The Los Angeles Rams (6th seed) travel to Lambeau Field to battle the Green Bay Packers (1st seed) on Saturday, 1/16 at 4:35 PM ET. This is a divisional round matchup for both teams. The two teams did not play each other in the regular season. The Rams advance to this game after winning a wild-card matchup last weekend with Seattle. The Packers earned the number one seed in the NFC and had a bye last week. Winner of this game will advance to the NFC Championship game against the winner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. The Rams enter this game as a 6.5-point underdog on the road according to MGM with an over/under of 45.5. This game offers some fascinating storylines.
1st Stance: Offense
This game pits the best offense from the regular season (Packers) against the best defense of the regular season (Rams). More on the Rams defense later, lets dig into the two offenses, starting with Green Bay.
The Green Bay Packers: Offense
Green Bay finished with the number one scoring offense in the NFL. There were a lot of reasons for this:
- QB Aaron Rodgers – The likely winner of this year’s MVP, Rodgers (would have) earned it by having the most prolific offense leading the league in scoring and TDs through the air (48). Rodgers is on another level (if that is possible) even compared to last year, piling up 297 more air yards (4,299 compared to 4,002) and almost double the number of TDs (last year he had 26). This will be a tough task for the vaunted Rams defense, but they have trending on their side:
Aaron Rodgers is 0-4 in his last 4 starts when facing a team with the No. 1 ranked total defense.
The Rams are No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense. pic.twitter.com/00wYV4VqBk
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) January 13, 2021
- WR Davante Adams – Can the MVP go to two players, and can it go to the same team? This duo has been lights out all season and there is not a better tandem in the game (some might argue Drew Brees/Michael Thomas, I look for availability coupled with success). Coach Sean McVay compared him to Allen Iverson! PFF certainly thinks that Adams is elite:
Used my PFF Plus-Minus metric, which leverages historical on/off splits and player clustering, to assess the top wide receivers of 2020.
Not only was Davante Adams leading the pack, he had the most valuable season we've charted (since 2006)https://t.co/v4gH8dJ1uu
— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) January 12, 2021
- Coach Matt LaFleur – Seemingly a match made in heaven for Aaron Rodgers. LaFleur brings an innovative offensive mind to the Packers while also allowing for Rodgers to “be himself”, something that Rodgers struggled with under Mike McCarthy. Under LaFleur, Rodgers has flourished and is more confident than ever before – bad news for Rams fans.
- Packers O-Line – The Packers led the regular season in pass protection with each position in the top 10 for pass-block win rates. According to ESPN, they have some of the best OTs in the game. Billy Turner is ranked 3rd overall and Rick Wagner was ranked 8th. Pro-Bowl LT David Bakhtiari was ranked 6th overall but suffered and ACL injury and will miss the rest of the season. Then you add the rest of the line, you have a wall. C Corey Linsley (5th overall), RG Lucas Patrick (6th overall) and LG Elgton Jenkins (9th overall) kept Aaron Rodgers upright almost all season. Rodger was only sacked 20 times, that ranked 2nd amongst all QBs that started 16 games. This plethora of talent has had to be pieced together like a big jigsaw puzzle due to injuries, but they have persevered. Jenkins made history as the first player to start at T, G and C for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger (1970), a tribute to his athleticism.
The Los Angeles Rams: Offense
The Rams offense will run this week through Jared Goff. The story here is partly the thumb and how it will hold up in the cold of a January Wisconsin. The other part of the story will be to see which Jared Goff shows up. While not his worst full season in the NFL, it is not too far off and he has been more effective in the role of game manager, which might be tough on Saturday if the Rams fall behind early. Goff needs to protect the ball, play smart and let the defense and special teams win the battle of field position. If the Rams get through the game without anyone saying the word “Thomas” in vain, the Rams will survive and advance. (Ask me if you don’t get it). Latest reports have his thumb with no pain and back to ‘normal’, but it will be tested.
The game plan will likely be to establish the run game, reduce situations that put Goff in a position to make a poor decision and to work for yards after catch. Cam Akers should get a heavy load, and he earned it.
— NFL (@NFL) January 10, 2021
Add in a healthy mix of Malcom Brown and the run game has a good chance, especially with the blocking provided by the Rams O-line led by OT Andrew Whitworth. While the Rams do not have the heavy stats that the Packers O-line has, it was been incredibly good this year, especially compared to last year.
The Packers offense is obviously better than the Rams offense, but will it be enough against the Rams defense?
