Overview: On paper, the Los Angeles Rams should win this game. But they should have won the first game on paper too. Sadly, the field's result was very different, as the Rams played what may have been the worst game of the 2020 season on the road at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. It was a frankly awful performance, one that Aaron Donald rightly called "soft."
Poor tackling by the Rams defense made San Franciso 49ers running back Raheem Mostert look like the second coming of Jim Brown of Earl Campbell (he isn't). Meanwhile, Rams wideout Cooper Kupp had maybe his worst game as a pro, dropping a pair of potential touchdown passes and finishing with an abysmal three catches for 11 yards.
The final score was 24-16 in favor of San Francisco. That outcome does not give an accurate picture of the whipping that the Niners put on the Rams. They are capable of doing it again if the Rams come out flat.
The Niners have now won three straight games against the Rams. Theoretically, the Rams should win, but this is not an easy game for Sean McVay and co.
Coaching: This may be a fascinating matchup of this game. Kyle Shanahan is McVay's former boss in Washington, and the two are excellent friends, not to mention being two of the best offensive minds in the game. The game also has two defensive coordinators who may not belong for their current addresses, as both the Niners Robert Saleh and the Rams Brandon Staley are likely to be hot candidates for the head coaching jobs in the offseason.
This matchup may well decide who wins this game. We'll call it a tossup.
Rams Offense vs. 49er Defense: The 16 points the Rams scored in the first game probably doesn't give an accurate picture of how badly this unit played. Cooper Kupp will likely not only have three catches for 11 yards on Sunday, and hopefully, Jared Goff will better his numbers of 19-38 for 198 yards, although he did have two touchdowns.
There has been some complaining in Ramland this week about the running game's poor performance in the win over the Bucs on Monday night. We think that is somewhat overblown because 1) Tampa Bay has possibly the NFL's best rush defense, and 2) The Rams won the game and decimated the Buccaneers through the air. We think the Rams will feature a more balanced attack on Sunday.
Darrell Henderson rushed for 88 yards in the October loss. Look for him to do at least that well on Sunday. Cam Akers has been getting more touches lately, and of course, the reliable Malcolm Brown is always good for some tough yards between the tackles and in the red zone.
At last report, 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner was the only member of the Niners linebacking corps, sure to see the field on Sunday. Warner is an outstanding player, but if fellow starters Dre Greenlaw (listed as questionable) and Demetrius Flanagan Fowles (out) are both out, that's terrible news for the Niners. San Francisco will likely get cornerback Richard Sherman back, which will help in pass coverage. Fellow corner K'Waun Williams is out, but the Niners probably have enough depth in the secondary with Sherman returning to hold their own.
Sherman will likely shadow Rams wideout Cooper Kupp, while Robert Woods will take on Niners corner Jason Verrett. If the Rams get another 100 yards plus from both Kupp and Woods, as they did on Monday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will probably win this game. Woods named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his 12 receptions for 130 yards performance against the Buccaneers.The Niner's defense is outstanding when healthy, but they are missing critical pieces like Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas. The Rams will be without left tackle Andrew Whitworth and (probably) tight end Tyler Higbee. But they may not lose all that much with tackle Joseph Noteboom and tight end Gerald Everett stepping in as starters. Everett is virtually a co-starter with Higbee, and Noteboom has been perfect filling in for Whitworth. Noteboom probably is not the run blocker that Whitworth is, but his pass protection so far has been excellent.
Rams defense vs. Niners offense: The 49ers offense is missing some key players in this game, notably quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle. Kittle is probably the best at his position in the NFL, which is saying something with the plethora of tight end talent around the league these days. While we think Jimmy G may be somewhat over-rated by some, losing your starting quarterback is never a good thing.
The Niners may also be without left tackle Trent Williams and wideout Brandon Aiyuk, both on the COVID-19 protocol. As of Friday, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said an outside chance that Williams might play, while Aiyuk was unlikely.
But the Niners are expected to activate Mostert and wideout Deebo Samuel from the IR. Meanwhile, the Rams will be minus their leading tackler, inside linebacker Micah Kiser and outside linebacker Terrell Lewis is also considered doubtful with swelling in the knee.
