week, but was a full participant in practice on Thursday and Friday and is expected to play on Sunday night.
The Browns ability to pressure Goff is made even more critical by the fact they face some injury issues in the secondary. Safety Damarious Randall has been declared out for Sunday's game, and cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams and fellow safety Morgan Burnett are all questionable. It's likely that some or all of that trio will play, but may not be at top speed. That's bad news against one of the deepest groups of receivers in the league. Expect to see the Rams three top receivers on the field for the big majority of snaps. Brandin Cooks is a speedster who notched a big catch on a 54 yard pass against the Saints last week, Robert Woods is a great route runner and jack of all trades who catches pretty much everything thrown in his direction. Slot receiver Cooper Kupp is coming off a 120-yard game against the Saints, including a 67-yard catch that came just inches from being a touchdown.
The Rams will be missing starting tight end Tyler Higbee, but fellow tight-end Gerald Everett is a player who can make some big plays when needed.
The Browns really needs to pressure Goff and contain the running game, or this could get ugly. If they can do those things up front, they have a chance in this game.
Rams Defense vs Browns Offense: Once again, this battle may be decided up front. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is listed as ''questionable" with a back injury, but he's widely expected to play on Sunday night. While Donald hasn't notched a sack in the first two games, that's misleading. Both the CarolinaPanthers and Saints double and even triple teamed Donald, and he still spent a good deal of time in their backfields. Donald is widely considered the best defensive player in the NFL, and if he ends up not playing or isn't up to his usual dominating standards it will be bad news for the Rams
One thing all of the attention Donald draws has done is open things up for defensive tackle Micheal Brockers and linebackers Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews, all of whom have notched sacks in the Rams first two games. Cleveland is loaded with offensive stars, but their offensive line was likened to a ''lawnmower engine" in a high-performance sports car this week by NFL network commentator Maurice Jones-Drew this week. That's a problem for the Browns, especially assuming Aaron Donald plays and is anywhere near his usual self. The Browns face an even bigger challenge because tackle Kendall Lamm is not expected to play, and starting right tackle Chris Hubbard is rated as questionable.
Cleveland is loaded at wide receiver, perennial All-Pro Odell Beckham Jr is coming off a huge game against the New York Jets, and his old college team-mate Jarvis Landry (played together at LSU) isn't far behind Beckham in terms of talent and can easily take over a game if ignored. The Rams secondary has a big challenge on their hands, although unlike their counterparts on the other side, they come in healthy. Even so, if the Rams can't pressure the Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, they could get lit up. Corners Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters will have their hands full in this game, especially if Mayfield gets time to throw.
It's hard to know what to think of the Rams rush defense after two games. They got shredded by the Panthers Christian McCaffrey in the season opener before shutting down the Saints Alvin Kamara last week. They did have the luxury of loading up against the run after Drew Brees got hurt in the Saints game, which may have been a factor. The Browns won't have running back Kareem Hunt, who is serving an 8-game suspension, but they do have Nick Chubb, a former top draft pick who can take over a game all by himself. The question here again is the effectiveness of the Browns O-line.
Rams inside linebacker Corey Littleton has looked like an All-Pro so far this season. Not bad for a guy who wasn't even drafted coming out of college. Fellow inside linebacker Bryce Hager has been solid against the run. On passing downs he's often replaced by safety/linebacker Taylor Rapp, who would probably start for most NFL teams. Cleveland will be missing tight-end David Njoku, who is out with an broken wrist.
Cleveland has under-performed on offense so far this season, but two games is an awfully small sample size and their talent is certainly capable of lighting up the scoreboard. IF they can get a solid performance from their O-line--which is a big if--they could break out this week. Even so, we are going to check this box for the Rams.
Special Teams: So far the Rams special teams don't seem to have hit their stride. They were frankly not very good in the season opener against Carolina, somewhat better against the Saints. Punter Johnny Hekker in particular has been less than his usual stellar self. But the thinking here is that special teams coach John ''Bones" Fassell will have corrected whatever problems have been in play. The Rams generally have the best special teams in the NFL. They have been pretty average so far this season. That's due to change. If it doesn't on Sunday night, we could see an upset in this game.
Coaching: Sean McVay vs. Freddie Kitchens. Enough said.
