This game will give us a real idea where the Los Angeles Rams are as a team at this point. Unlike the Cardinals and the Raiders, the Chargers are a legitimate playoff contender--some would even say Super Bowl contender. While oddsmakers have the Rams favored by a touchdown, the San Diego, err, I mean the Los Angeles Chargers are capable of beating any team in the NFL on a given Sunday. This game is a tough matchup, and the Rams can't afford to make many mistakes if they want to win the "Battle of Los Angeles" as some are calling it.
Rams Offense Vs. Chargers Defense
The good news for the Rams is that they won't have to face pass-rushing demon Joey Bosa, who is out with an injury, but the Chargers still have much talent on defense, ranking 9th in the league going into this game. Those numbers might be skewed a little bit by having opened the season against Kansas City, arguably the best offense in the NFL right now. Todd Gurley had a pretty good game overall against the Cardinals last week, scoring three touchdowns, but ideally, the Rams would like to improve on the 42 yards rushing he logged. Arizona did a relatively good job of shutting down the run, one for the few things they did well in that game.
However, the Rams cleaned up in the passing game, with Jared Goff topping 300 yards and Brandin Cooks having a big day with seven catches for 159 yards. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp had some big catches as well, and the Rams offense did an excellent job of converting on third downs to keep drives alive. Even with Bosa out, the Rams need to contain defensive end, Melvin Ingram. One of the key matchups will feature Ingram against Rams tackle Rob Havenstein. While Ingram can line up at either end, he likely will square off against Havenstein most of the time.
The Chargers need to pressure Goff, or the Rams offense could well have another 30 point day, which likely would mean a Rams win. Chargers rookie safety Derwin James had a big day against the Bills last week, and the Chargers aren't afraid to use him on the blitz, something the Rams should be expecting. James leads the Chargers with two sacks, and he is fast and athletic enough to be disruptive. If the Rams O-line can give Goff time to throw and if Gurley can have his usual day running the ball, the Rams should be able to score enough points to win this game.
Rams Defense vs. Chargers Offense
The Rams defense has logged six straight scoreless quarters and has given up only 13 points in two games, but the Chargers offense is light years better than that of the Raiders or Cardinals.
Phillip Rivers is an old pro whom many consider a Hall of Fame candidate when his career is over. His top target is usually Keenan Allen, who will probably line up in the slot and face Rams slot corner, Nickell-Robey Coleman. If Robey Coleman can win that, battle, I like the other matchups for the Rams in the secondary.
Teams have been leery of throwing at corners Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters, with good reason. I think they can contain the Chargers' Mike Willams and the rest of the receiving corps, assuming Rivers doesn't get all day in the pocket on passing plays. The Chargers also like to throw to running back Melvin Gordon, who has 140 receiving yards in two games. Gordon against Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton is another matchup to watch.
It's looking like Rams linebacker Mark Barron will miss this game, but his absence hasn't been a big problem so far this season.
Could this be Aaron Donald's breakout game? It certainly wouldn't shock anyone. The Rams defensive tackle was pretty quiet against Oakland, then started to make his presence known against the Cardinals. He's capable of taking over a like few players in the league. It looks like Micheal Brockers will play for the Rams despite missing some practice time with a shoulder injury this week. The other key defender for the Rams could be linebacker Samson Ekubam. He had one sack last week, and if he can pressure Rivers from the outside along with Donald wreaking havoc inside, Phillip Rivers could have a very long day.
Edge: Rams (but only slightly)
Special teams is always a strength for the Rams, but the groin injury to placekicker Greg Zuerlein raises some concerns. His absence may mean the Rams are less likely to try (or make) field goals from 55 plus yards, and in a close game, that could matter. I do have more confidence in his replacement, Sam Ficken, than some other Rams fans do. He had a rough start filling in for Zuerlein last year, but then settled in and did a good job. He isn't Zuerlein though, and if the game comes down to him, it could be a nail-biter. The other injury is to kick returner Pharoh Cooper, but his replacement, JoJo Natson, looked great last week. The special teams is still a strength for the Rams, but their edge isn't what it usually would be.
Edge: Rams (slight)
The Rams almost always have an edge in this department, and I would check the box for them again this week. The Chargers new head man is Anthony Lynn, a former Bills assistant. Since he only has two games under his belt as a head coach, it's hard to say what he brings to the table. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, on the other hand, has a long track record as the Seahawks defensive coordinator and head coach of the Jaguars. His defenses are usually physical and well-disciplined. However, the Rams rarely get outcoached, and perhaps nobody in the NFL makes halftime adjustments like Sean McVay and Co.
Even though I have given the Rams the edge just about everywhere in this game and oddsmakers favor them by a touchdown, this is not an easy game and the Chargers could very well pull the upset. In my opinion, they need to hold the Chargers in the low 20s and avoid costly turnovers.