Overview: After last week's shootout in Santa Clara ended the Rams playoff hopes, this game has an anti-climatic feel to it. However, it is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First of all, it will be the Ram's last game at the L.A. Coliseum, where the team played the last three seasons since returning from St. Louis and before that for several years during the team's first incarnation in L.A.
The ghosts of Jack Youngblood and Lawrence McCutcheon will be watching (OK, they are not dead, but you get the point).
Secondly, this will likely be the last game for at least a few current Rams. Eric Weddle, Andrew Whitworth, Dante Fowler, Corey Littleton, possibly Brandin Cooks, and Clay Matthews are among those who may not play for the 2020 Rams. Weddle almost certainly not returning next season, we can hope to retain at least one between linebackers Dante Fowler and Corey Littleton. There are even some reports that Todd Gurley will not be back, although that seems unlikely because his dead cap hit of $25 million would cost more than keeping him at $17 million. An outright release seems unlikely, but we shall see. If the Rams can arrange a "salary dump" trade, as they did with Aquib Talib a few weeks ago, Gurley's departure is a possibility, but we would not bet the farm on it.
Rams Offense vs. Cardinals Defense: The big challenge for the Rams all season has been protecting Jared Goff, and that will be critical again. One key matchup will be Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth against Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones. This battle could be personally crucial for Whitworth, who has said he wants to play again in 2020. Big Whit seemed to have lost something early in the year but played much better during the second half of the season. A good outing on Sunday would bide well for continuing his career. A bad game would have the opposite effect.
Some reports indicated that the Rams would have taken a good hard look at rookie running back Darrell Henderson in this game if he were healthy. However, he is out with an ankle injury, so that will not occur. Will the Rams feature Todd Gurley in what is mostly a meaningless game, risking further injury to a player that many suspects is not healthy? Then again, he will have six months to heal, so who knows.
Assuming the Rams can protect Jared Goff, he could have a big day in what has been a suspect Arizona passing defense all season. Rams tight end Tyler Higbee can set an all-time NFL record for most consecutive games with 100 yards receiving by a tight end. His odds look pretty good.
Rams Defense vs. Cardinals Offense: There are so many injuries in this matchup that it is hard to know who will be on the field.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who has given Arizona fans hope for the future with a strong rookie season, is listed as "questionable." Normally we should expect a player listed that way to play, but whether Arizona wants to expose their future star to a severe injury in a game that does not mean much is an open question. It only takes one hit to change everything. Just ask former Heisman Trophy Winner RGIII, who has never been the same after an injury-marred a promising start to his career as an NFL quarterback.
Jalen Ramsey is out for the Rams with a knee injury, and fellow starting corner Troy Hill also may not play. We may see several other reserves get extended playing time, especially at positions where the current starters may not return, including edge rusher and inside linebacker. That could mean guys like Samson Ebukam and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo could see many snaps.
We are going to check this box for the Rams, but given the number of players on both teams who may not play, that is just a guess.
Special Teams: Yet another Ram who may--or may not--be taking the field for the last time as a member of this team is placekicker Greg Zuerlein, who is a free agent. Johnny Hekker is still the best punter in the NFL, in our opinion. The Rams special teams, in part, have somewhat underperformed this season. They have not been bad but indeed have not dominated as they did in previous years. That is yet another reason the L.A. Rams will be watching the playoffs on tv this season. Maybe they can go out on a high note.
Prediction: Who will play in this game, and how motivated will they be? We get it, these guys are making enormous paychecks to go out and play a game every week, and they owe it to themselves, their teams and the fans to give it a legit effort. Even so, we have to wonder if the Rams will not be a bit flat in the final outing of a disappointing year. Coach McVay has said all week that the team still cares about finishing with a winning record and going out on a high note. Is that coach speak? Do the players feel the same way? We may find out on Sunday. Still, the Rams are the better team.
Rams 30 Cardinals 24
Preview: Maybe this should say "Preview?" because you never know what to expect with this Los Angeles Rams team. When the team that kicked an excellent Seattle Seahawks team all over the field a couple of weeks ago takes the field, they can beat anybody in the NFL. If the team that got blown out in Dallas takes the field, beating the Miami Dolphins might be asking too much. We never know with the 2019 Rams. However, a loss tonight or a Minnesota Vikings win on Monday night against the Green Bay Packers eliminates the Rams from the postseason. We cannot do anything about the Vikings game, but a win tonight at least means the season is not over yet. Besides, beating the San Francisco 49ers is always a joy and a pleasure.
Rams Offense vs. Niners Defense: While the 49ers have a good offense, this is the side of the ball where they are truly elite. In the first meeting between these two teams, San Francisco won the war in the trenches in a big way. Jared Goff was held to a career-low 78 yards passing in 20-7 49ers win that was not as close as the score makes it sound. Todd Gurley missed that game, and he needs to be a factor this evening if Los Angeles is to pull the upset. There has been a consistent pattern this season for the Rams offense. When they run the ball effectively, and TGII gets many touches, they win. When Head Coach Sean McVay channels his inner Mike Martz, and they come out in pass-first mode--as they did last week against Dallas--they usually lose. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has said they ''have something special" for this game. Let us hope it involves a heavy dose of Todd Gurley, whether as a runner or receiver, or better yet, both,
The Rams have a different offensive line than they did in the first meeting, which is probably a good thing. While the new unit was not great last week against Dallas, they have mostly been better than the 0-line that started the season. Old-pro Andrew Whitworth, who is probably playing in the next to last game of his career, had been playing a lot better before last week when he got hit with a couple of crucial flags and generally had an off day. He needs to return to form this week against Niners super-rookie Nick Bosa. The Rams O-line, in general, will be tested by what may be the best defensive front in the NFL. If they can hold their own, Los Angeles can win this game. If not, hello 2020 in terms of any playoff hopes.
One player that has emerged for the Rams in recent weeks is tight-end Tyler Higbee, who has been a monster of late, even notching 111 yards in last week's debacle in Dallas. One of the best counters to a fierce pass is an actual short passing game, and Higbee and Gurley are the guys in this offense who are most able to make that happen.
San Francisco's defense is limping, as Cornerback Richard Sherman expected to play through a hamstring injury, but whether he will be 100 percent remains to be seen. If he is not Rams wideout, Robert Woods could have a big game, assuming Goff can get some time to throw.
The 49ers will be missing linebackers Dee Ford and Julian Taylor and safety Jaquiski Tartt. A bigger question may be whether corners Sherman and K'waun Williams are genuinely healthy.
Rams Defense vs. 49ers Offense: The Rams gave up 263 yards on the ground in Dallas last week, and that cannot happen again if Los Angeles is to have any chance of winning. There are some rumors-unconfirmed at this point--that Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips may not return next season. If there is any truth to the idea that he might not be back, how the Rams D performs in this game could play a critical factor in that decision.