Prediction: Even though we gave the Rams the edge across the board in this game, there are a lot of x-factors and question marks that could make this game much closer than it might appear,. A Browns win is by no means out of the question, make no mistake. The outcome of injuries to the Browns secondary and Rams all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald could completely change how this game plays out. The battles in the trenches could be critical, and if neither O-line can hold their own we could be looking at a defensive slugfest.
Oddsmakers are favoring the Rams by three on the road and on paper, they should win. But Cleveland is a time bomb waiting to go off, especially if the can find a way to give Baker Mayfield time in the pocket.
Rams 28, Cleveland 24
Ed “Pi Double I” Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee reportedly been hospitalized with an apparent lung issue. Higbee’s sustained a hit in Sunday’s game in the defeat over the New Orleans Saints 27-9 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Reported that Higbee coughed up blood an had to be admitted as a precautionary measure to further evaluate his symptoms. At this point, the Rams organization has not reported how long Higbee would be out due to this injury. If Higbee is to miss any significant time the Rams will consider using their “next man up”, with third-year tight end Gerald Everett. Many have expected that this was going to be Everett’s breakout season after displaying significant flashes last season.
Also, reserve tight end Johnny Mundt is expected to step up in the absence of Higbee too, when the Rams travel to Cleveland to play the Browns next Sunday on the SNF late game. The Rams offense have suffered a blow with Higbee’s injury, while the Browns secondary is expected to play the Rams receivers in press coverage all game long. This will allow the tight ends to see a lot of targets in the middle of the field and Higbee is a dominant force in the seams.
Higbee signed a new four-year contract extension last week for $31M and could earn up to $36M with incentives. Higbee’s extension also revealed that he receives $15.5M in guarantee, and is with the team up through the 2023 football season.
Overview: What can we say about the game between the New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams previously not mentioned? It is possibly the most-anticipated matchup of the 2019 regular season, and indeed the most prominent game this weekend. While it hardly qualifies as a ''must-win" game for either team in terms of division standings, it is the latest chapter in what has become perhaps the NFL's biggest non-divisional rivalry. Moreover, even though it is only the second game of the season, it is not a wild exaggeration to think this game could well end up being a tie-breaker for playoff-seeding come the postseason.
Rams Offense Vs. Saints Defense: For all of the talk about Drew Brees vs. Jared Goff, this game could well be decided by which team can run the ball more effectively. The Saints gave up 180 yards rushing in Monday night's last-second win over the Houston Texans. Meanwhile, the Rams win over the Carolina Panthers seemed to be a tale of two Todd Gurley's. He looked so bad in the first half that NFL analyst Tony Gonzalez said at halftime that he was clearly "not right." However, in the second half, Gurley rushed for 89 yards and looked like the Todd Gurley Rams fans have gotten used to watching over the last few years. Malcolm Brown also played a vital role in the win, scoring two touchdowns and effectively spelling Gurley in much of the first half. Brown also received the majority of the carries inside the red-zone, where his power-running, smashmouth style played well last week.
The Saints, meanwhile, need linebackers Alex Anzalone and Demario Davis to step up their games this week in rush defense. Giving up 180 yards rushing against the Rams could be fatal.
When the Rams do throw the ball, they need their offensive line to give Jared Goff time, because he is not the same quarterback when he is under pressure. A crucial battle upfront will feature Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein against Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan in a battle of two of the league's better players at their respective positions.
The newcomers to the Rams line, center Brian Allen and guard Joseph Noteboom put in strong performances last week against a talented Panthers defensive front. They will need to repeat that play on Sunday.
The Rams will likely try to pick on Saints cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Eli Apple, as did the Texans with some success last week, avoiding Saints best corner, Marshon Lattimore. The Rams particularly like the matchup of slot receiver Cooper Kupp against Williams. Kupp was not available in last year's NFC title game, and his return could be a critical factor in this game.
Rams Defense vs. Saints Offense: First task for the Rams defense will be to contain Saints running back Alvin Kamara on Sunday. That is easier said than done, especially since Saints head coach Sean Payton is a master at taking advantage of favorable matchups for Kamara on defense. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, who features a similar skill set as Kamara, had a monster day for Carolina last week. Both backs are especially dangerous as receivers, and the Rams have to find a way to limit Kamara in the passing game especially. Whether Wade Phillips can find a formula for doing that may very well determine the outcome of this game
The crucial other performers for the Saints is wide-receiver, Micheal Thomas. It is worth noting that in the Saints regular-season win over the Rams last year, Thomas went off, notching 213 receiving yards, much of it against Rams cornerback Marcus Peters. It is no accident that in the Rams title game win, Thomas was virtually a non-factor. Whether the Rams can contain Thomas again remains to be seen, and could be a massive factor in this game.
