The LA Rams (that’s still weird for me to say considering they’ve been from St. Louis for my entire life) take a cross country trip to visit the Patriots this upcoming Sunday. While the Patriots sit atop the AFC with a record of 9-2, the Rams have lost six out of their last seven games, and currently reside in third place in the NFC West, with their playoff hopes all but diminished.
Like many teams in this conundrum of an NFL year, the Rams have been an odd case study. They started out the season 3-1, with wins that ranged from a defensive slugfest with Seattle to an offensive shootout with Tampa Bay. Those two wins in particular were impressive, as Seattle is currently sitting in second place in the NFC, and Tampa Bay is on the payoff bubble. Since that positive start the Rams have managed one win, while only managing to score an average of 15 points per game. The Rams have been plagued with a number of problems, most of which have stemmed from an inept head coach. LA is dead last in the league in points per game. This can be attributed in part to the near disappearance of the Rams stud running back, Todd Gurley, who has only totaled 641 rushing yards and four touchdowns after a 2015 campaign where he ran for over 1100 yards and 10 scores. He has not been able to accrue any monster games this season because teams have been focused solely on stopping him. Gurley hasn’t been helped by dismal quarterback play. Despite giving up their future to take Jared Goff #1 overall, the Rams started the season with Case Keenum. Their justification was that they wanted time for Goff to develop. Seems odd for a team to mortgage the future for a player who needs time to develop, but what do I know. Keenum didn’t manage to throw a touchdown pass until week three, and did not get much better after that. His lowest point was in a 17-10 loss to the Giants in week seven where he three one touchdown to four interceptions. Despite all of this, Jeff Fisher continued to start Keenum over Goff, which seems wrong due to the simple fact that Goff really couldn’t have played much worse than Keenum was. Finally in week eleven, Goff was named the starter, and in his two games played he has amassed 348 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Those numbers aren’t spectacular, but they aren’t any worse than Keenum, and Goff has looked comfortable in the pocket which is a good sign for the Rams. The Rams defense has been solid for most of the year, only giving up 21.5 points per game which is just about the league average. They have been keeping the Rams in games for the most part, and have probably been overworked thanks to an ineffective offense. However, after a 49 point thrashing by the Saints, the Rams defense led by the vaunted Aaron Donald seems to be losing its touch.
Offensively the Patriots game plan will once again depend upon the health of Tom Brady. His knee injury was clearly still bothering him last week against the Jets, as he was not very accurate on a number of throws. If his health improves over the week, I would expect the Patriots to sling the ball up and down the field. Drew Brees put up 310 yards and four touchdowns on the Rams last weekend, and Brady will easily be able to match those numbers. Julian Edelman has been playing well, just under the radar because he hasn’t had a “breakout” game yet, and this could finally be it. However I would also expect the Patriots to spread the ball around and get everyone involved against a weak Rams secondary. All signs are pointing to Rob Gronkowski playing, as his back injury was considered not serious. However, the Patriots may sit him just to be safe because they will not necessarily need him for this game. Originally I would not have thought that the Patriots would run the ball much against a good Rams defensive line. However, Mark Ingram ran for almost 150 yards last weekend, so the Patriots may try to test the Rams with their committee of running backs (Dion Lewis keeps showing flashes 2015 and I can’t help but get excited).
Defensively, the Patriots should spend much of the game putting pressure on Jared Goff. He is still inexperienced, and if the Patriots can force him to hurry his throws, they will most likely be able to create turnovers. On top of that, the Rams wide receivers are not particularly good, and the Patriots should easily be able to matchup with them in one-on-one coverage. Their only serious passing threat is Tavon Austin. Austin is a brilliantly quick receiver, but his routes are generally short to intermediate, and if the Patriots put pressure on Goff his timing will be off on these timing-based throws. This will be able to prevent the ball from getting into the hands of the Rams best playmaker. Matt Patricia will also be focused on stopping Todd Gurley. Despite the down year that he is having, he is still an immensely talented running back, and the Patriots should not underestimate him. They would do well to keep an extra man in the box, and play much less nickel package than they did against the Jets last week. Kyle Van Noy should be more effective than he was against the Jets because he will be able to rush the pocket, rather than covering running backs.
The Patriots should be able to easily take care of the Rams. This should be a game where they start to get their momentum back after a few tough weeks.
New England 34 Los Angeles 13
Until next time- B$