The Green Bay Packers return from the bye week and head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. Los Angeles is the only unbeaten team in the league with a 7-0-0 record while the Packers are 3-2-1. The Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers 39-10 last week to end a three-game road trip with a perfect record.
These two teams first met in 1937 when the Rams played in Cleveland. The Packers and Rams are dead even in 92 regular-season meetings with each team winning 45 games and two contests ending in a tie. Green Bay has won each of the last five games between these two teams with the last meeting coming in 2015 when the Pack defeated the then St. Louis Rams 24-10 at Lambeau Field.
Here is a look at the key matchups and situations that will determine whether the Packers can end the Rams perfect season and improve Mike McCarthy’s 9-3 record after a bye week:
1. Slow Down Todd Gurley
Todd Gurley leads the NFL in rushing yards and is the biggest weapon in the Rams offensive arsenal. Los Angeles is one of the few teams in the league today that still uses the run to set up the pass rather than the other way around. They are first in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
If the Packers can’t contain or slow down Gurley, they cannot win this game. The 49ers ran the ball very well against the Pack two weeks ago for three quarters before the Green Bay defense clamped down on the rushing attack and made their late comeback.
Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark will be the keys to slow down Gurley. If they do their jobs well, Blake Martinez makes tackles at or near the line of scrimmage rather than 5-7 yards downfield. The Packers will need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and stay in their lanes to prevent Gurley and the other Rams runners from getting to the outside on rushing plays and jet sweeps. This will require discipline that the Green Bay defense hasn’t shown consistently this season.
Jared Goff is one of the best play action passers in the game. If the Packers neutralize the rushing attack or take a big lead, they can reduce the effectiveness of the play action pass.
2. Run the Football
One way to slow down the explosive Rams offense is to keep them off the field as much as possible. During the bye week, the Packers were self-scouting and one of the issues raised was that the team hasn’t run the ball as often as they could have.
The Rams defense is stronger against the pass than they are against the run. Their rushing defense is ranked 12th in the league in yards-per game but because most teams have been trailing the Rams this season, teams have not been running late in games against them. The Rams are 26th in the league in yards allowed per attempt with a 4.7-yard average.
The Packers will need the middle of their offensive line to move the ball on the Rams defensive tackle duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. They are one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league.
Aaron Jones should get more carries, but all three running backs should have their share of rushing attempts. Ty Montgomery’s speed and receiving ability should play a role in creating some mismatches on outside rushes and short passes that are an extension of the running game.
The Packers will need to hold on to the ball and keep the Rams offense off the field as much as possible. Running the ball more often will be a key component of this strategy.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
The Rams are fourth in the league with a plus-six turnover differential through seven games. The Packers are a plus-one through six contests. The Rams have an explosive offense and a very good defense. That doesn’t leave a large margin for error.
The Packers must win the turnover battle to have a chance to win this game. Give the Rams a short field and the game will be over quickly. Give their offense extra chances with the ball and the Green Bay offense will have to be almost perfect to stay even.
The momentum of a game often changes due to key turnovers. Green Bay will need some of these big plays to have a chance to pull off the upset.
4. Aaron Rodgers Must Shine Especially in the Red Zone
If you look at the statistics, the Packers have the second-best passing offense in the league. But while Green Bay moves the ball well, they don’t always convert the yards into touchdowns. The Packers score a touchdown only 50 percent of the time through their first six games when they get the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Against an explosive offense like the Rams, the Pack cannot afford to answer LA touchdowns with field goals.
This is the game where Jimmy Graham must become the red zone weapon the Packers expected him to be. Davante Adams is always a Rodgers favorite in the red zone. No matter how the Packers get the ball into the end zone, they need to find ways to do it or they will fall behind quickly against the Rams. If that happens, stopping Gurley and running the football, two of the first three keys to this game, will become extremely difficult for the Pack.
5. Don’t Give Up Big Plays
The Rams offense is very good at creating big plays and gaining big chunks of yardage quickly. Gurley leads the NFL in rushes of 10 yards or more with 19. Altogether, seven Los Angeles players have runs of 10 yards or more this season.
Jared Goff throws the ball downfield very well. The Packers safeties have been victimized too often this season due to poor reads, angles and decision making.
The Rams offense is designed to force DBs to make quick decisions deep downfield and the Packers must make the right read nearly all the time. Even without Cooper Kupp, the Rams have plenty of dangerous receivers. Long pass plays whether to Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks or Gurley, can deflate the Packers, change the momentum and be a big difference maker in this game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves to confuse opposing quarterbacks with disguised blitzes from unexpected places. The matchup between Pettine and Rams head coach Sean McVay, one of the most innovative offensive coaches in the league, will be an interesting one to watch.
There is no doubt the Packers can win this game, but there is also no way they can do it without playing better football than they did in any of the first six games of the season.
The Rams offense has so many weapons and an innovative and aggressive system that is designed to exploit the weaknesses in the Packers secondary.
The Packers offense will need to not just gain yards but score lots of points and the defense will have to make just enough big plays to pull off the upset.
Right now, the Packers haven’t proven they have that kind of game in them. The feeling here is Rodgers plays well and keeps it close, but the Rams find a way to win at home.
Rams 38, Packers 28