Can you smell it? The Rams’ opening game is so close. On Sunday Night Football @ 5:20 pm PST, they open up the 2020 season against the Dallas Cowboys in their new SoFi Stadium. Since there won’t be any fans at the game, the atmosphere will be much different than what most expected when the stadium was being built.
Still, a fresh season with endless possibilities is always a great time for any sports fan. There are plenty of factors that contribute to a team’s wins and losses, but I’d like to take a look at five (5) specific Rams in this game.
RT Rob Havenstein
After a career year in 2018, Havenstein had his worst season as a pro in 2019, earning a 50.9 PFF (Pro Football Focus) grade and allowing 5 sacks through 9 games. He then suffered a meniscus injury and didn’t return for the remainder of the season.
Many are expecting Havenstein to get back to his 2018 form, and the Rams will desperately need the former Wisconsin draft choice to do so. He faces a tough task in his first game back, going up against Pro Bowl DE Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence didn’t play in their meeting last year and was stifled in the playoffs 2 seasons ago. Still, he’s a force to be reckoned with, having recorded 30 sacks and 6 forced fumbles in the last 3 seasons. Havenstein will need to be at the top of his game to protect his QB.
CB Troy Hill
When the Rams traded IR’d (and now retired) CB Aqib Talib, many fans were wondering who would fill his spot alongside stud CB Jalen Ramsey. Troy Hill ended up being that player.
Hill has gotten far too much criticism, in my opinion, and has emerged as a solid starter in this secondary. Per @QBsMVP on Twitter, Hill was one of the top players at his position last year, ranking 12th among all CBs with a 76.4 PFF grade.
While Ramsey will likely shadow Amari Cooper on Sunday night, Hill will be matched up against Michael Gallup and rookie CeeDee Lamb. Dallas has arguably the best receiving corps in the league, and Hill will have his work cut out for him whoever he goes against.
Cooper and Gallup were mostly contained in last year’s matchup, but mainly because the Cowboys ran the ball down LA’s throat all game long. Expect Dak Prescott to pass more in this meeting, which means more work for the Rams’ corners.
TE Tyler Higbee
I’ve talked a lot about Higbee recently, and for good reason. He’s coming off arguably the greatest season by a Rams TE in franchise history, as well as one of the greatest 4-game stretches by a TE in league history. One of the games in that stretch was against Dallas last year, where Higbee caught 12 passes on 14 targets for 111 yards. This came against a defense that returns most of its starters from last year, and one that was among the NFL’s worst at defending tight ends (most catches and 3rd most yards allowed).
Admittedly, Higbee got a few more targets than expected because of the game script (LA got down big, early) and usage due to Gerald Everett’s injury. While I don’t think Higbee will get 14 targets again, look for him to continue his late success from last year and start the season off with a bang.
DL Michael Brockers
After 8 seasons with the Rams, Brockers looked like he was signing with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2020 offseason. However, due to a failed physical, the Ravens chose not to sign the former 1st-round draft pick, allowing him to rejoin the Rams for another go.
Brockers, a long-time team captain, has been a consistently good run defender for LA, and that’s an area the defense has struggled in over the past few seasons. Brockers had arguably his best season as a pro in 2019, earning a 74.7 grade by PFF. He made 4 tackles and 1 TFL in Dallas last year, and he’ll be looking to do more against a banged-up offensive line.
Dallas gashed the Rams’ defense for 263 rushing yards and 3 TDs last year. While they are missing starters on the OL from that game, RBs Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard are still in the backfield. With offseason acquisition NT A’Shawn Robinson set to miss this game due to a non-football injury designation, and 2 new starters at ILB, the Rams’ defense will need veterans to step up on the front seven.
With Aaron Donald commanding double and triple teams, Brockers will need to take advantage of his matchups both defending the run and rushing the passer.
QB Jared Goff
Say what you want about Goff, but he has that even-keel mentality every coach wants from their players. He never complains, never blames anyone other than himself, and always gets back up after every hit.
Last year was a disappointment compared to the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but it wasn’t terrible by any means. Goff still threw for 4,638 yards and 22 TDs, but his 16 INTs were a career worst. He didn’t play his best against Dallas last season, either (33/51, 284 yds, 2 TD, INT, 49.0 QBR), but this game is different.
The Cowboys let top CB Byron Jones walk in free agency, as well long-time S Jeff Heath. Additionally, Goff got new weapons in the draft (RB Cam Akers and WR Van Jefferson) and each of his starting offensive lineman return.
The former 1st overall pick will be looking to prove that he can still be a great QB in this league, and he’ll get the chance to do so on national television.