What does all of that mean for the game? For the Rams, not having to account for Kittle is a huge deal. His nominal replacement, Jordan Reed, is a veteran tight end with some talent and questionable due to an illness. We have a hunch that Reed will play, but whether he will be 100 percent is an open question. Williams's potential loss at left tackle is likewise a problem, and one that Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley may scheme to take advantage of in the pass rush.
Niners backup quarterback Nick Mullens is a veteran who knows the offense and has generally played well when given a chance but pressures him into making some bad decisions (he threw a pair of picks in a loss to the Saints last week). He is also on the small side by NFL standards and lacks a strong arm or excellent mobility. That could be a problem against one of the league's better pass rushes, especially if Trent Williams ends up not playing.
San Francisco may counter those issues by going "ground and pound" on Sunday, especially now that they have Mostert back. The Rams have to do a better job of tackling in this game than they did in October. They also would like to get Aaron Donald going, as he was a relative non-factor in the first matchup, recording zero sacks, and only one tackle. AD says he's extra motivated this time around due to some 49er "trash talking" following the first game.
If you're in San Francisco, "poking the bear" may not be a good strategy, and there is no bigger NFL "bear" than Aaron Donald. If he plays like an angry grizzly on Sunday, watch out.
The Rams Leonard Floyd has been coming on as a pass rusher. The 49ers need right tackle Mike McGlinchey to hold his own against Floyd. That battle is significant for the Rams defense because of Lewis's likely absence, who is one of their better pass rushers.
We may see a lot of Rams corner Jalen Ramsey matched up against Samuel in this game. Samuel is a big, physical receiver, but Ramsey has been on a roll of late and has the tools to match up with him. Not having Kittle on the field helps the Rams defense, but they have to step up their tackling and run defense if they want a better outcome than they got in the week six matchup.
Special Teams: We would like to think the Rams have solved their placekicking woes after Matt Gay produced a reliable performance for the Rams on Monday night, missing one field goal attempt but otherwise doing the expectation despite not much practice time with the team. The 49ers Robbie Gould is a veteran kicker who has dealt with the pressure successfully time and again in a long NFL career. If you ask which kicker you would trust with the game on the line, the answer would have to be Gould.
The Rams get the edge at punter, with Johnny Hekker having another stellar season. But the overall play of the 49er's special teams, in general, has been better this season, and it's not all that close.
Prediction: Oddsmakers are picking the Rams by 6.5 in this game, and you have to like their chances to at least get a W. Significantly banged up with injuries, and replacing guys like Kittle, Bosa, and Jimmy G is a tall order for the 49ers. There is a reason why starters are starters in this league, and Kittle and Bosa are All-Pro caliber players who not easily replaceable.
Even so, the 49ers have a recent history of playing the Rams tough. San Francisco also has it's back to the wall playoff wise, and they are as well-coached as any team in the NFL.
An upset here would not shock anyone, but we just think the Rams are a little better team at this point when you factor in injuries.
Prediction: Rams 30 Niners 24
Ed "Pi Double I" Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams have placed Micah Kiser, their starting and team-leading inside linebacker, on the injured reserve list. Kiser, who injured his knee late in the game on Monday night as the Rams upset the highly favored Tampa Buccaneers 27-24.
Troy Reeder, the second-year linebacker, replaced Kiser for the remainder of the game and made one start this season. In Reeder's first 2020 start, not only did he record his first NFL sack, and added two additional sacks against The Washington Team. On normality, those stats would earn him a Defensive Player of the Week but only overshadowed by Aaron Donald's performance.
The Rams will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at So-Fi Stadium in an NFC rivalry game and seek to avenge their week six loss. It is unsure whether Reeder will get the start or the Rams will go with Justin Hollis or Kenny Young.
Kiser has suffered his third injury, with the Rams requiring him to miss games. Last season, Kiser missed the entire 2019 season with a torn pectoral, a groin injury week four against the New York Giants, and now his knee. At this time, it is uncertain whether Kiser's injury will require surgery and to miss the remainder of the season.