The funny thing about that is that this unit has mostly been pretty good, but when they have been wrong (as last week or against the Ravens), they have been just awful. We have rarely seen as weak an effort at tackling as what this team exhibited last week, and fixing that issue is job one in this game. The arm tackling and generally lackluster attempts at bringing down opposing call carriers that we saw last week cannot continue. This unit, in general, looked dispirited and lethargic. Let us hope that being embarrassed on national television by a Dallas team that came in with a losing record wakes them up. It better, or we may not see Wade on the sidelines in 2020, and we can forget about the playoffs this season.
The 49ers have the second-ranked rushing attack in the league, and unlike the first meeting between these two teams, San Francisco will have both of their tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, will start. Staley is the San Francisco version of Andrew Whitworth--past his prime, but still better than most left tackles in the game. Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler will try to take advantage of Staley is one of the more significant matchups in this game.
While San Francisco is a run-first team, they also have probably the best tight end in the game in George Kittle. Rams safety Taylor Rapp will try to contain Kittle.
We cannot talk about the Rams defense without mentioning Aaron Donald, so we just mentioned him. He will no doubt see his usual double and even triple teams, something he is used to, and that does not always shut him down by any means. When AD gets loose, bad things happen for opposing offenses. When he does not, it is up to the rest of this defense to win their matchups. Of course, despite seeing multiple blockers, Aaron Donald can and often does take over a game like no other defender in the modern NFL can take over a game all by himself. If he goes on a rampage in this game, the Rams will probably win, assuming they can put a few points on the board.
WE probably should check this box for San Francisco, but NOT going to play a hunch here and hope the Rams defense is angry after being embarrassed last week in front of the entire country. They certainly should be.
If they cannot get up to play their best game of the season against Public Enemy Number One in a do-or-die game, something is seriously wrong here.
Special Teams: As if the Rams do not have enough problems, kicker Greg Zuerlein has been battling a quadriceps injury all week. That is not good news.
Prediction: It is hard to see how the Rams win this game on paper. We probably should pick San Francisco, but there are some things we will not do. So we are going to go with our heart over our head
Rams 27 Niners 24
(In Vegas, with our head making the decisions, it would be Niners 37, Rams 24 )
Overview: Once again, the Los Angeles Rams face a "must-win" game. For the second consecutive week, the smart money in Vegas has been moving towards the Los Angeles Rams. At the start of the week, the Dallas Cowboys opened up as a 2.5 point favorite. However, the line since has moved in favor of the Rams by 1.5 on the road. We believe the Rams should win this game; however, there are reasons to be concerned. The Cowboys is a talented team that seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts. Is that because of coaching, as many believe? Bad luck? Poor teamwork? It is hard to say, but this is not a team to take lightly. Dallas has been in free fall in recent weeks, but like the Rams, they are in '' must-win" fashion. They have also had over a week to try to live down from a nationally televised embarrassing loss to Buffalo Bills last Thursday. The Rams, meanwhile, have been wildly inconsistent all season. Can they put together their third strong performance in a row? We will see.
Rams Offense vs. Dallas Defense: The Cowboys will be without their best linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch, which potentially is a huge deal. Even more so because his top backup, Sean Lee, is questionable with an injury. Lee will probably play, but how well is always the question in these situations. The Rams of late have been featuring Todd Gurley, and an injured Cowboy linebacking crew does not make containing TGII any easier. The Rams have finally gone to a balanced game plan on offense, which has opened up the play-action pass and the downfield passing game in general. They have to do that again on Sunday.
At this point, there is no point in saving Todd Gurley. For the Rams, this is essentially a playoff game.
The Rams offensive line has been much better in recent weeks, and they will need to continue that trend on Sunday in Dallas. Andrew Whitworth has been playing better recently at left tackle for the Rams, and he will match up against former Ram Robert Quinn in this game. Meanwhile, rookie tackle Bobby Evans will (probably) match up against DeMarcus Lawrence on the other side, with Rob Havenstein listed as doubtful at right tackle (it is not at all sure that Havenstein would start even if he were healthy). Evans has been a significant factor in the Rams offensive resurgence, battling players like Khalil Mack, Terrel Suggs, Mathew Judon, and Jadeveon Clowney and more than holding his own, albeit with some help at times.
If Whitworth and Evans can at least hold their ground in this game, quarterback Jared Goff can have a big day. Goff is deadly when he has time to throw and some semblance of a running game. When those things do not occur, he is not the same guy, and the Rams often lose.
The Rams receiving a trio of Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Cooper Kupp will test the depth of most NFL secondaries, and this week is no exception. Woods has been the hot hand lately, but each of these guys has their skillset, and they can all take over a game on a given Sunday. Expect the Rams offense to stack their receivers at the line of scrimmage, and use much motion (which they do) to free Kupp up against Jourdan Lewis. Lewis likes to press at the line of scrimmage. If the Rams can get Kupp free from press coverage, he could have a big day.
These days we cannot mention the Rams offense without mentioning Tight end Tyler Higbee, who has come into his own in recent weeks. Covering Higbee and the Rams wide receivers, not to mention Todd Gurley out of the backfield, is a challenge for any offense, especially one whose best linebacker will not play. That makes the battle in the trenches in this game even more critical.
The Cowboys have to pressure Jared Goff, or the Rams could light up the scoreboard in this game. If Dallas can pressure Goff and contain the Rams running game, they have a good chance of winning this critical game.
Rams defense vs. Dallas offense: We know how Rams corner Jalen Ramsey likes to trash talk and bad-mouth opponents? We have not been hearing any of that this week regarding Amari Cooper. He has called Cowboys receiver Cooper "elite" (which he is). The Ramsey vs. Cooper matchup is one worthy of the pro bowl, except it is even better because, in this case, both players care about winning, which is usually not the case in the Pro-Bowl. If Dallas can make some big plays downfield to Cooper, they can win this game, assuming the Cowboy defense does its job. If not, have to like the Rams chances.
The other guy we have to contain on defense by the Rams is, of course, Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot has had something on an off-year so far, in part because Dallas cannot seem to decide whether they are a passing or running team from week to week. However, Elliot is one of the best backs in the league, and he is the kind of guy who can take over a game on any given week. Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton, meanwhile, is having another high season, establishing himself as one of the best inside linebackers in the league. He needs to play well on Sunday, including keeping Elliot's yards after contact to a minimum when he is tackling the former Ohio State star.
The next major point will be Aaron Donald, Dak Prescott's worst nightmare. We are old enough to have seen Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor, and when AD is on his game, he approaches that level of dominance. Even when he is not sacking the quarterback, he is a disruptive force, living in the backfield and causing problems for opposing offenses. The unenviable task of stopping Donald this week falls to Xavier Su'a-Filo, who forced into starting when starting left guard Conner Williams went down with an MCL injury.
Of course, the Cowboys are not going to be dumb enough to leave Su'a-Filo alone on AD very often, so expect center Travis Frederick and tackle Tyron Smith (who are both excellent) to lend a hand. That, of course, leaves other Rams players, including people like Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Micheal Brockers, and others, with potential one-on-one battles. They need to win at least some of those matchups in this game.
