Rams vs.Texans Overview: On paper, this seems like 15.5 points favor a mismatch the Los Angeles, and the Texans are, well, not good. They come in at 1-6 and on a 6-game losing streak. Easily their best player, quarterback DeShaun Watson, is caught in a never-never land of legal issues and ongoing trade talks that never actually seem to go anywhere. He has not played all year and will not on Sunday.
Having said all of that, you never know about the Rams. They have a disturbing tendency to play to the level of the competition. Such as losing to an 0-12 Jets team last year. Or even last week's win against a winless Lions team that played hard and used special teams trickery to keep what should have been a blowout game interesting for about three quarters.
The Rams should win this game easily. But this is the NFL, and you can never be sure.
Rams Offense Vs. Texans Defense: For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth among fans about the supposed ineptness of the Rams defense, the numbers say they aren't actually all that bad. 7th in the league in points allowed, tenth in total defense. The DVOA (Defense Adjusted Value Over Average] rankings going into this week had them third in the NFL. The perception that they are "terrible" probably developed by two things: A truly offensive showing on national television against the Cardinals earlier this season and a general tendency among some fans to expect perfection on every play in every game.
It just doesn't work that way, of course, but fans will be fans.
That is not to say there aren't some areas that need improvement, especially the run defense, where the Rams are a mediocre 15th in the league. This week will mark the debut of the rookie third-round draft selection Ernest Jones as a starting inside linebacker. Jones replaces the traded starting linebacker, Kenny Young. Jones is an innovative, hard-nosed player, but he's not known for his athleticism or skills in coverage, so we'll see what develops. The Rams coaches seem to like him a lot more than the scouts ever did.
The whole Young trade is just mystifying, especially since Young was a defensive standout, and the other inside 'backer, Troy Reeder, has not been great. Reeder makes some plays, but an inside linebacker duo of Reeder and Jones certainly raises some questions in terms of athleticism. Reeder and Jones sort of sound like a law firm—let's hope they can lay down the law to opposing offenses. Honestly, we aren't so sure about that.
The Texans will start rookie quarterback Davis Mills this Sunday against the Rams. He has had his moments, but he's no comparison to DeShaun Watson. He's probably not even Tyrod Taylor, who would be starting for Houston if he wasn't injured. This week, Texans coach David Culley said that no matter what happens, Houston will not let Aaron Donald wreck his offense. Translation: expect two or three blockers on AD on every play.
That's nothing new, but it should allow guys like Terrell Lewis and Leonard Floyd to have some chances to wreak havoc.
The Rams are dealing with some injuries with cornerback Robert Rochelle, and nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day are out. Joseph-Day, in particular, has been playing well, so that could be of some concern.
Houston this week traded away their most productive running back, Mark Ingram, sending him back to New Orleans Saints. Even with Ingram, Houston was averaging only 80 yards rushing per game. They are a little better through the air at 209 yards per game, but it would appear that Houston can't win a shootout with the Rams. Houston is 30th in total offense, so their winning formula probably involves a low-scoring game with some Ram turnovers, and maybe a couple of big plays on special teams, like Detroit got last week.
Rams Offense vs. Texans Defense: For some reason, the Rams have been prone to slow starts all season, which Coach McVay has commented on and is not pleased with the play. Houston is rated 26th in team defense and is giving up 29 points a game. The Rams, meanwhile, will be missing their best offensive lineman, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is out with a knee injury. Joseph Noteboom will replace him at tackle, who played well last season subbing for Big Whit.
Texans defensive end Jonathon Greenard is quietly having a great year so far, notching seven sacks. The former Florida Gator can generate a pass rush that could make Rams quarterback Matt Stafford uncomfortable. He likely will face off against Rams Right Tackle Rob Havenstein, who so far has been so good that McVay recently said he is "playing as well as any right tackle in the league."
The Rams Cooper Kupp is having a truly historic season at wide receiver, with his stats so far projecting out to about 1,900 yards. Kupp is so far not mentioned as an MVP candidate. Maybe he should be, although the MVP is almost always a quarterback.
If the Rams can get out to a lead, we might see them do something they haven't done much of all-season—go ground and pound. Could this be a breakout game for running back Darrell Henderson?
The Texan's two best players on defense from last season, J.J. Watt and Whitney Marcellus, are no longer playing with the Texans. Outside of Greenlaw, there isn't a ton of talent on the field for this defense by NFL standards. But again, this is the NFL, and you never know.
Special Teams: This area was a disaster for the Rams last week, giving up two fake punts and an onside kick to an aggressive Lions team, all of which Detroit executed successfully. You have to think the Texans coaching staff took notes and will try to pull off some trick plays this week. They probably will have to make fakes to pull off an upset.
Rams punter Johnny Hekker has been good this season. Placekicker Matt Gay has had one bad game but has mostly been solid. Otherwise, special teams have been this team's weak spot. Return teams and kick coverage have been problematic. That needs to change.
Coaching: It's hard to evaluate how good the Texan's coaching staff is because they don't have much to work with in terms of talent. Rams Special Teams Coach Joe DeCamillis must feel his seat getting warm, and Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris has no shortage of critics either. But Houston Texans Head Coach David Culley would probably get some votes for coach of the year if he could go 7-10 with this team
That's pretty unlikely.
Final Prediction: This is the NFL, and "stuff" happens. Houston is playing at home and has nothing to lose. The Rams are vulnerable on special teams and have a recent history of letting inferior opponents hang around way longer than they should. They also could be looking past this game to next week's battle with one of the hottest teams in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans. Those are all reasons why Houston could pull the upset.
But we wouldn't bet on it.
Rams 34, Houston 21