Overview: This is probably as tough of a matchup as the Rams will face all season. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unpredictable, they probably have as much talent on their roster as any team in the NFL. They don’t always play up to that level. Witness a 38-3 loss to the Saints a couple of weeks ago and an earlier season loss to a mediocre Bears team that they should have beaten. Even so, anytime you have Tom Brady and a receiving corps that includes Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, you can score points.
On defense, the Bucs are extremely hard to run on. And when the Rams have not been able to run the ball effectively this season, they usually have lost.
Coaching: Bruce Arians know the Rams well from his days leading the Arizona Cardinals, and the Bucs have a rising star in Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. But the Rams appear to have struck gold with defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is likely to be a hot candidate for a head coaching job come the offseason. Staley has done an excellent job designing creative defenses that get the most out of the Ram's talent.
He's almost a defensive version of McVay—an innovative mind who thinks outside the box and does the unexpected. Staley's mental chess game with Tom Brady will be one of the more exciting sub-plots to this game.
McVay has come under fire for his play-calling at times, but he still is one of the game's best offensive minds. Nobody disguises their plays better, as McVay runs a myriad of plays out of a few basic formations, never tipping his hand. He has had some lapses this season, notably doing a poor job of adjusting to blitzes against the Miami Dolphins. He's still one of the best, and we will give the Rams the edge here.
Rams Defense vs. Bucs Offense: Rams coach Sean McVay called the Tampa Bay offense a "Nightmare" this week. That isn't just coach talk; this is as deep of an offense as you will find anywhere in the NFL.
Let us start with the quarterback, who is widely considered the best to play the game. Yes, some think Tom Brady is in decline, and his arm is not what it used to be. The numbers say that's possible—he's 12th in the passer rating league at a still very respectable 99. That's not terrible by any means, and he has thrown 23 touchdowns versus only seven interceptions. Maybe those aren't Patrick Mahomes/Aaron Rodgers type numbers at this point, but they are still upper echelon by any measure.
Throw in the knowledge of the game, leadership, and competitive fire, and the Rams defense still has its work cut out in facing TB12.
Brady has, by his admission, had some issues throwing the deep ball this season. But this is a guy you never want to count out, especially when you consider that there is not a better set of receivers in 2020 than what the Bucs will put on the field on Monday night.
The key to beating Tom Brady historically has been by pressure, significantly pressure up the middle, where Aaron Donald comes into the picture. The Buccaneers must keep Donald under control to win this game, whether that means double teams, triple teams, or whatever else they can design. In his prime, Tom Brady was never the most mobile guy, but he does tend to get rid of the ball quickly.
If Aaron Donald has a big night, the Buc's very likely loses this game.
The Rams tend to move Donald around to get the most favorable matchups, and the Buccaneers will likely be without guard Ali Marpet, which doesn't help. Of course, holding Donald without any sacks does not guarantee a win. A prime example was the Rams victory over the division-rival Seattle Seahawks last week, where Donald recorded zero sacks. .
However, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd notched three, and rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis added two additional. That's in large part because of the Seahawk's double and triple-teamed Donald all night. And if you watched that game, you know Donald was still a factor, pressuring Seahawks QB Russell Wilson much of the night. Floyd was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his stellar performance against the Seahawks.
The job of shutting down Floyd will mainly fall to rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who may not get much help due to Donald's attention. Wirfs is athletic enough to match up with Floyd, but the Rams linebacker has been coming on, and defensive coordinator Brandon Staley may get creative using Floyd. Floyd is considered an underachiever is giving his tremendous athletic ability, but he may be hitting his stride. It doesn't hurt that he rarely gets double-teamed, thanks to Donald.
Eleven different Rams have logged sacks this year, and the Rams are second in sacks per game (they are lower in total sacks because other teams, including the Bucs, have not had a bye week). Pressuring Tom Brady will be the first task on Monday night.
Rams corner Jalen Ramsey is coming off a stellar performance against Seattle, in which he won his battle with Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf. It doesn't get any easier this week, as he likely will see a lot of Tampa Bay number one receiver Mike Evans is a big, physical wideout who presents a challenge to any defensive back. While his numbers on the season so far are just pretty good—forty receptions for 514 yards—you have to figure that he's had time to develop chemistry with T.B. 12 at this point. The fact that Tampa Bay can put so many good receivers on the field at once will challenge a Rams secondary that has been very good so far in 2020.