Prescott is like Jared Goff in the sense that he can be dangerous when he has time to throw, but he does not like pressure. The Rams have been blitzing a lot more since acquiring Jalen Ramsey, and we can probably expect to see more of that on Sunday.
Special Teams: Neither team has done much in the return game. Nsimba Webster, filling in for the injured JoJo Natson, averaged -1 yards returning punts last week against the Seahawks. Greg Zuerlein has a field goal attempt blocked. Johnny Hekker did have a good week, averaging around 50 yards per punt. The Rams special teams just have not lived up to their expectations this season overall. Nevertheless, Dallas has had its problems as well and gave the boot recently to placekicker Brett Maher, who had missed on 10 FG/extra-point attempts this season.
We will check this box for the Rams, but it is a concern for both teams.
Prediction: This score could be almost anything, and either team could win. However, based on recent trends, we have to like the Rams.
Rams 31 Dallas 27
OVERVIEW: Once again, the Los Angeles Rams face a "must-win" game, as they all are at this point if the Rams are to make the playoffs this season. Once again, the Rams face a run-oriented offense featuring a highly mobile quarterback. Russell Wilson is a legit MVP candidate and is the driving force behind a Seattle Seahawks offense that is relatively average in overall talent aside from him. The odds of this game have taken an unusual path this week. The Seahawks opened as a 2.5 point favorite; however, oddsmakers have it dead even. Perhaps the Rams as 1.5 point favorites, depending on whom we listen from on this line making. Do they know something?
Rams Defense vs. Seattle Offense: One of the big battles upfront will feature Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald against Seahawks guard Mike Iupati. The last thing Seattle wants is Aaron Donald renewing his up close and personal relationship with Russell Wilson, not to mention disrupting the Seattle running game. While Wilson is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the game, Donald has had big days against him in the past. The Rams need that to continue on Sunday night.
Another crucial battle will feature Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler against Seattle left-tackle Duane Brown. Fowler had emerged this season as the player people thought he was a few years ago when he was drafted high in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Brown is among the best left tackles in the game, and the outcome of this battle could be huge, especially if the Rams can get a lead and force Seattle to throw the ball.
Seattle features a run-first offense, and running backs Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson present a formidable two-headed monster. Penny, selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft from San Diego State University, is surprisingly fast for a big man (224 pounds). In recent weeks, Penny rushed for 129 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles a couple of weeks ago, and he is also a viable receiver out of the backfield. Carson, meanwhile, is the sort of physical, downhill runner that Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll loves. When Carson is at his best, he breaks tackles and runs over defenders for extra yardage after contact. The Rams need to tackle and wrap him upon initial contact, or it could be a long night for the home team.
When Seattle does go to the air, Rams corners Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill need to at least control Seattle wideouts Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Trying to defend the Seahawks offense can be especially challenging because Wilson can buy extra time with his feet. When it comes to eluding the pass rush and giving his receivers extra time, Russell Wilson is the best in the game,
Trying to say which team has the edge in this battle is hard because the Rams defense is so erratic, and we do not know what to expect. If we throw out meltdowns against the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this is one of the league's better units. Both of those were terrible outings that occurred at home, which is a concern, and the Seahawks offense is similar in some ways to that of Baltimore, although Wilson is probably not the pure runner such as Raven's Lamar Jackson. Nevertheless, the Rams have their backs to the wall and know Seattle's offense very well, so we will hope for the best.
Rams Offense vs. Seahawk Defense: Which Todd Gurley will we see on Sunday night? Maybe a better question is which Sean McVay, play-caller, we will see. The one who calls 10 or 12 running plays and 40 or so passes, or the one who oversees a balanced offense and gives TGII lots of touches? We hope we see the second one because when we do, the Rams usually win.
McVay himself says the lack of action seen by Gurley in some games is due to his [McVay's] ''being an idiot."
At last report, Ram's right tackle Rob Havenstein listed as doubtful for this game with a knee injury. Even if he were healthy, it is not sure he would start in this game, as rookie Bobby Evans has outplayed Havenstein so far in 2019. Evans is a bright spot in what has been a somewhat disappointing season. It is not like he has been facing off against a bunch of weaklings either, as he has battled Khalil Mack and Chandler Jones. Evans faces another challenge this week in Seahawks defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. While Clowney is officially listed as "questionable'' for this game, it would be a big surprise if he does not play. Clowney only has three sacks, but that is deceptive. Much Like Aaron Donald, he can wreak havoc even when he does not get credit for a sack. He is easily Seattle's best pass rusher and can blow up running plays as well. Asking a rookie tackle to contain him is asking a lot.
The Rams got a big game last week from wide receiver Robert Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee, while wide receiver Cooper Kupp has a chance to crack 1,000 yards receiving in this game. They probably need at least decent production from two of those three in this game. Meanwhile, Seattle features middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, one of the top two (along with the Panthers Luke Kuechly) at his position in the NFL. Furthermore, while the ''Legion of Boom" is no more, the Seahawks secondary is still outstanding, especially corner Tre Flowers and safety Bradley McDougald.
Special Teams: The Rams special teams have not been very special for much of this season, and kick returner JoJo Natson is out. Darrell Henderson probably replaces him or Nsimba Webster, who was excellent in the pre-season. Which team has the edge here? Who knows?
Prediction: The schizophrenic nature of the Rams and the fact that these two teams almost always have tough, physical games makes this game a tough call. The Rams need to control the Seattle running game and at least break even in the turnover battle. If they can do those things...easier said than done..they can win. They better if they have any playoff hopes at all.
Rams 31 Seattle 30
Ed "Pi Double I" Henderson
Jared Goff, the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, named Week 13 NFL Player of the Week for excellent performance against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Goff put on a show in the desert by throwing for over 300-yards in the first half. (Full Story Later)
Overview: This game may tell us a lot about the character of the 2019 Los Angeles Rams. Following a debacle of a performance Monday night in a blow out loss to the Ravens, will we see an angry team that is out to prove they are not the listless, beaten group we seemed to see on Monday night? Or will we see a team that is just mailing in a season that they would probably like to forget at this point? We will see on Sunday afternoon. The Arizona Cardinals can win this game make no mistake. They are better than their record would indicate, and they came very close to beating the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers recently
Rams Defense vs. Cardinals Offense: The Rams defense in 2019 has been a real Jekyll and Hyde unit. If we take away the Ravens and Bucs games (and we wish we could), they have been outstanding, one of the better defenses in the league. However, they are coming off of a terrible game on Monday night in which they could not stop a nosebleed. The challenge this week will be another highly mobile quarterback. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is listed as questionable going into this game with a hamstring injury, but he practiced on Friday, and it would be a shock if he did not play on Sunday. His mobility hampered, but the Rams cannot count on that. Murray has had a good year, justifying his selection as the top overall pick in the 2019 draft with a 91.2 passer rating and 418 yards rushing. Unlike many rookies, he has not been a turnover machine either, throwing only five picks vs. 14 touchdowns. Like the Ravens Lamar Jackson, the Cardinals will feature Murray on some designed running plays, assuming the hamstring injury is not a huge issue. Did the Rams learn anything about how to counter a running quarterback after giving up 111 yards rushing to Jackson on Monday night? Let us hope so, or it could be another long day for Rams fans.