The other crucial battle here could be the Rams defensive front versus the Saints offensive line. As high as Brees is, he is not the most mobile quarterback. He typically makes up for that by getting rid of the ball quickly. However, no quarterback likes facing a pass rush that forces quick decisions and causes mistakes.
Again referring back to the two games between these teams last year, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was kept in check during the Saints regular-season win but was much more of a problem for the Saints in the 2019 NFC Championship. It is a safe bet that the Saints will double and even triple-team AD on Sunday. That should open up some opportunities for Rams outside linebackers Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews to apply some pressure. Fowler registered two sacks last week against the Panthers and was a crucial factor in the Rams title game win in New Orleans last season.
Two other players to keep an eye on Sunday are Rams inside linebacker Corey Littleton and former Rams and Saints tight end Jared Cook. Littleton came up huge against Carolina last week, intercepting a pass, a forced fumble and generally wreaking havoc. Cook, meanwhile, torched the Rams for 135 yards in receptions last year as a member of the Oakland Raiders and could be the x-factor for the Saints on Sunday.
Special Teams: The Rams got unprecedented weak special teams performance last week, and it almost cost them the game against the Panthers. Johnny Hekker had one punt blocked and another tipped, although he did have several booming punts that pinned the Panthers back as well. Placekicker Greg Zuerlein likewise had a mixed day, nailing three field goals while missing one. The Saints will very likely try to pressure Hekker again. As for Zuerlein, well, nobody is perfect. We guess that Special Teams Coach John "Bones' Fassell will have addressed the problems that led to last weeks kicking issues. The Rams typically have the best special teams in the league, and they need to return to that form on Sunday.
The Saints special teams are also usually outstanding, and kicker Will Lutz proved his worth on Monday night by kicking a 58-yard field goal to beat the Texans as time expired.
We are going to check this box for the Rams, but its close. The Rams have to play better in this area than they did against the Panthers, or they may very well lose this game.
Prediction: Last time we checked 1.5 points favored the Rams. Home field advantage generally is worth 3 points, so apparently, the oddsmakers think New Orleans is a slightly better team on a neutral field. There is no doubt that New Orleans will be out for revenge for the infamous "non-call" in last year's NFC title game.
On the other hand, the Saints are also a dome team that will be playing on natural grass, out in the weather. The Rams are a better team at home, and the Saints will not have the advantage of crowd noise disrupting the Rams on offense.
A final factor could be the refs, who will be under a microscope in this game. Will they try to overcompensate for the infamous blunder in last year's title game? We hope not.
Rams 34, New Orleans 31
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
The Los Angles Rams and Johnny Hekker have agreed on a restructure and contract extension for the four-time pro bowl punter. The terms of the extension are for a one-year $4.25M and will lock the versatile punter though out the 2023 season.
The Rams signed the seven-year veteran in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. Hekker's dominant leg is the 12th man of the Rams defense as he pins team inside of the 10-yard line consistently. At Superbowl LIII, he set a record for the longest punt of 65-yards against the New England Patriots.
Hekker is simply a jack of all trades when it comes to the game of football. He was a quarterback in high school before landing at Oregon State where he focused on punting. Hekker has not only been called upon to punt the football, but has also thrown a touchdown pass, kicked point-after attempts, and even field goals when kicker Greg Zuerlein went down in the 2017 NFL season with a groin injury.
Hekker currently holds a career average of 47-yards per punt during playing in 112 games. He also has a 57.9 completion percentage while completing 11 passes of 19 attempts for 156 yards.
The Rams extension of Hekker is done several days after quarterback Jared Goff signs a record extension that pays him $110M in guarantees. Starting tight end, Tyler Higbee signed a new four-year extension with $31M in guarantees too. Hekker contract extension also comes with General Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay both have been extended through the 2023 season as well.
Overview: Oddsmakers are favoring the Rams on the road by anywhere between 1.5 and 2.5 points. It's the season opener for both teams, who are expected to contend for NFC playoff spots in 2019. This will be the first outing for the explosive Rams offense since they laid an egg in Super Bowl LIII, scoring only three points. Since Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay essentially rested his starters in the preseason (an increasingly common NFL practice), it will be interesting to see if the Rams will appear rusty coming out of the gate.