The Bucs is only 23rd in the league in rushing, averaging 103 yards per game. They do feature former USC star Ronald Jones, who is third in league with 730 yards. The Rams are fifth in the NFL in rushing defense, but they have had some lapses, notably in a loss to the 49ers in which Aaron Donald admitted that the team played "soft" on defense. They have been better since then in terms of rushing defense, but they can't afford a letdown in this game.
We're going to check this box for the Rams, but it's very, very close.
Rams Offense vs. Bucs Defense: While the Rams offense is seventh in the league in yards per game this season, they have not been on par with the team that went to to the Super Bowl in 2018, which averaged a touchdown more per game.
Part of the reason, of course, is the absence of former superstar Todd Gurley. Gurley was arguably the best running back in the league in his prime, but he's long gone at this point, following a severe decline that was primarily caused by health issues. That's not to say the Rams can't run the ball.
They are eighth in the league in yards rushing per game, and except for the Seattle game last week, the running game has set the tone for this offense. Second-year running back Darrell Henderson has emerged as the feature back, although coach Sean McVay tends to ride the hot hand.
Rookie Cam Akers has been getting more touches as of late, and Malcolm Brown gets a lot of the tough yards between the tackles. The Rams may have extra incentive to go "ground and pound" on Monday; long drives to prevent Tom Brady from having his hands on the ball.
The Bucs rushing defense has been stout this season, ranking first in the league in yards per game at 76. They are incredibly tough between the tackles, somewhat more vulnerable (but still outstanding) against the outside run. Linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David are excellent run defenders for the Bucs and given the difficulty of running straight up the middle against this defense. The Rams backs may have to try to make them miss in the open field. That will not be an easy task.
The Bucs best corner, Carlton Davis, will probably see a lot of the Rams Cooper Kupp on Monday night. But the Rams receivers are much like their running backs in that McVay and Goff tend to ride the hot hand. Lately, the team's nominal number three receiver, Josh Reynolds, has been seeing more action, and McVay keeps saying he wants to get Van Jefferson, the rookie out of Florida, more involved. It hasn't happened yet.
The Rams' problem in this game is that their passing game tends to be most effective when they can run the ball. That's not easy against Tampa Bay, and the Noteboom matchup against Pierre Paul is also worrisome. On the other hand, the Rams put up 40 points against the Bucs defense last season, with most of the same players in a 55-40 loss. We don't think this Rams defense will give up 55 points, and 40 points would probably win this game.
As on the other side of the ball, this is close. This time we're going to check the box for Tampa Bay.
Special Teams: Whom will the Rams placekicker be in this game? As of Sunday morning, we don't know. The kicking game has been a big problem for Los Angeles all season, and it remains a big question mark. The last report had former Bucs kicker Matt Gay and Austin MacGinnis on the roster after newly signed Kai Forbath suffered an ankle injury last week and was struggling. The problem here is that when you have two placekickers, it means neither one is that good. It becomes a problem; if someone doesn't emerge, it will eventually cost the Rams a game. Let's hope it isn't on tonight.
As bad as the Rams placekickers have been, that is how good punter Johnny Hekker has been. He's been the lone bright spot on a group of special teams, which has not been very good otherwise. At least the Rams seem to have gotten away from the idea of having Cooper Kupp (in favor of Nsimba Webster) return punts. That's a step in the right direction; there is much room for improvement across the board with the Rams special teams.
Tampa Bay's special teams have not been all that in recent years either, but they have been better this season. Kicker Ryan Succop was the NFC Special Teams Player of the week earlier this month.
The truth is that neither team features great overall special teams play, but the Rams dicey situation at placekicker tips the balance in favor of the Bucs.
Prediction: There are many intangibles in this game. It's yet another long trip back east for a Rams team that has piled up the frequent flier miles. Will the Rams come out flat following last week's big win against a division rival? Meanwhile, the Bucs are one of the few teams that have not had their bye week yet. You could wonder if the week-to-week grind and the minor injuries that accumulate with any unit that plays this very physical game might be a factor.