Murray sacked 35 times, and his offensive line is not high, so this could be a good day for Aaron Donald, Dante Fowler, and Clay Matthews. That is even more likely if Murray's hamstring is a problem.
Even with Murray running for 418 yards (a lot for an NFL quarterback at this point in the season), the Cardinals are the only middle of the pack in team rushing, checking in at number 15. Part of the problem is that running back David Johnson, who not long ago was considered the Cardinals "bellcow" as a runner, has only a little over 300 yards. Chase Edmonds has logged 295 yards on the ground for Arizona, and while he has been battling injuries, he is expected to play on Sunday. Former Dolphin Kenyan Drake has 374 yards, second only to Murray on the team. The Cardinals employ a committee approach to running the ball, and while Murray might be the scariest threat, these guys as a group are reasonably valid.
We cannot talk about the Arizona Cardinals offense without mentioning the great Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver. That is not just an honorary mention either, as the future Hall of Famer has 55 receptions for 593 yards. (leading the team in that category). Fitzgerald will probably see a lot of Rams corners Troy Hill and Nickel Robey-Coleman in this game. Fitz will not run away from many people at this stage in his career (he was never a real "burner"), but he holds a 4-inch height advantage over Hill and 7 inches over Robey-Coleman and can still catch just about anything thrown his way. Murray may look Fitzgerald's way on third down and in the end zone, hoping to use his height advantage and knowledge in crucial situations.
The other primary receiving threat for Arizona is Christian Kirk, who has over 500 yards receiving and gets many targets from Murray. He will probably see a lot of Jalen Ramsey in this game, and that should be a good matchup of physically-gifted players and one that could determine the outcome of this game. Ramsey will be under the spotlight, following his altercation with former Ram Marcus Peters following Monday's loss to Baltimore. Ramsey physically restrained from going after Peters (after the game), who allegedly yelled Ramsey's name towards the Rams sidelines after picking off a Jared Goff pass.
It is hard to know what Ram's defense will show up from week to week. We are going to hope for the best in this one.
Rams Offense vs. Arizona Defense: On paper, the Rams should be able to put up points on the Cardinals defense, but at this point, who knows? The biggest disappointment of what has been a very disappointing season for the Los Angeles Rams is the offense, which has gone from being elite to not-very-good in a short time. The Cardinals are rated 31st in team defense, despite the presence of two of the league's better players in cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Chandler Jones.
In fairness, Peterson served an eight-game suspension, so the defense that takes the field on Sunday will be noticeably better than the unit the Cardinals have fielded for most of the year.
The Rams can still move the ball through the air, coming in ranked as the 7th rated passing attack in the league. Peterson will likely be locked up on Rams receiver Robert Woods most of the time, and that should be a good battle if both players are at the top of their game.
Jones will hope to take advantage of rookie tackle Bobby Evans, who has been better than expected in his two previous starts. At this point, the Rams have to be thinking about how to fix their dreadful offensive line for 2020, and so far, Evans looks like a guy who could be part of the solution. He has more than held his own in his first two starts, including a battle with the Bears' Khalil Mack a couple of weeks ago. However, Jones will present a severe test, coming into this game with 12.5 sacks. We do not know whether the Rams will try to get Evans some help against Jones, but the last thing Jared Goff needs in this game is a steady diet of Chandler Jones in his backfield.
So what is the deal with Todd Gurley and the Rams running game? It is week 13, and we still do not know if Gurley is injured or the victim of poor blocking and questionable play-calling. Gurley looked like his old self two weeks ago against the Bears, racking up 133 yards from scrimmage. However, on Monday night against the Ravens, he virtually disappeared. The Rams overall only ran the ball nine times, and two of those were desperation runs by Jared Goff. A play call balance of 9 runs versus 37 passes, as we saw on Monday night, is not a formula for success in the NFL.
Yes, they were behind for the entire game, but if Chandler Jones and the Cardinals defense know they can forget about stopping the run on Sunday and tee off on Goff (as other teams have been able to do this season), the Rams may take another "L'' on Sunday.
By the way, what has happened to Cooper Kupp? He looked like an all-pro over the first nine games of the season and has suddenly been silent over the last three games. The Rams need him back
We will go ahead check this box for the Rams, but the offense is such a question mark right now that it is hard to know who has the edge. We will hope for a bounce-back for the Rams and play the optimist.
Edge: Rams (we hope)
Special Teams: Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein are still probably the best kicking duo in the NFL. The Rams special teams have certainly had some lapses this season, but we still give them the edge in this game.
Prediction: 2.5 points favor the Rams in this game, but who knows what we will see on Sunday. There is an old rule in football that we should never bet against a good team coming off of a bad game. Monday's outing for the Rams was undoubtedly a bad game. Are they still a good team? We may find out on Sunday.
Rams 30 Cardinals 24
Overview: Let us start by saying this is an extremely tough matchup for the Rams, who are in virtual "must-win" mode at this point. The Baltimore Ravens are riding a six-game winning streak, including a recent thumping of the New England Patriots. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is probably the front runner for MVP right now (although you could argue for Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson), and the defense has gelled since the acquisition of former Rams corner Marcus Peters. The Ravens are 3.5 point favorites, and many think that margin is not enough.
NFL Network commentator Brian Billick on Friday predicted the Rams would "get their butts handed to them" by the Ravens. OK, he is a former Ravens coach, so he might not be the most unbiased observer. However, he is not alone in that opinion.
It is appropriate that a team named for a poem by Edgar Allen Poe presents a nightmare matchup right now.
Nevertheless, for Ram fans, all is not lost. The Rams are at home and are two plays away from being 8-2, one of which was an apparent blown call against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rams offensive line last week against the Chicago Bears turned in probably their best performance of the season, with rookie tackle Bobby Evans more than holding his own against Khalil Mack.
Furthermore, as good as Lamar Jackson is, the Rams defense has been good against the run and especially good against running quarterbacks this season. The Ravens probably have not seen a defensive front like this all season, and the addition of Jalen Ramsey may have been the final piece in what can be an outstanding defense.
Rams Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don ''Wink" Martindale loves to dial up blitzes and the Baltimore Ravens blitz on almost half of their snaps on defense. That is going to present a challenge for a Rams offensive line that has had issues all season and features two rookies on the right side in guard David Edwards and tackle Bobby Evans. Evans will see a lot of Ravens edge rusher Matt Judon in what could be one of the key matchups of the night.
Last week against the Bears, the Rams went to a lot of two-tight-end sets and a run-heavy offense to counter an active Bears defensive front. We even saw tight end Johnny Mundt deployed as a fullback on some plays. Do not be shocked if the Rams go "smashmouth" again on Monday, both to protect Jared Goff from an aggressive Baltimore pass rush and to keep the ball out of Jackson's hands-on offense.