Rams Offense vs Panthers Defense: On paper, this is the most intriguing part of the game, putting what is believed the teams' strongest units against one another. The Carolina Panthers, which frequently shifts from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 alignment and vice versa, will be missing pass-rushing linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin, who is out with an injury. He will mostly be replaced by rookie Bruce Burns, Carolina's first-round selection of the 2019 NFL Draft from Florida State University. At 6-3 and 250 pounds, Burns has bulked up a little since his college days with the Seminoles. Linebacker Thomas Davis, a Panther stalwart on defense for the last decade, is gone after the Panthers decided not to re-sign him. But any discussion of the Panther’s linebackers has to start with Luke Kuechly, who along with Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks, is probably the premier middle linebacker in the NFL.. Intelligent and athletic, Kuechly is one of those rare defenders who you must account for on every play. He'll be joined in both defensive alignments by Shaq Thompson, a former number one draft choice out of the University of Washington. Thompson is one of the reasons the Panthers felt comfortable letting Davis walk, and they are expecting big things from him as a full-time starter in 2019.
The Rams, meanwhile, will be debuting their 2019 offensive line, and there are some questions about that unit. No longer there is guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan, a couple of heady veterans who helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl last season. They are replaced by second-year Joseph Noteboom at guard and second-year Brian Allen at center, both players who saw a smatter of playing time in 2018. They'll be facing a Panther defensive line that will feature multiple fronts after under-performing in 2018. But Carolina does have some talent up front. Veteran tackles Dontari Poe and Kawann Short both tended to disappear last season and are looking to bounce back this 2019 season. Poe, a mountain of a man at 6-3 and around 350, will be the primary nose tackle when the Panthers go into their 3-4 alignment. Brian Allen is giving up roughly 50 pounds versus Poe, so he may need some help moving him out if the Rams intend to run the ball at the heart of the Panther’s defense.
Addressing the running game, one of the key subplots to this game will be the whole Todd Gurley injury saga. As every NFL fan knows, the Rams star running back saw relatively little action in the 2018 NFC title game and Super Bowl LIII, sparking a torrent of speculation about his health and specifically that of his surgically-repaired knee. When Gurley is healthy, he is probably the best all-around running back in the NFL, despite the media hype surrounding Dallas Cowboys Zeke Elliot and the immense talent of the New York Giants' Saquon Barkley.
So, is he healthy? Media reports over the last few months have ranged in tone from ''He's absolutely fine" to ''He is done as an NFL back," covering about every shade in between. The Rams insist that he is good to go on Sunday and Gurley will not be on any sort of snap count.
But head coach Sean McVay has also promised touches for rookie Darrell Henderson out of the University of Memphis and veteran backup Malcolm Brown, even hinting that all three backs could see the field at once against the Panthers. Henderson, the third-round pick in this year's 2019 NFL Draft is compared to New Orleans Saints Alvin Kamara type running back, who is capable of breaking off big plays on the ground and as a receiver. Brown is more of a power-type back, a bit of a plodder in terms of breakaway speed, but a tough, hard-nosed inside runner who has played well when given the chance over the past couple of years. For the Rams fans, the effectiveness and composition of the running game on Sunday is almost as important as notching a win.
The Rams boast one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, and welcome back slot-receiver Cooper Kupp, a favorite target of quarterback Jared Goff when healthy. Kupp missed the second half of the season last year, despite Josh Reynolds stepped in for him and played well, his return is critical to this offense. Adding him with speedster Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, who simply catches everything thrown his way and runs great routes, give the Rams one of the best receiving units in the NFL. Don't forget about Reynolds either, who made a lot of big catches in the Super Bowl LIII run last season.
The depth of this unit could pose problems for the Panthers, who have a decent secondary not loaded with depth. Safety Eric Reid is one of the better players at his position in the NFL. Fellow safety Rashaan Gualden and corners James Bradberry and Donte Jackson are solid to above average players who make up a solid unit overall. Corn Elder will likely step in as the nickel back. None of these are bad players, but whether they can cover the deep and talented Rams receivers core on a regular basis could be one of the keys to the outcome of this game. IF the Rams can allot Goff time in the pocket and if the run game for the Rams is credible, the may be able to put up some points on Sunday’s contest.