2nd Stance: Defense
And now the counterpoint: This game pits the best defense from the regular season (Rams) against the best defense of the regular season (Packers). Breaking down both units:
The Green Bay Packers: Defense
Much like last week’s matchup, the story on the Rams opponent on the defense is a tale of two halves. Well, not quite half. Like the Seahawks, the first part of the season was not stellar for the defense; they were surrendering an average of nearly 26 points per contest and the hashtag #FirePettine (Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine) was all the rage with Packers fans. The final six games, however, showed an impressive turn-around (like the Seahawks) and the defense surrendered 18.5 points per game for 6th best over that span. The big question is will it sustain to get past the Rams and be enough to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February?
Defensive points per drive allowed for remaining playoff teams, 2020 rankings
1. Rams – 1.48
4. Ravens – 1.75
6. Buccaneers – 1.92
7. Saints – 1.96
13. Chiefs – 2.13
16. Bills – 2.22
17. Packers – 2.22
23. Browns – 2.52
— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar) January 15, 2021
The Packers are giving up an average of 110+ yards per game rushing, one of the keys to success for the Rams. If the Packers can control the Rams rushing attack, the Packers stand a good chance at the win if the vaunted offense and the Rams defense ‘cancel’ each other out.
The Los Angeles Rams: Defense
The Rams finished the regular season with the number one defense. They led the league in total points, total yards and passing yards while finishing 3rd overall in run defense. Last week they finished the wildcard weekend (of 12 total teams) 1st in passing yards, 8th in rushing yards, 3rd in total yards and 4th in total points. This team is built on defense and this will be the biggest test of the year. Fun fact, the Rams have allowed 17 passing TDs all season, Adams has 18 TDs this season.
This Jalen Ramsey-Davante Adams matchup is must watch theater. Adams not only led the league in TD catches, he led in receiving yards/game as well (98.1) and was 2nd in number of receptions at 115 (in 14 games no less). Ramsey has been the best at taking away the WR1 all season:
— Rick Harriman (@HarrimanRick) January 14, 2021
Jalen Ramsey has 581 coverage snaps during the regular season.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) January 13, 2021
And Ramsey is definitely not alone:
Los Angeles Rams: the only CB unit to not allow a 20+ yard passing TD this season ❌ ✈️ pic.twitter.com/1oy3iLaImy
— PFF (@PFF) January 12, 2021
Players make plays but coaching makes a difference. The total resurgence of OLB Leonard Floyd has been incredibly valuable to the defense this year and this play shows why he has been great for them all season:
Real footage of defender successfully defending a Russell Wilson pump fake pic.twitter.com/1AoqV1Ir98
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) January 11, 2021
And as for Aaron Donald, while he was injured in the game against Seattle, he will play, and he’ll be a wrecking ball (more on this below). Thank God. We want more of this:
Donald resetting the line & splitting the FS combo on zone, forcing the cut-back. Another day at the office. pic.twitter.com/UQbinOYOQy
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) January 11, 2021
Or this (I could watch this all day):
It's a scary sight when @AaronDonald97 is fired up!
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2021
Hands down, the Rams defense is the better unit, but will it be enough against the Packers offense?
3rd Stance – Special Teams
While neither team is particularly good in overall special teams, the Rams have been improving in all areas at the right time. As for the Packers, special teams seem to be their Kryptonite.
The Green Bay Packers: Special Teams
Here are some fast facts to show how bad it has been for the Packers:
- Allowed 17.1 yds/return (league high)
- Ranked almost dead last in punt returns (31st) with a long of 11 yards.
A bright spot of sorts is PK Mason Crosby. For all his struggles last year, he is perfect on the season but is only averaging 1 attempt per game (16/16). He is 4-4 on attempts of 50+ with a long of 57, but they do not trot him out much and part of that is the success of the offense on scoring TDs.
The Los Angeles Rams: Special Teams
The Rams were not great in coverage or returns either but have shown some sign of life going into the playoffs. Additionally, the one typical bright spot in P Johnny Hekker finally has some company in PK Matt Gay, dubbed AutoMATTic. Looks like Matt has a future with the Rams and many Rams fans and pundits are relieved to finally stop having to talk about KICKERS.
Rams News: Sean McVay Calls Matt Gay Kicker of the Futurehttps://t.co/gmcVIbv5Na
— LA Sports Report (@LA_SportsReport) January 13, 2021
— Austin Wright (@awrightdesigns) January 10, 2021
This is like picking chores over dental work. I will reiterate that neither team is particularly good in overall special teams. Although the Rams are trending better at the right time, it is not enough to say they are definitively better than the Packers, this is a push.