The Ravens secondary has only allowed a 79.5 passer rating to oppose quarterbacks this season. On the other hand, the Rams will have receiver Brandin Cooks back, and Robert Woods may (or may not) also return to action. Cooks will probably see quite a bit of former Rams corner Marcus Peters. Peters is a high risk, high reward player who gambles in coverage, going for the pick but also getting burned while doing so. He was vulnerable to the double move during his time in L.A., and it would not a huge shock to see Cooks and the Rams try to test that vulnerability on Monday night.
The Rams also face a not-so-friendly reunion with an old foe, safety Earl Thomas. That is not a good thing as a Rams fan.
The x-factor in this game could be Todd Gurley. The Rams running back looked like his old self last week against the Bears. Other than a fumble on the Ram's first possession, he was stellar. If he can keep it going on Monday night, the Rams have a chance to pull the upset. If not, this could get ugly.
Rams Defense vs. Ravens Offense: Lamar Jackson has been playing out of his mind in recent weeks. He may be the best running quarterback since Micheal Vick in his prime, but where he has stepped up from last season is in his passing ability. Add it all together, and we have a genuinely explosive dual-threat, and stopping him will be job one for the Rams in this game.
The Ravens have won their last four games by an average of 25 points per game and have scored a total of 157 points over that same time. The Rams defense over that same time has allowed a league-low 44 points. The problem is that three of those games have been against Andy Dalton, Mason Rudolph, and Mitch Trubisky, not precisely a "murderer's row" of NFL quarterbacks. While the other was against a magnificent Falcons quarterback in Matt Ryan, Jackson represents a very different type of challenge than Ryan.
However, there is hope IF the Rams can pressure Jackson with only four pass rushers and especially if Aaron Donald can do what he often does, which is living in the other team's backfield. Jackson has done a lot of his damage this season against all-out blitzes. His passer rating against blitzing defenses is 122.1, while against a usual pass rush, it is 91.2. However, the Rams defenders will need to maintain their gap integrity and keep Jackson from bouncing outside for long runs, something he is very capable of doing. It will be interesting to see if Wade Phillips employs a "spy" or a defender who solely assigned to shadowing Jackson and keeping him contained as a runner. If they do, those duties could fall on inside linebacker Corey Littleton, who is once again having an outstanding season. Rookie safety Taylor Rapp could also end up spying on Jackson, depending on how Phillips decides to handle the situation. Neither Rapp nor Littleton has the raw speed to match up with the Ravens quarterback, so they will need anticipation and football ''smarts" to be successful in that role.
The Ravens passing game tends to run through the tight ends more than most NFL offenses. Tight end Mark Andrews leads the team in receptions, yards, and targets. The Rams wish they had starting safety John Johnson on the field to deal with Andrews. However, Marquis Christian has done a stable job of replacing Johnson and will need to step up again on Monday night.
The Rams defense has been outstanding lately. If they can continue that trend on Monday, the Rams can win this game, but it will not be easy.
Special Teams: The Rams special teams have been good this year, but they have not performed up to the high standards of the last couple of years. They need a breakout game on Monday.
Prediction: As a Rams fan, we know that it is do-or-die time. A loss in this game would mean Los Angeles probably has to win out to make the playoffs, and that still might not be enough. Our head says the Ravens will probably win this game, and if we were betting in Las Vegas, we would have to go with Baltimore. They may be the best team in the NFL right now.
However, my heart is with the Rams. The law of averages says the Ravens cannot keep winning games by 25 points a clip. Nobody is THAT good.
The Rams have their backs to the wall. Even though my head says the Ravens will win this game, I just cannot bring myself to give up on the 2019 Rams just yet.
Rams 20 Ravens 17
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
Aaron Donald, the Los Angeles Rams reigning two-time NFL Defensive Player The Year, named the Week 11 NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Donald played his best game this season after recording four tackles (three solos), two tackles for loss, one pass deflection and four quarterback hits against the Chicago Bears this past Sunday night.
Donald has been fighting through double and triple-team blocks all season and seemed to found a recipe of success against the Bears. The Bears offensive line had their work cut out for them trying to account for both Donald and Dante Fowler, who did record any defensive stats against the Bears.
Donalds Player of the Week award is the first time all season that any Rams player has accomplished this season. Last season the team had eight different players to win a Player of the Week with Donald winning it twice along with a Player of the Month along with quarterback Jared Goff and kicker Greg Zeurline.
Donald started the season off slow as he has done the last couple of seasons but seems to start to heat up. The Rams will have a tough match-up this coming Monday night against the league's highest-scoring offense of the Baltimore Ravens.
The Rams will seek to try and shut down the Ravens run game, which will be a difficult task while they have the former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards. However, that will not account for another former Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Lamar Jackson who presents a threat with both his arm and legs.
The Rams for the first time all-season come in this week as a 3.5 point underdog at home against the Ravens as they look to keep their playoffs hope alive with a victory. We have to say we like the Rams in an upset this week over the Ravens as Donald may have a lot to do with a Ravens offensive line that features one seasoned veteran. Expect for Donald to move all around the defensive front to create mismatch problems for himself and other Rams rusher as Fowler in particular.
The 2019 Los Angeles Rams started the season viewed as robust Super Bowl contenders, generally considered co-favorites (with New Orleans) in the NFC.
They were coming off two straight playoff seasons and a Super Bowl loss to New England in 2018. Most "experts" thought at the very least they would win the NFC West.
However, as they await a Sunday night battle against the Chicago Bears, those predictions are in tatters. At 5-4, they trail the division-leading San Francisco Forty-Niners by three games with seven remaining and the two-loss Seattle Seahawks by two games. A division title is all but out of the question at this point. They could still potentially qualify for the playoffs as a wild-card team, trailing 7-3 Minnesota by a game and a half in that race.
Nevertheless, with a brutal remaining schedule, even the Ram's chances of snagging the final wild card slot seem like an uphill battle. Frankly, the Rams team we have seen since week four does not look like a playoff team today.
So....what happened? Here is one fan's opinion.
1--First and foremost and above everything else, the Los Angeles offensive line has been, well, offensive. A unit that may have been the best in the league in 2017-2018 has become arguably the worst. Part of the problem has been injuries (more on that in a moment), but let us not pretend the Rams front office does not share some blame, because they do.
The decisions to let center John Sullivan and guard Rodger Saffold leave have not worked out well in hindsight. In all fairness, Sullivan did not play well during the second half of 2018, particularly getting mauled in an upset loss to the Bears last season and generally slumping down the stretch. Saffold meanwhile was a good-but-not-great player who did a stable job and did not make too many mistakes. Saffold signed a four year, $44 million contracts with the Tennesse Titans. That is much money for a '"pretty good" NFL guard, and it is not hard to understand why the Rams did not want to pony up that kind of cash.