The Rams, meanwhile, have questions at left tackle and especially placekicker. Oddsmakers pick the Bucs by four and a half; neither of these teams has been a model of consistency.
Rams 27 Bucs 24
Overview: This isn’t quite a “must-win” for the Rams 2020 season, but if they lose, it will be challenging to win the NFC West division title. We still don’t know how good the Los Angeles Rams are in 2020. They have one win over a team with a winning record (Chicago), in addition to sweeping the awful NFC East. So, we know they can beat bad to mediocre teams. At some point, you have to defeat a legitimate contender to become a contender. Sunday will give them that probability.
Seattle, meanwhile, is a team with multiple personalities. Their offense is as good as any in the league, ranked third overall and first in passing offense. Quarterback Russell Wilson is still a leading contender for league MVP, although he was coming off a sub-par performance against the Buffalo Bills in a road loss last Sunday.
The Seahawk defense, however, is another story. Even with stellar performers as linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Jamal Adams, the results have not been immeasurable. The Seahawks are dead last in team defense, giving up a mind-blowing 455 yards per game. Seattle is 6-2 with that sort of defensive statistics reveals to you how good is their offense.
Coaching: It’s youth versus experience when the Seahawks Pete Carroll matches wits with the Rams Sean McVay. At 69, Carroll was the league’s oldest head coach until the Texans named Romeo Crennel as their interim head coach earlier this season. Meanwhile, McVay remains the league’s youngest head coach at 34 (in fact, he’s the only NFL head man under the age of 40).
There has been some grumbling over the past year-and-a-half about McVay as a play-caller. Former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner said following the Rams loss to the Dolphins that he didn’t understand why McVay didn’t do a better job adjusting to the Dolphins blitz packages. And more than a few observers feel that McVay tends to get pass-happy at times, neglecting the running game. It does seem like the Rams usually lose when they become one-dimensional on offense.
Even so, McVay is 4-2 vs. Carroll and the Seahawks, and he’s had two weeks to get ready for this matchup. We’re going to check this box for the Rams.
Rams Defense vs. Seahawks Offense: This is the marquee matchup of the day, matching two of the league's better units, with the number one scoring offense (Seattle) taking on the league's second-ranked scoring defense (the Rams).
When Seattle takes to the air, it's strength vs. strength matchup, with the league's number one passing offense going against the defense that allows the fewest net yards per passing attempt in the league. Ram's significant "weakness" on defense so far this season has been rushing defense, although it's not like they have been awful at fifth in the league in that category.
They did get gashed pretty badly by San Francisco a couple of weeks back. But the Seahawks may or may not have two of their top backs (Carlos Hyde and Chris Carson), and the Seahawks so far are a pedestrian 14th in rushing offense, unusually low for a Pete Carrol-coached team.
But the big fireworks for Seattle have been through the air, and the battle against the stingy Los Angeles Rams pass-defense may very well decide this game.
The defensive line will have an added element this week as defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson will see his first season's action. The Rams signed Robinson this offseason to help in the middle to allow Donald with less double and triple teams.
The Rams placed Robinson on the I.R. before the start of the season play in part due to a heart irregularity discovery. Robinson, drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, played as a disruptive run-stopper while at the University of Alabama, and the Rams are expecting him to produce that talent moving forward.
The marquee matchup pits Seahawks wideout D.K. Metcalf against Rams shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey, a battle that could be the best matchup of the NFL regular season in raw talent versus raw talent. Metcalf is a physical monster whose natural athletic ability is being compared by some former Lions great Calvin Johnson. Ramsey, meanwhile, is one of the truly elite cornerbacks in the NFL, although he doesn't always put up great stats because teams avoid throwing his way. The Ramsey vs. Metcalf battle makes this game a "must-see" event for diehard NFL fans all by itself.