Rams Defense vs Carolina Offense: Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton was having one of his best seasons in 2018 until a shoulder issue effected his play. He wasn't the same player down the stretch, and it showed as the Panthers ended up missing the playoffs despite s strong start. He suffered an ankle injury in the preseason, but it reportedly was not serious and he is expected and will be fine for the game. When healthy, Newton is a truly dynamic player who can beat you with his legs or his arm. While he has a very strong arm, he sometimes struggles with accuracy, and has only had one season where he finished with a completion rate of over 60 percent. Even so, he is a very dangerous player who can get hot and carry his team to victory.
Newton had arthoscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder in January, all indications are that it went well and his shoulder is fine. The Panthers certainly hope so, because if he is ineffective, Carolina has virtually no shot at making the playoffs.
Running back Christian McCaffrey is the other Panther player who keeps defensive coordinators awake at night. The son of former Denver Broncos and New York Giants wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, racked up over 1,000 yards rushing last season in addition to 867 yards as a receiver. Carolina supposedly wants to scale back his workload in 2019, but the problem is that the depth behind him is not great. He played 93 percent of the Panthers offensive snaps last season. The top reserves, Cameron Artis-Payne and rookie Jordan Scarlett, don't really scare anyone.
One of the keys for the Panthers in this game is controlling the Rams defensive front with a suspect offensive line. That job didn't get any easier when starting left tackle Greg Little ruled out of Sunday’s game with an concussion. Little is expected to be replaced by Darryl Williams, who spent most of 2018 on injured reserve. He was excellent in 2017, being named second-team All-Pro. How much impact will the injury and layoff have? We will see on Sunday.
Of course, anytime you face the Rams defense, job one is containing reigning two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, an absolute monster who gives quarterbacks nightmares. Despite facing double and even triple teams last season, AD still overcame with 20.5 sacks. He was rated the number one player in the league in the NFL Network's countdown of the Top 100 players, an honor that carries added weight because it is voted upon by the players themselves. Panthers WILL need to account for Donald on every play and keep him at least somewhat under control if they are to win this game. Donald had held out for much of the past two preseasons and tended to get off to rather slow starts by his standards. Will he get off to a faster start with a full training camp behind him?
The Rams are hoping outside linebackers Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews can generate enough of a pass-rush to take some of the pressure of off AD.
The Rams will have to replace Ndumukong Suh at nose tackle, and it looks like Sebastion Joseph-Day will see most of the action, with rookie Greg Gaines also getting snaps. They lost starting inside linebacker Micah Kiser to a pectoral injury in the preseason. The Rams was pretty bad in defending the run last season, giving up an average of five yards per carry. That remains a concern, and having to replace your nose tackle with a couple of untested young players and then replace one of your starting inside linebackers doesn't help. Whether the Panthers can run the ball effectively with McCaffrey and Newton could be a key factor in this game.
The Carolina receiving corps is somewhat underwhelming on paper, although McCaffrey helps make up for that by basically serving as another receiver, and a good one at that. Tight end Greg Olsen has had a great career, but he is also coming off an injury at age 34. Devin Funchess is gone via free agency, leaving D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel as the likely starters. Moore racked up 788 yards last season, and he is considered the number one receiver on this roster. Samuel is a former second round pick who has yet to live up to expectations. These guys aren't bad, but the Rams secondary shouldn't let them have big days. If they do would could be looking at a Carolina win.
Special Teams: The Rams probably have the best special teams in the NFL, and they will have the edge in this category again on Sunday. But Carolina's special teams are actually pretty good, and this category might be close had the Panthers not lost kicker Graham Gano to a season-ending injury. Gano was money in pressure situations, and his absence could be a factor in a close game.
Prediction: There are a lot of ''x-factors" in this game. Is Todd Gurley 100 percent? Can the Panthers run on a Rams defense that had persistent problems in that area last season? How will the Rams rebuilt offensive line match up against the variable fronts they will see on Sunday? Opening day usually includes some surprises, and a Panthers win here wouldn't shock anyone. But the Rams appear to be the better team.
Rams 27, Panthers 24
Ed “Pi Double I” Henderson
The Los Angles Rams and Johnny Hekker have agreed on a restructure and contract extension for the four-time pro bowl punter. The terms of the extension is for a one-year $4.25M and will lock the versatile punter though out the 2023 season.
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