However, the problem is that the players have chosen to replace Sullivan, and Saffold did not get the job done. Center Brian Allen, a former fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, did not look like an NFL center much of the time. Former Third-round pick Joseph Noteboom, drafted as the heir-apparent to Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, stepped in for Saffold at guard. The results were not good. Throw in Austin Blythe, a career journeyman who returned to journeyman form after a strong 2018 season, and a mysteriously slumping Rob Havenstein, and we aren't left with much upfront. The final nail in the coffin was left tackle Andrew Whitworth finally showing his age at left tackle. Whitworth is still the Rams best lineman, but he is not the All-Pro caliber tackle of years past.
However, it gets worse. When Noteboom got hurt, Jamil Demby was a disaster filling in for him. Demby is a practice-squad level player who should not start for an NFL team. Demby replaced by David Edwards, a rookie from Wisconsin who has been substantial. Meanwhile, Havenstein is out for the Bears game, replaced by rookie Bobby Evans at the right tackle. Evans will have the unenviable task of trying to contain Khalil Mack on Sunday night. Good luck with that matchup.
2. The running game/play calling. We hate to criticize Coach McVay, but what is going on with the play calling? Is he possessed by the ghost of Mike Martz (yes, we know Coach Martz is still alive, even if his career is not)? When the Rams were winning division titles the last couple of seasons, Todd Gurley was an elite running back, and the Los Angeles passing game used the play-action pass to open up plays downfield. The Rams were third in the league in rushing offense in 2018. They go into the Bears ranked 21 in yards per game, averaging a little over 96.
The Rams handling of Gurley has been puzzling. Questions about his health remain unanswered, and there is little doubt that the decline of the O-line has been a factor. However, how do we explain how Gurley used in the Steelers game? TGIII looked like the old Gurley, averaging six yards per carry through the first three quarters. And then there is nothing? Why no one seems to know, or if they do, they are not saying.
The Rams need to get some balance in their offense; whether the rushing attempts come from Gurley, Darrell Henderson (who has shown flashes of ability), or Malcolm Brown or all of the above, somebody has to keep the defenses honest. A more balanced attack would keep opposing defenses from teeing off on Jared Goff. Moreover, though this O-line might be beyond help at this point, ask any offensive lineman, and he will tell us he would instead run block than pass block. Hitting people is fun and trying to stand his ground against 300 pounds of muscle and adrenaline in the form of oncoming pass-rushers not so much.
3- Injuries--This one is tough because it is so random. Sometimes we get hit with the injury bug; sometimes we do not. However, the bigger problem here is terrible decisions on draft day that have left a lack of quality backups, especially on the offensive line. Guys like Joseph Noteboom have not lived up to expectations, and we are not especially optimistic about Bobby Evans at right tackle. We hope we are proven wrong on Evans, but his performance in the preseason does not accurately fill us with confidence.
Speaking of backups, the less said about Jamil Demby, the better. The point here is that a combination of injuries and decisions on draft day and other problems have decimated this team.
4- Turnovers-- We are not going to pile on Jared Goff to the extent that others are, because a lot of his statistical decline has been due to inadequate pass protection and the decline of the running game. We think he is still a winning quarterback with a chance to reach the elite level IF some of the other problems get straightened out. Even so, he needs to do a better job of protecting the football. That means taking a sack sometimes instead of trying to get rid of the ball and not trying to compete for passes when his receiver is covered. He did not suddenly forget how to play quarterback in the NFL or lose his talent. However, he is trying to do too much at times. A sack is almost always better than a turnover.
Goff is getting an unfair portion of the blame for the disappointing season the Rams are having. People cite his declining numbers compared to when the Rams were dominating the NFC. His numbers ARE down, but the problem with that criticism is that football is a team game, and it is hard to complete passes when we are always under pressure.
Give him the running game and the pass protection he used to have, and he will shine once again. The ''Goff sucks" crowd does not want to hear that, because blaming the quarterback is always accessible. In Goff's case, the numbers do not exactly lie, but they do leave out a whole lot of details. Naysayers who have not watched the Rams play, or who lack a deep understanding of the game, cannot view it or comprehend the fact.
It is easier and more fun to blame Jared Goff. He is not perfect, but he is not the biggest issue with the 2019 Rams.
The 2019 Rams are probably not going to be a playoff team. It is a possibility that the Rams do not finish with a winning record. The offensive line is a mess, the running game has all but disappeared, and the remaining schedule is brutal, including games with the Ravens: Forty-Niners (on the road), Seattle and Dallas. A final record of 9-7 or 8-8 seems like a reasonable guess, and a losing record is not out of the question.
There are some positives. This team is a missed field goal and an obvious officiating blunder (an incomplete pass that ruled as a fumble) from being 7-2. The defense has been stellar. The special teams have been up-and-down but still rate as among the better units in the league.
The good news? The problems are fixable. The offensive line needs a serious upgrade. The Rams do not have a first-round pick in 2020 (or 2021), but hysteria about "not having any picks" among some fans is not pure. We should be able to pick up quality offensive linemen in the second and third rounds, and trades or moves to free up cap space are not out of the question for a team that has shown the willingness to pursue personnel moves that will improve the team aggressively.
The other critical factor going forward is some decision on Todd Gurley. Is he still a bell-cow back? Part of a running back by committee? He may never be the 1,200-yard rusher he has been, but it seems like the Rams are afraid to use him. The thinking here is that a committee of Gurley, Henderson, and Brown may sound like a law firm, but they could still form an effective rushing attack with a better 0-line and a genuine commitment to running the ball.
Indeed, the Rams face some critical personal decisions on people like Corey Littleton and Dante Fowler, both of whom are free agents after this season (as is Micheal Brockers). The future of Brandin Cooks with the Rams (and the NFL, is very much up in question. He has suffered multiple concussions, and the Ram's overall talent level is comparable to any team in the NFL.
There is no reason they cannot return to Super Bowl contention in 2020.
Overview: In some ways, these two teams are mirror images of one another: outstanding defenses, offensive challenges, and disappointing seasons. Either team would probably have almost to win out to have any hope of making the playoffs. We do not think the Chicago Bears are heading for the postseason, and the Los Angeles Rams face an uphill fight at this point and look like a long shot as well, especially given their schedule
Rams Offense vs. Bears Defense: The Rams offense was just awful last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it will not get any easier for them. They start Bobby Evans, a rookie out of Oklahoma, at right tackle, where he will be assigned the job of containing Khalil Mack. The good news for the Rams is that Mack is having an off-year. The bad news is that he is still Khalil Mack, starting against a rookie that was inactive until recently and who did not look good in the pre-season. Matters worse, all three Rams tight ends--Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, and Johnny Mundt-- listed as questionable. The Rams O-line, in general, has been a disaster area this season, and the loss of center Brian Allen (out for the year) and right tackle Rob Havenstein for the Bears game does not help matters. Just in case we thought it could not get worse, center/guard Austin Blythe did not practice on Friday due to a stomach ailment. The team is optimistic that he will play, but who knows.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, by the way, was suffering from the same condition and was also listed as "questionable."
