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
Overview: On paper, this looks like an easy win for the Rams, but there are no "gimme" games in the NFL. Last season the Rams visited the New York area for what seemed like an easy win against a winless Jets team. At the end of the game, the Jets had their first victory; in fact, Los Angeles in recent years has had some bad outings when traveling to the east coast. It's also worth noting that the Giants did pick up their first win against a Saints team that is at least decent a couple of weeks ago,
Throw in the fact that the Rams defense is ranked 23rd in the league going into this weekend and is not missing starting corner Darious Williams, and the potential for an upset is there.
Rams Defense vs. Giants Offense: This is the side of that ball that has Rams fans concerned, and with good reason. A unit that was first in the league last season under now-departed defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has not been excellent so far in 2021. The adjustment period to the new D.C. Raheem Morris has been a bumpy one. The Rams miss safety John Johnson in particular and corner Troy Hill. Part of the problem is that the guys replacing safety Taylor Rapp and (mostly) cornerback David Long has not played very well. Last week Robert Rochelle did a credible job replacing Long at cornerback, but the injury to Williams likely means Long will see more snaps again this week. He has to play better than he did in a disastrous game a couple of weeks ago against the Cardinals.
The Giants may try to attack Rapp with tight end Evan Engram. Rapp is decent against the run, but his coverage skills have been a liability this season. Engram is an athletic tight end who can run, so the Rams may need to adjust or get Rapp to help in coverage. One on one, this is not a good matchup for the Rams. Might we see more of Terrell Burgess safety this week?
The last time Long saw extensive playing time, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals went after him with a fair amount of success. The Giants receiving corps is certainly not on par with Arizona's, especially with wideout Kenny Golladay out with an injury. Even so, Long may be a marked man on Sunday, assuming he gets a fair amount of snaps.
The marquee matchup in this game could be Rams corner Jalen Ramsey against Giants wideout Kadarius Toney, The G-men's former first-round pick out of Florida. As bad as the Giants outing was in a road loss to Dallas last week, Toney had an NFL coming-out party of sorts, with ten catches for 189 yards. While the Rams under Morris move Ramsey around a lot, it seems likely that he will match up against Toney more often than not. Toney did reveal a possible weak spot last week when he was goaded into throwing a punch at a Cowboys safety. Ramsey, who is almost as well known for his trash-talking as he is for his elite physical ability, may try to get under the rookie's skin with some insults and verbal jabs.
The Giants will be without their biggest offensive weapon, running back Saquon Barkley, who is injured. Quarterback Daniel Jones will play and listed as questionable is Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas. We crave for him to play, but a more prominent issue could be at the other tackle position, where Nate Solder, the former Patriot, has struggled. Rams edge rusher Leonard Floyd could have a big day if he can take advantage of Solder.
You can't talk about the Rams defense without mentioning Aaron Donald, who missed practice this week with a swollen knee. The latest word was is that A.D. will play on Sunday. While Donald only has three sacks in five games this year, that's a bit deceptive because he's been pressuring opposing quarterbacks and spending a good deal of time-fighting backfields. Daniel Jones has a history of being fumble prone, although he is more mobile and athletic than you might assume. This game could get ugly if the Rams can force him into a turnover or two or sack him multiple times.
We will check this box for the Rams based on talent and the injuries to Barkley and Golladay, but the Rams defense needs to start playing better. Looking at you, David Long and Taylor Rapp.
If Jones can get time to throw and the Rams can't fix their coverage issues, this game could be a lot closer than people think, and the Giants could pull the upset.
Rams Offense vs. Giants Defense: Dallas hung 44 points on this defense last week, and the Rams are certainly capable of a similar tally if they play well and avoid mistakes. New York's defense looked like it was starting to jell last season, but they have been pretty bad so far in 2021, ranking 29th in the league in yards allowed. They have been a little better in scoring defense (but not much), allowing an average of just under 28 points a game. Their offense isn't going to rack up 30 points a game very often, so they have to play better if they want to avoid last place in an admittedly weak NFC East.
The Giant's best defensive lineman is Leonard Williams. They move him around much as the Rams do with Aaron Donald, and they may try to get him lined up against Rams guard David Edwards, the relatively weak link in a perfect offensive line. Williams hasn't been pressuring opposing quarterbacks as well as the Giants would like so far this season. They need that to change on Sunday. The Giants will also be hoping that outside linebacker Azeez Olujari. Olujari will try to blow by Rams correct tackle Rob Havenstein and pressure Matt Stafford. Havenstein has had a good season so far, but he historically has had problems with athletic pass-rushers, such as Olujari.
Robert Woods came out of hiding last week and had a massive game against the Seahawks. He'll probably see a lot of corner James Bradberry, who has a good reputation as a defender but has struggled this season. We don't think the Giants secondary, in general, matched up very well with Ram's talented group of receivers, so they need to pressure Stafford. Stafford, for whatever reason, has been prone to slow starts this season, but he can be deadly once he gets going.
The Rams have not emphasized the ground game all that much this season, but Darrel Henderson, in particular, has shown flashes of being very good. The Giants are giving up an average of 138 yards on the ground (almost 200 yards against Dallas last week), and one of the best ways to neutralize a pass rush (if Williams and Oluzari can win their respective battles) is with a strong running game. It would also help keep what has been a suspect Rams defense off the field, but so far, the Rams haven't shown any particular liking for a "ground and pound' approach, even when the running game seems to be working.
Special Teams: This area seems to be an ongoing problem for the Rams, with kicker Matt Gay last week suffering a lousy game against the Seahawks. Gay was listed on the injury report with an ankle problem but is expected to play on Sunday. He's been pretty good this season until last week, so it's possible that he was either slightly injured or had a bad day.
