This game could well be the best matchup of the 2018 NFL regular, besides being a potential Super Bowl preview. It also features two teams with explosive offenses and what have been mediocre defenses. While it isn't a "must win" for either side, it isn't a meaningless game either. Kansas City has the 7-2 Chargers breathing down their necks in the AFC West, and the Chargers are likely to beat the Broncos on Sunday, so a Chiefs loss could leave them with only a half-game lead, and tied in the loss column. The Rams, meanwhile, for all intents and purposes have a lock on the NFC West, win or lose. However, the New Orleans Saints currently hold the tiebreaker for the top seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Rams would like to win out and hope New Orleans loses at least one game to avoid a possible trip to New Orleans in the post-season. Aside from all of that, if you like high-scoring exciting games--you should enjoy this one.
Rams Defense vs. Chiefs Offense
Despite all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth among many Rams fans about the play of the team's defense this season, statistically, they haven't been all THAT bad. They are 13th in yards per game and 12th in points allowed per game (I discount the total yards/points stats for the season because some teams have only played nine games, and the Rams have played ten). That's not great, but it's not as bad as some people would have you believe, either.
The problem is that they are facing an absolute juggernaut of an offense. The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring with an eye-popping 35.3 points per game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has already thrown for a team-record 30 touchdowns this season, and at times has looked super-human. The receiving corps boasts probably the fastest player in the NFL in wide-receiver Tyreek Hill, and arguably the games best tight end in Travis Kelce. 2017 NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt is no slouch at running back either, and if the Rams give up anything remotely close to the 273 yards rushing they surrendered to the Seahawks last week, they are virtually guaranteed to lose this game.
The Chiefs do have a couple of injury concerns though. Wide receiver and ex-Ram Sammy Watkins has been battling a foot injury that kept him out of last week's game and out of practice on Friday. I guess that he will play, but that's just a guess, and whether he is at full speed could be another question. Chiefs center Mitch Morse also missed practice on Friday with a concussion. You always hate to lose your center, especially when you are facing a defensive front as talented as that of the Rams. The Chief's injury report also had Mahomes listed with a foot injury, although he did practice Friday. Nobody expects him to miss this game, but if the injured foot affects his mechanics or limits his mobility, it could be a big deal. I don't think that will happen.
The lowly Cardinals did limit the Chiefs to a season-low 26 points last week, sacking Mahomes five time in a 26-14 Chiefs win. Mahomes said earlier this week that he needs to get the ball out more quickly against the Rams. He'd better do that because Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks and has been on an absolute tear. Rams linebacker Dante Fowler forced a key Russel Wilson fumble last week, making up for a boneheaded personal foul earlier in the game. The Rams had an uncharacteristic five such penalties last week. They can't do that against the Chiefs, or this game could get very ugly. The Rams secondary, sadly, is still without cornerback Aquib Talib against the high-flying Chiefs passing attack. Fellow corner (and ex-Chief) Marcus Peters has had a frustrating season, although he was better last week against Seattle. He needs to step up in this game, as does the rest of the Rams secondary.
Rams Offense vs. Chiefs Defense
The Rams lost wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the season last week with a torn ACL, and that could be a significant loss, especially in a game like this one. With the injury, Robert Woods will likely move to the slot, and Josh Reynolds will step in as the third wide receiver (the Rams use three wideouts about 93 percent of the time). Reynolds is not all that fast by NFL standards (4.52 40 at the NFL combine a couple of years ago), but he is 6'3 and adds a size dimension to the Rams offense that they don't otherwise have. He caught a couple of touchdowns while filling in for Kupp earlier this season, and he will be counted on to take up some of the slack with Kupp out. The Rams also have been using tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee more the last couple of weeks, with each catching a touchdown pass against Seattle. McVay used his tight ends a lot when he was the Redskins offensive coordinator, something he mostly hasn't done with the Rams. The Chiefs defense has had issues covering tight ends this season so that we could see more of Everett and Higbee on Monday. Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper was activated by the Rams this week, and could also see some snaps, especially in the slot.
Of course, you can't talk about the Rams offense without mentioning MVP candidate Todd Gurley, who is pretty clearly the best running back in the NFL right now. When Kupp missed a couple of games earlier this season, Gurley's average touches went from 23 per game to 30, and he is a massive part of the Rams offense, both running and receiving. One thing the Chiefs do well on defense is pressure the quarterback, especially with linebacker Dee Ford and defensive tackle Chris Jones. The Rams need Gurley to run effectively to force the Chiefs to play the run and to set up the play-action pass. The Chiefs defense is ranked 29th in yards allowed, although they are somewhat better in points allowed at 16th. If the Rams can run the ball and protect Jared Goff, they should be able to score points in this game.
The Rams activated pro-bowl kick returner Pharoh Cooper this week, although it's not known yet how much action he will see on Monday night. Punt returner JoJo Natson and kick returner Blake Countess have filled in admirably in his absence. The Chiefs special teams are very good, with punter Dustin Colquitt, placekicker Harrison Butker (nicknamed "Butt Kicker") and return man Tyreek Hill all top performers. The Rams, of course, are always among the top special team's units as well. Two things they do well that could factor into this game include the fake punt with former high school quarterback Johnny Hekker throwing the ball, and blocking punts, which is a Corey Littleton specialty. For all of the talk about the great offenses in this game, it also matches excellent special teams units.
Oddsmakers are favoring the Rams by about 3 points, which is roughly home field advantage. Most people are predicting a shootout, and I would have to agree. If either defense can log just a few big plays--sacks, turnovers, or forcing the opposing offense to go three and out--it could swing the game. Special teams could also be critical, and the Rams, in particular, can't afford the kind of stupid penalties we saw last week against Seattle.
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