Will the Rams go ground and pound? They may have to if they want Jared Goff to survive this game. One of the mysteries of last week's Steelers loss is why Sean McVay stopped using Todd Gurley in the fourth quarter? Gurley looked like the Gurley of old, notching 73 yards rushing and a six-yards per carry average through three quarters, and then the Rams stopped using him. The problem this week, of course, is that the poor state of the O-line may mean whether the running is Gurley, Darrell Henderson, or Malcolm Brown, there may not be anywhere to run.
Did we mention wide receiver Brandin Cooks is out?
The Rams offense scored three points against the Steelers last week. We hope they can somehow put 10 points up against the Bears. Anything more than 14 from them would probably be considered an offensive explosion. We can always hope.
Rams Defense vs. Bears Offense: So, after reading the last segment, we might assume that we think the Rams do not have a chance in this game. That assumption would be incorrect, only because the Bears offense has been sputtering all season. The Bears is a team that gained 9--count them, 9--yards in the first half against the Eagles a couple of weeks ago.
The Bears play has been so awful, that quarterback Mitch Trubisky demanded that all televisions and radios at team headquarters be turned off. It was to mute and not hear the negative commentary about the team, the general manager, and Trubinsky personally. It is hard to believe the Bears took Trubisky ahead of MVP candidate and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (among others) a couple of years ago.
Can we say Ryan Leaf, boys, and girls?
While the Bears offense is not as injury-plagued as the Rams going into this game, they will be missing both tight ends, Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. Running back David Montgomery, one of the few relatively bright spots in this unit, is listed as questionable.
The Bears with an upset win against the Rams last season kept Aaron Donald under control; by double and even triple-teaming him. That is not unusual for AD, but unlike many other teams, the Bears were able to make it work. However, the Rams defense is probably better than they were then, and edge rusher Dante Fowler is a big reason why. His fumble recovery last week against the Steelers was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal game for Los Angeles. Fowler has been looking like the former number-one draft pick (of the Jaguars) he once was. Fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews has likewise been playing well, meaning that if the Bears load up on Donald, they could be asking for trouble. Throw in inside linebacker Corey Littleton and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and this is a very talented unit.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy hired before last season as the Bears Head Coach based on a reputation as an offensive genius. As with Rams coach Sean McVay, this game will test that reputation.
Just in case we are wondering, the last time an NFL game ended in a 0-0 tie was back in 1943 as the Giants and Lions achieved that dubious distinction.
Special Teams: The Bears continue to be plagued by placekicking woes after losing a playoff game against the Eagles last year on a missed field goal attempt. They have changed kickers, but it continues to be a problem area. The Rams special teams have been erratic, including a botched fake punt last week against the Steelers. They still get the edge this week.
Prediction: Oddsmakers are picking the Rams by 6.5, which means they think someone will score some points. The Rams are at home, and if both teams were healthy would stand a good chance of covering that spread. This is a Rams blog, and we are Ram fans, so...
Rams 13 Bears 10
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
Brian Allen, the Los Angeles Rams starting center, placed on the I.R. after suffering an injury to his right knew. Allen tore his MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament) Sunday after the Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-12. On the previous play, Allen would get up limping and after a timeout, the very next play he was bull rushed and stayed down after falling to the field.
Allen becomes the second starting offensive lineman to be lost for the season, as his fellow draft mate Joseph Noteboom lost after tearing his PCL (Posterior Crucial Ligament) and MCL tear. The Rams never faced adversity with the offensive line as they had the same starters for two consecutive seasons.
Allen has struggled all season long by trying to adjust to the defenses that he faced. Allen's two costly penalties against the Seattle Seahawks on a final drive killed better scoring opportunities for the Rams as they lost the game. According to PFF (Pro Football Focus), Allen ranked the 27th overall center with a grade of 53.9 is part of the demise of the Rams offensive line along with injuries.
The Rams have moved their starting right guard Austin Blythe at the center position, and will now start newly allocated Austin Corbett at right guard. The Rams also will be out starting right tackle Rob Havenstein and will start rookie Bobby Evans Jr in Havenstein's spot.
Allen will have surgery sometime next week, and the rehabilitation process will follow immediately afterward. He will need to come back stronger than before as his position more than likely will be up for grabs next training camp.
Ed "Pi Double I" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams have ruled out their franchised wide receiver Brandin Cooks for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Cooks, which is still in the concussion protocol after suffering his fourth concussion in 18 months, took a helmet to helmet hit in the Ram's first series against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago.
Last week, the Cooks flew to Pittsburgh to see a concussion specialist determine what were causing the concussions. Cook's had a pleasant visit during the Rams bye week and would return for a second visit days before the Rams were to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cooks eventually would be ruled out against the Steelers as the Rams could have used him that week.
Cooks returned earlier this week for another follow up with the specialist; the visit did not turn out well as the Rams ruled that he will not play this week at home against the Chicago Bears. Third-year receiver Josh Reynolds has replaced Cooks since the Bengals game will continue to fill into his spot in the lineup.
Rams will miss Cook's speed by taking the top off the defense vertically to get receivers such as Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp underneath. The organization has taken his injury serious, which may prompt an early retirement from Cooks if they continue.
Overview: In some ways, these teams are in identical situations, trying to build on short winning streaks and facing virtual ''must-win" games every week. Both teams are also somewhat banged up, with the Rams missing wide receiver Brandin Cooks and Pittsburgh Steelers going without starting running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Shuster listed as questionable. Both of these teams have fallen somewhat short of expectations this season, and continuing to do so on Sunday would be a severe blow to either team's playoff hopes.
Rams Offense vs. Steeler Defense: The Steelers are rated 11th in overall defense (just ahead of the Rams at 12). They are 16th in rush defense and 10th in pass defense. One thing the Steelers do pretty well is pressure the quarterback, and coming into this game ranked 4th in total sacks per game. Los Angeles Rams starting tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein will be severely tested, lining up against pass rushers T.J. Watt (7 sacks in 2019) and Bud Dupree (6 sacks). Whitworth has been showing his age this season, and Havenstein just has not played very well much of the time, so this could be a problem, especially since Rams quarterback Jared Goff is not the same player when he is under pressure. Will the Rams, go to more two-tight-end sets with Cooks out and the Steelers pass rush a big concern? We will have to wait and see. With Rams Coach Sean McVay, we can never be sure what the Rams offense might do (especially coming off a bye week).
Another way to counter a fierce pass rush, of course, is to get the running backs involved in the offense, both as runners and receivers. We have been seeing more or rookie running back Darrell Henderson lately, and he is a capable receiver as well as a runner. It seems like the Rams have been limiting Todd Gurley so far in 2019. It is not entirely clear whether they are just trying to keep him fresh or whether he is not the same player due to injuries. However, if he still can thoughtfully contribute, it is time for the Rams to take him out of the garage and back onto the street.
