The Los Angeles Rams did what many thought was implausible by defeating the Seattle Seahawks on Wild Card weekend despite the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. Following Jared Goff’s gritty performance in relief of John Wolford against the Seahawks, he will now be tasked with taking down Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round at their stomping ground in Lambeau Field.
These are exactly the playoff matchups that the Packers live for with cold, frigid weather expected to play a part in Saturday’s showdown. On the other hand, the Rams are not accustomed to having to play in below-freezing temperatures since they play in sunny Southern California.
The storylines in this Divisional Round clash are endless with Sean McVay facing one of his former proteges in Matt LaFleur, Goff taking on a fellow Cal alumn in Rodgers, and the anticipated battle of one of the best offenses in the NFL against the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
The last point actually works in favor of the Rams with Rodgers going 0-4 against the last four No. 1 ranked defenses in his career. Besides Los Angeles needing to contain Rodgers and Green Bay’s multi-faceted offense, let’s take a look at some matchups that could loom large in deciding the outcome of the game on Saturday.
Jared Goff vs. turnovers
When facing Rodgers — or any of the top-tier quarterbacks for that matter — one of the worst things you could possibly do is turn the ball over. Giving Rodgers and the Packers more opportunities to put points up on the scoreboard is a surefire way to ensure elimination from the playoffs.
Seeing that Wolford is going to be inactive on Saturday, Goff is going to draw the start with Blake Bortles backing him up, per The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue.
Rams QB John Wolford has been ruled out for Saturday, per Sean McVay, but will still travel with the team. So Jared Goff will start against Green Bay, backed up by Blake Bortles.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 14, 2021
In light of that, with an ailing thumb injury, Goff is going to have to do everything in his power to protect the ball as he did versus Seattle.
It just so happens that last week’s win over the Seahawks was the first game for the Rams this season that they failed to commit a turnover. But with the weather likely playing a factor in the Divisional Round matchup with Green Bay — they are calling for possible snow and temperatures in the low 20s — it could be turnovers galore for Goff, who’s been prone to fumbling the ball in recent seasons (29 fumbles, 14 fumbles lost since 2018).
Throughout the week of practice, Goff has been wearing two gloves to aid him with his thumb injury and to prepare himself for the wintry weather at Lambeau Field.
Jared Goff wore gloves at practice today, and Sean McVay indicated it may be a combination of grip/thumb function as well as preparing for expected cold weather – but that we will have to ask Jared for specifics (he talks tomorrow).
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 13, 2021
Goff has played in two games in his career with temperatures below 30 degrees, compiling 381 yards, zero touchdowns, and five interceptions in those games. Regardless of his previous transgressions in cold weather, Goff has to take care of the ball on Saturday or the Rams could find themselves packing their bags sooner than they would like.
Cam Akers vs. Green Bay’s front seven
To prevent having a Goff that isn’t one-hundred percent from weighting the offense on his shoulders, the Rams should deploy a heavy dose of Cam Akers and the rushing attack. Akers has found his footing in the second half of his rookie campaign and the Packers have proven to be susceptible to the run under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
During the regular season, Green Bay finished with the 18th ranked rush DVOA defense, conceding 4.5 yards per attempt (tied for 12th most in the NFL). The good news for Los Angeles is that they boasted the No. 4 ranked DVOA run offense in 2020, which bodes well for them this week.
With that being said, the likes of Kenny Clark and newly signed Damon Harrison — though it remains to be seen if Harrison has a definitive role with the Packers — are nothing to scoff at. Clark is one of the best interior defenders in the NFL and the Packers just held the league’s leading rusher in Derrick Henry and David Montgomery to a combined 167 rushing yards on 45 attempts in their last two games.
Just last week though, Akers gashed the Seahawks for 131 yards on 28 attempts and a touchdown to help the Rams advance to the Divisional Round. McVay would be wise to lean on Akers and the rushing attack to keep Rodgers on the sideline and to avoid having Goff air it out more than he’d prefer.
Jalen Ramsey vs. Davante Adams
Not many defenses have had an answer for the connection between Rodgers and Davante Adams this season. Adams concluded the regular season with a career-best 115 receptions for 1,374 yards and a league-high 18 receiving touchdowns.
One mind-boggling stat coming into this game is that the defense of the Rams have allowed only 17 passing touchdowns while Adams has scored 18 of them himself this season. But in steps Jalen Ramsey, who has fared well against the elite wide receivers in the NFL this season.
Over the past three weeks, Ramsey has had to cover D.K. Metcalf twice and DeAndre Hopkins. In those three games, Ramsey made his presence felt by limiting Metcalf and Hopkins to a combined six receptions, 72 yards, and zero touchdowns on 16 targets.
There’s not a single cornerback on this planet that is playing as well as Ramsey and the Rams are glad they have him to line up across from Adams. Making Rodgers and the Packers target their other wide receivers outside of Adams — allowing the likes of Darious Williams, Troy Hill, and John Johnson to make plays — seems like a recipe for success.