One surprising thing about the Seahawks, given their overall offensive output, is that their O-line hasn't been all that great. Despite his mobility, Russell Wilson has been sacked 24 times in the Seahawks eight games, a number that is even more surprising when you consider how good Wilson is at avoiding the pass rush. Rams D-lineman Aaron Donald, meanwhile, comes into this game with nine sacks despite seeing double and even triple teams regularly. He'll mostly see action against Seattle guard Jordan Simmons, a relative bright spot up from for the Seahawks who has only allowed one sack. Aaron Donald has a history of coming up big against the Seahawks. If it happens again on Sunday, it will be awful news for the Seahawks.
The Rams will have one key player back on Sunday in rookie safety Jordan Fuller, sidelined the last few weeks. Despite only a sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Fuller has named himself a guy who makes big plays in crucial situations. Getting him back is good news for a Rams defense that will need all of the help it can muster in the secondary.
The key to this game may be whether Donald can wreak havoc upfront. If he can't, containing Russell at the level he is playing right now is asking a lot, even for a defense as good as the Rams.
Rams Offense vs. Seahawks Defense: Neither of these units has been excellent overall this season, but the Seahawks defense has been historically bad, especially for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Last week they become the first team this century to rack up seven sacks and still give up 44 points.
How does that even happen?
With abysmal play in the secondary, that's how. And that is despite the addition this season of Safety Jamal Adams, widely considered one of the league's best at his position. It doesn't help that Seattle starting corners Shaquille Griffin and Quinton Dunbar both are rule out due to injury. Rams wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods could have big days if the Seahawks didn't pressure Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
Now speaking on the Seahawks pass rush, one of the big question marks in this game. Before last week's outburst versus the Bills, the Seahawks pass rush had been a virtual non-factor. Getting Adams back helps, as blitzing the quarterback is one of his specialties. They also traded for Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who had one sack last week against the Bills and did a relatively good job of pressuring Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Seattle needs to keep the heat on Goff, who is coming off a frankly awful performance two weeks ago against the Dolphins. Goff had been pretty to very good before the Dolphins debacle. He needs to bounce back against the Seahawks, and especially, take better care of the football.
Despite the Seahawk's overall poor defensive play, they still boast probably the best middle linebacker in the game in Bobby Wagner. If he can slow down running back Darrell Henderson, who has emerged as "the guy" in the Rams backfield, it will help the Seahawks chances. Henderson missed practice Wednesday with a quad injury. If he can't go, we can probably expect to see more rookie Cam Akers running back along with the reliable Malcolm Brown.
Typically, we would comment about the Rams keeping a balanced offense and not becoming too "pass-happy" in terms of play calling. That may still apply because the Rams offense functions typically best when running the ball a lot, opening up the play-action passing game. But Seattle's pass defense is so bad that the standard wisdom of that thinking may not apply here. On the other hand, If Los Angeles can get a lead, running the ball and eating up the clock is an excellent way to keep Russell Wilson from doing what Russell Wilson often does, especially this season.
Special Teams: This remains a problematic area for the Rams and a big concern in this game. The Rams had anticipated they had found a solution to their season-long issues at placekicker when they signed veteran Kai Forbath to replace rookie Sam Sloman. But Forbath looked unsteady in his debut against the Dolphins and missed a field goal attempt. The Rams also allowed a touchdown on a kick return against the Dolphins and generally kept up a season-long pattern of special teams issues.
The exception, of course, is punter Johnny Hekker, who is the best in the business. But the Rams need some other players to step up on special teams. So far, it hasn't happened.
That could be a big dilemma in this game because the Seahawks excels in special teams play. Placekicker Jason Myers and punter Micheal Dixon are both excellent. Return man Tyler Lockett is a threat to "take it to the house" anytime he touches a ball.
Prediction: Oddsmakers at last report were making the Rams slight favorites in this game at home. The truth is that we don't know for sure how good either of these teams is, and that is especially true of the Rams. Will the Seahawks problems on the defense surface again? How about the Rams special teams? Was Jared Goff's dreadful performance against Miami just a bad game or a sign of things to come?
All legitimate questions. But we are going to play hunch here and pick the Rams.