The Rams will also get running back Malcolm Brown to return this week. One way or another, the Rams need to get the running backs more involved this week. The success of Gurley, Henderson, and Brown in this game could well determine whether Los Angeles notches a win or suffers a devastating loss on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The loss of Cooks hurts the Rams passing game in the fact that he is their one-true game-breaker, a guy who can take the top off the defense with his speed. He will be replaced this week by Josh Reynolds. Reynolds does not have Cooks' speed, but he is a big, physical receiver who played well last week stepping in for Cooks. One relatively good thing for the Rams is that unlike the loss of Cooper Kupp last season, Reynolds can step right into Cooks' role as an outside receiver. That means Robert Woods does not need to move into the slot, where he is less effective.
Speaking of Kupp, he is having a breakout season, with 58 catches for 792 yards. That projects out to almost 1,600 yards over a full 16-game season. While Kupp may not be the fastest guy on the field, he runs excellent routes, catches almost everything thrown his way, and is a smart, fierce competitor. The main job of shutting him down will fall to Steelers slot corner Mike Hilton. Hilton is a little undersized but is a fierce, gritty competitor (much like Kupp in that regard). The Steelers will probably want Hilton in man-to-man coverage against Kupp because the Rams wide-out kills zone coverage.
The Rams have gradually been using tight ends Tyler Higbee and especially Gerald Everett more in recent weeks. With Cooks out this week, that trend may continue.
We are tempted to check this box for the Rams, but they have to deal with the Steelers effectively pass rushers or else rev up the running and short passing games. Until we see how that works out... we will rate this as a draw.
Rams Defense vs. Steelers Offense: This is the side of the ball where the Steelers are hurting. As everyone knows, Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger went down earlier this year with an injury and replaced by backup Mason Rudolph. Rudolph is not Rothlisberger, not in terms of arm strength, leadership, or experience. He has not been bad at first glance, with a passer rating of 94.7 and 10 touchdowns to only four picks--very respectable numbers for a backup. However, where the Steelers have suffered this season is in the red zone. Last year the Steelers led the league in touchdown percentage in the red zone; this year, they have dropped to 28th. That is a significant big deal, although it is hard to say for sure how much of that is Rudolph's fault.
The Steelers will also be without starting tailback James Connor and are generally thin at running back, with backup Benny Snell and fullback Roosevelt Nix also out of action. Running back Trey Edmunds will play after being considered questionable all week, and Jaylen Samuels will also see time at tailback for the Steelers. Samuels' strength is thought to be as a receiver out of the backfield, but he has averaged 4.6 yards per carrying this season as a runner. The Steeler offense, in general, has not been great this season, 28th overall in yards per game. They are a little better in the scoring offense--18th--but even so, this is not an offensive powerhouse even when healthy. The injuries certainly will not help that situation. That situation will be made even worse if their top receiver, JuJu Smith-Shuster, misses the game with a toe injury. He has rated as questionable, but we think he will probably play. To add insult to Smith-Shuster's injury--literally in this case--Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said Smith Shuster is "no Antonio Brown" and that he is ''not worried" about covering Smith-Shuster. Usually, do not like to give an opponent ''bulletin board material,'' but trash-talking is part of Ramsey's game, and he usually backs it up. Meanwhile, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips quoted as saying he was not sure whether Ramsey would be shadowing Smith-Shuster on Sunday.
The Rams defense will get a boost with the return of outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who notched five sacks before suffering a broken jaw against the Seattle Seahawks. Add Matthews to edge-rusher Dante Fowler and all-world defensive lineman Aaron Donald and it all adds up to nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers can be expected to avoid Ramsey as much as possible in favor of fellow corners Troy Hill and Nickel Robey-Coleman. Hill has made great strides over the last couple of years, and his emergence was one reason the Rams felt comfortable trading away starting corners Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib, replacing that duo with Ramsey and Hill. The Rams are still missing safety John Johnson, but Marquis Christian has been solid in his absence. The Rams have been going with three safeties on the field much of the time, with rookie Taylor Rapp replacing an inside linebacker and joining Eric Weddle and Christian on the field. Ram inside linebacker Cory Littleton has been a terror to opposing offenses, both in coverage and against the run.
The Rams rushing defense, which has been a weakness the past couple of years, has shown vast improvement, ranking 9th this season and allowing yards per game. That is still not great, but it is an improvement. It will be interesting to see if they can shut down the Steelers backup running backs.
Special Teams: Rams return man JoJo Natson has been missing practice this week with an illness. We will check this box for the Rams.
Prediction: The Steelers will be at home and have been hitting their stride lately. Even so, with all of the injuries on offense, they do not seem well-equipped for a shootout. A big question mark in this game is the Steelers pass rush and what the Rams will do to counter it. However, Sean McVay has had two weeks to the game plan, and even though the Rams are a little banged up, their injuries overall probably are not as severe as what the Steelers are facing.
Rams 27, Steelers 24
Ed "Pi Double I" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams resign their original seventh-round draft choice Dakota Allen to the team's practice squad. Allen, released by the Rams, during the final cuts of the 53-man final roster, surprised many of his release. Allen gave an immediate impression to everyone on the Rams coaching staff and became the fan-favorite.
Allen fulfilled a 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.
Allen cleared waivers, and the Rams added him as their first practice squad signee. However, he would not remain with the Rams long at all.
The NFL for suspended the Oakland Raiders starting linebacker Vontaze Burflict for an egregious hit on Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle. They also would lose their other starting linebacker Marquel Lee to a season-endng ankle injury prompting them to add Allen.
Allen's tenure with the Raiders would come to an end last week as the Raiders added a couple of veterans Will Compton and Brandon Marshall to their rosters. Allen's third time signing with the Rams should be a charm as he will excel in the team field.
Ed "Pi Double i" Henderson
Revised 10/29/2019 11:00AM PST
The Los Angeles Rams have traded veteran cornerback Aqib Talib to the Miami Dolphins after trading for him a season ago. The Rams front office reported over the weekend that they were shopping Talib just days after trading their other starting corner Marcus Peters to the Baltimore Ravens. They were able to move Talib just before the end of the trade deadline.
Talib was acquired via trade with the Broncos last season for a 2018 fifth-round draft pick that would reunite him with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. In his first season with the Rams, Talib would get injured in the third game of the season, spending eight weeks on the IR. Upon his return, he helped the Rams to get to Super Bowl LVIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
Talib for the second straight season landed on the IR after injuring his ribs against the Seattle Seahawks. Talib was inactive against the San Francisco 49ers as the Rams lost their third consecutive game. The following Monday morning, the team placed Talib on the IR.
Reportedly Talib blocked two previous attempts by the Rams before agreeing with the trade to the Dolphins. Talib, a Dallas native, starred at Lloyd V. Berkner High School in Richardson, TX, a suburb outside the Dallas area.
The Rams are sending Talib and a fifth-round pick for a future late round draft pick to named later, to create cap space to potentially sign Ramsey to contract extension. Ideally Talib is not on the books for next season however, the Rams can move some of the signing bonus into this year salary.