Johnny Hekker has been chiefly solid at punter for the Rams, but special teams have not been a team strength so far. Giants head coach Joe Judge was Bill Belichick's special team's coach in New England, and New York has guys on the roster simply on the strength of their special teams play more often than you usually find in the NFL. If they are to pull the upset on Sunday, special teams could be a factor.
Coaching: While Rams Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris and Special Teams Coach Joe DeCamillis are under pressure to get better performances from their respective units, we still like Sean McVay as an offensive innovator. The Rams also have superior roster talent overall, and good players make good coaches.
Final Prediction: The Rams are favored by 9.5 in this game, and they should win. Not only are they more talented, they are also healthier.
The Giants probably need some big plays on special teams and an off day from the Rams offense to win this game. Stafford has been streaky, and the Rams have a history of not playing well on long road trips back east, so this game could surprise some people if the ball takes a few funny bounces.
But you have to like the Rams chances overall:
Rams 34 Giants 23
Overview—This is not a "must-win" for either team, but it is essential. Arizona has a very winnable home game on Sunday against a banged-up San Francisco team with a rookie quarterback. That means if the Rams lose, they most likely fall two games behind in the NFC West race. That's not insurmountable, especially with twelve games remaining on the new 17 game schedule. But it's not good either.
It may be an even bigger game for Seattle, as a loss would leave them (in all probability) three games out in the division race. That's getting into longshot territory in terms of the division. You don't like to write off the division race five games into the season, and that is almost where a loss would leave Seattle if the Cardinals beat the San Francisco Forty-Niners.
The Rams also want to prove that last week's debacle against the Cardinals does not represent the 2021 Los Angeles Rams. If they lose badly on the road in Seattle, we'll have to wonder about that.
Rams Defense vs. Seahawks Offense: We think the Rams will score some points in this game (more on that in a moment). That likely means the Seahawk's offense will have to put some points on the board, which is a task they are more than capable of achieving.
According to Rams Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris, cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be matched up with D.K. Metcalf. That's a matchup of a couple of very physical players and a battle that Ramsey mostly won last season. On the other side, it's Darius Williams against Tyler Lockett. Lockett has been making some big plays this season, so that could be a key battle in this game.
After seeing what the Cardinals could do against Rams corner David Long last weekend, we're guessing long will be a marked man. Even Raheem Morris publicly admitted that Long just wasn't very well last week. That is simply the truth, and Long has to be better if he continues to see action for the 2021 Rams.
At last report, 'Hawks running back Chris Carson was rated as "questionable" for this game. We think he will play. He's Seattle's best back, and this is a big game. Arizona rushed for 200 yards on Sunday. While Kyler Murray played well, you can't give up 120 yards to the likes of Chase Edmonds and expect to win. Carson, if he is reasonably healthy, is a better running back than Edmonds.
You can't talk about this game without mentioning Russell Wilson's worst nightmare—Aaron Donald. A.D. has to hat some of his biggest games against Seattle, including a road win in the playoffs last season.
The Rams don't seem to be the same defense as in 2020 when the unit ranked number one. DC Morris is catching some heat, and the losses of safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill seem to be having an impact. The Los Angeles D has to play better and specifically tackle better than they did on Sunday.
Rams Offense vs. Seattle Defense: While the Rams defense has not been perfect this season, the Seattle defense has been even worse. They were ranked dead last in the NFL in several categories. They've been awful against the run. One of the few bright spots for the Rams last week was running back Darrell Henderson, who had a big day until Los Angeles got a little pass-happy in their play calling. Part of that was a function of falling behind in the game, but Henderson may be the only Ram who played well last week.
They can't say the same for Sony Michel, who had a critical fumble that led to an Arizona touchdown and didn't get many carries. Michel was much better two weeks ago against Tampa Bay, but we're guessing Henderson will get most of the carries on Thursday night, assuming his still-sore ribs are up to it. If Ram's defense is as bad as they looked last week, a lot of long, time-consuming drives to keep Russell Wilson on the sidelines would undoubtedly help.
Neither quarterback Matthew Stafford nor wide receiver Cooper Kupp plays exceptionally well on Sunday. Stafford did throw for 280 yards, but he also turned the ball over and missed several open receivers. Kupp did not play up to his usual standards, and Arizona focused on stopping him, especially third down. Since that worked, you have to assume that Seattle will try the same strategy.
Where have you gone, Robert Woods? In recent years, woods, who has been a key contributor to the Rams offense, has all but disappeared in 2021. That needs to change, especially if the 'Hawks double up on Kupp, as we think they might. Vann Jefferson has had some big catches, but he can do more as well. The same could be said for tight end Tyler Higbee.
The Legion of Boom is a distant memory, but Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner remains. He's probably the best middle linebacker in the NFL. If the Rams go smash mouth, he'll be a key contributor in limiting the Rams running game.
Seattle's pass rush has shown some signs of life in 2021 after not being very good last season. The Rams O-line has given up a league-low three sacks. The battle in the trenches" may well decide this game.
Special Teams: The Ram's special teams have been showing improvement as the season goes on, but Seattle gets the edge here.
Coaching: We'll take Sean McVay over any NFL coach not named Bill Belichick. But Rams Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris is under some pressure due to his unit's underwhelming performance so far. One exciting matchup will be Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. A former Rams assistant, going against Morris and his former team. You could probably argue this category, but we are going to check the box for Los Angeles.
Final Prediction: This could very well be a high-scoring, close game. But there is an old gambling adage (presented here for entertainment purposes only, of course) that you should always take a good team coming off a bad game. That's the Rams.
Rams 38 Seattle 35