Rams 31 Seahawks 30
Overview: This is an exciting matchup on several different levels. It will be the NFL debut of Tua Tagovailoa as a starting quarterback. The rookie quarterback widely considered a top prospect while at Alabama; Tua is a left-handed quarterback who put up some incredible numbers with Crimson Tide, including an astounding 87 to 11 touchdown to interception ratio. He has a reputation for being a hard worker and a good leader and his physical skills. Will the bigger stage of the NFL dazzle him? Miami doesn’t think so.
The Rams, meanwhile, would love to go into their bye week with a 6-2 record as they get ready for a division battle with the Seattle Seahawks in just two weeks.
Rams Defense vs. Dolphins Offense: Any quarterback who takes the field against the Rams faces the little matter of a confident Aaron Donald disrupting the party, and that’s even scarier when the quarterback happens to be a rookie making his first start. Tua is considered an elite prospect who might have gone number one overall had he not suffered a devastating hip injury in college. Many considered him comparable to Joe Burrow tells you all that you need to know about his physical talent. While Tua doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, he can make all of the throws, in addition to getting the ball out quickly and making the right decisions. Before his hip injury, he was also a mobile, athletic quarterback. The general belief is that he still is, but that’s not to say he might have some limitations that he didn’t have before.
Having said all of that—he is a rookie, and he’ll be facing one of the league’s better defenses, especially against the pass. For all practical purposes, this is his NFL debut against a quality opponent. The Rams are second in points per game allowed in the NFL at 17.7 (fifth in total points allowed, in part because they have played more games than some teams). They are coming off a stifling performance against the Bears in which the defense only gave up three points, as the Bears scored their only touchdown on a fumble recovery.
A few snaps against an awful Jets team is not the same thing as facing Aaron Donald and the Rams, especially when Los Angeles has had time to prepare for Tagovailoa. The rookie could see everything from all-out jailbreak blitzes to exotic coverages, zone-blitz packages, and complicated schemes of every sort. That’s what NFL defensive coordinators do when facing a rookie quarterback, no matter how talented.
Tua does have some weapons on his side. Wide receiver Davante Parker expected to play after suffering a groin injury against the Jets two weeks ago. Parker is a legit big-play threat, and if Tua can gt time to throw, he can be a factor in this game. They also have tight-end Mike Giesecke, who has had big games against the Dolphins and 49ers. He may see a lot of Rams Safety John Johnson on Sunday in what could be a big matchup.
Of course, the battle that everyone is waiting for on this side of the ball is Rams d-lineman Aaron Donald against Dolphins O-line. When San Francisco shut down Donald a couple of weeks ago, the Rams defense was not the same. It’s even more critical for a team with a rookie quarterback to keep AD under control. The Dolphins interior line—guard Ereck Flowers and Solomon Kindley, and center Ted Karras have been stellar this season, and they need to be again in this game.
The Rams, as always, need someone besides Donald to step up in the pass-rush. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd did that last week with two sacks against the Bears. Floyd has four sacks on the season, but he has also had games this year where he disappeared. Rookie Linebacker Terrell Lewis, a former teammate of Tua’s at ‘Bama, may want to get re-acquainted with his former quarterback in this game
SOMEBODY has to step up consistently for the Rams as a pass-rusher. The Dolphins have a pretty good O-line, and Tua can do some severe damage if he gets enough time.
One thing that works in the Rams favor in this game is that their biggest weakness is stopping the run, a facet of the game where the Dolphins rank 22nd at 105 yards per game. They did get a powerful performance two weeks ago from running back Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 91 yards against the Jets. The Rams have activated nose-tackle A’Shawn Robinson for this game. Robinson is a natural 3-4 nose tackle who should stand his ground and shut down the inside running game, but he may not see tons of action or be in top form yet.
The Rams had had issues with their inside linebackers, Micah Kiser and Kenny Young. The pair made Niners running back Raheem Mostert, a decent but not outstanding back, look like Earl Campbell a couple of weeks ago with an exhibition of poor tackling skills that was frankly embarrassing to watch at times. The young linebackers played exceptional last week, but the Bears didn’t run the ball very well. They need to play well against the Dolphins.
