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.