Rams Offense vs. Dolphins Defense: While the Miami defense is not loaded with big-name players, this is an excellent unit. Miami boasts the best third-down defense in the NFL and isn’t afraid to dial up the blitz in critical situations.
Corners Byron Jones and Xavien Howard are one of the better tandems in the league. These guys can play, and their battle against Rams wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods could be critical. The Rams have also been getting wideout Josh Reynolds more involved in the offense lately, and while Reynolds is not a real “burner” in terms of raw speed, he has emerged as something of a serious threat. Coach Sean McVay keeps saying he wants to get rookie wideout Van Jefferson more involved in the offense, and Jefferson mostly played well when given the opportunity. Even so, a total of 98 yards in 7 games is probably not what the Rams were hoping for from the former Florida Gator.
Tight-end Tyler Higbee at last report was a game-time decision for the Dolphins game. He nad fellow tight-end Gerald Everette are almost interchangeable at tight end, but the Rams have gone two more two-tight end sets this season, and ideally, that puts both Higbee and Everette on the field at once. Third tight-end Johnny Mundt, best known as a blocker, surprised some people last week against the Bears with three catches.
The Rams offense starts with the running game, and it seems like when they come out throwing things don’t usually go well. Darrell Henderson seems entrenched as the feature back at this point, with Malcolm Brown getting some of the tough yards between the tackles. Rookie Cam Akers appears to have fallen out of favor with McVay in recent weeks, getting only a handful of touches. Exactly why is not entirely clear, other than the fact that Henderson seems to have emerged as “the guy.”
Miami is the lower middle of the pack (18th) in rushing defense, and the Rams Offensive line has played much better than was the case a year ago. Look for the Rams to try to establish the run early to set up the play-action pass. If they can do that, they can win this game.
We’re going to check the box for the Rams on this side of the ball, but Miami’s defense is one of the better units in the league, and this is no walk in the park for the Rams.
Special Teams: Other than yet another missed kick by (now former) Rams placekicker Sam Sloman last week, the Rams special teams were excellent in the Bears game. That’s especially true for Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who pinned Chicago inside their ten-yard line last week, including a booming 65-yarder that left Chicago on their one-yard line. Hekker was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and it’s hard to remember a punter having a better game in the NFL, literally ever. The Rams kick coverage units likewise were on their game. It was an outstanding performance overall for the Rams special teams, which has not always been the case this season.
Sloman replaced by veteran placekicker Kai Forbath to shore up what has been a problem area for the Rams. Forbath is a veteran who adapts to the pressure of making big kicks in crucial situations. Hopefully, he will be the answer the Rams have been looking for all season to replace Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have been excellent on special teams. Placekicker Json sanders have yet to miss a kick in 2020, either on extra-points or field goal attempts. Punter Matt Haack is averaging 48.4 yards per punt, which is also very good. While the Dolphins kick and punt returners have not been nearly solid as their kickers, you have to give Miami the edge here.
Coaching: Interesting matchup of two of the game’s bright young stars. Dolphins head man Brian Flores has seen McVay before serving as the Patriots de facto defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. As a Ram fan would prefer to forget, Los Angeles is held to three points in that game.
Flores not given the official title after Matt Patricia left to coach the Lions, but he as the defensive signal-caller in that 16-3 win.
Round, one of Flores vs. McVay, goes to Flores.
Flores was not given the official title after Matt Patricia left to coach the Lions, but he as the defensive signal-caller in that 16-3 win. Flores getting five wins in 2019 out of a Dolphins roster that frankly lacked talent was Lombardian. He’s a good coach that has this team playing hard and headed in the right direction.
Having said all of that, Sean McVay seems to have returned to his former brilliance in 2020 after a sub-par 2019. The only real criticism from us is his tendency to get overly pass-happy, especially at the start of games. When that happens, the Rams usually lose.
But when McVay is on his game, he is the best in the league at designing plays and confusing defenses.
This is really close, but we are going to check the box for the Rams.
Edge: Rams: Oddsmakers say the Rams are favored by 3.5 on the road. We tend to agree, but this game is no gimme by any means. This is a Dolphin team that demolished a 49er team that went on the next week to give the Rams their worst beating season.
Rams 24 Miami 21