4th Stance – Intangibles
- Coaching – Sean McVay versus Matt LeFleur. This is a fun one, and the first face-off between the two best friends and former colleagues. McVay had LeFluer as his offensive coordinator in 2017 and refers to him as a big brother. While they are close, they are not talking football this week:
McVay said that he spoke with Matt LaFleur this week but not about the game.
— Gary Klein (@LATimesklein) January 14, 2021
Matt LaFleur said he loves Sean McVay like a brother, but the “gloves are off this week.” He said that close relationship helped him grow as a coach when he was #LARams OC in that he had total trust to not hold back and offer his views/input without concern.
— Omar Ruiz (@OmarDRuiz) January 12, 2021
- Post of the week from Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) – If you are not following Jourdan, you are missing out, she is the BEST. If you are not subscribing to The Athletic, you are REALLY missing out as she goes deep into Rams coverage that you should not miss. As Jourdan points out, “Injuries, you see, do not happen to Aaron Donald. Aaron Donald happens to injuries.”
"The Terminator" Aaron Donald is going to play Saturday, through a healing rib injury.
I spoke with a doctor and leading pain management specialist about the injury, the precautions the Rams/Donald may take, and especially non-obvious risks to manage: https://t.co/ZLeI8lLB5a
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 14, 2021
“RAM”dom info from the week:
- The Rams are 8-1 this season when they score 21 or more points, 3-5 otherwise.
- The Rams are the first team to beat a Russell Wilson led Seahawks team in Seattle.
- The Packers had 14 passes that went for at least 40 yards, tied for the most in the NFL. The Rams only allowed 4, also tied for the league’s fewest. For the Packers, they were 11-2 in those games and will pull the trigger at some point.
- Adams is a weapon, but the other receivers are not as reliable. With 115 receptions (in 14 games), Adams will command a lot of attention. The next highest total is a tie between Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard, both with 33 each. Valdes-Scantling is a deep threat, but they both drop about 1 of every 9 targets, a high rate for decent receivers.
- Brandon Staley interviewed for three different HC positions this week: Houston Texans, New York Jets and LA Chargers. (Boo, hiss)
- The Detroit Lions the Rams Director of College Scouting, Brad Holmes, as their new General Manager. This hire speaks to the depth of talent in the Rams coaching staff and the Lions have a steal here.
- All three losses this season had Green Bay losing the turnover battle, time of possession and they allowed 100+ yards rushing. Sound familiar? #WinningRecipe
- From the “news of the weird”, check out this post comparing this Rams team to the New York Giants team that did the impossible and won Super Bowl XLII:
Rams share striking similarities to 2007 Giants team that won Super Bowl XLIIhttps://t.co/USIarYX0oi
— Rams Wire (@TheRamsWire) January 13, 2021
- This week we celebrate the 4th anniversary of the hiring of Coach McVay:
Rams Announce Sean McVay as Head Coach pic.twitter.com/WH6jkwYAWQ
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 12, 2017
- Best Pics of the week:
— Cal Athletics (@CalAthletics) January 11, 2021
- NFL Team Tiers from last week (bodes well for the Rams):
Here is how each team did in their wild card playoff game
Seahawks offense 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/h5OnHdcvA9
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 11, 2021
- Key Injuries:
- Current weather forecast at Lambeau Field for Saturday will be cloudy, 36 degrees F, 21% chance of precipitation, wind gusts at 15 mph. As the afternoon shifts to evening, the temp will drop as much as 12 degrees.
Tale of the tape
— Rick Harriman (@HarrimanRick) January 11, 2021
Top three keys for each team
- Early Lead: The Rams need to go into the locker room at halftime with the lead, and this is where the defense will win the game. McVay is 37-0 with lead at half, 2-11 otherwise. LaFleur is 21-1 with a halftime lead, 5-5 otherwise. If the defense provides for a lead (hold or check the Packers offense and/or win the turnover game, hopefully with a score), they will hold the lead.
- Focus on Rodgers: Either keep Rodgers on the sideline or pressure him consistently.
- Two ways to keep him on the sideline are to win the 3rd down battle on both sides of the ball and/or run the ball well. Packers allowed 4.5 yds/carry this season (21st in the league).
- Pressuring Rodgers will not be easy with his O-Line, but his record with at least 4 sacks is 23-31-1 (.435). Less than that is a huge jump to 117-45 (.722). Rams have done this in their last three games, 9 times overall in 17 games and led the league with 53 sacks in the regular season and 5 last week against Seattle.
- Run the ball effectively: The Packers saw what the Rams did last week (particularly Cam Akers) and are likely suffering from a little PTSD; last year the 49ers went for 285 yards on the ground with only 6 passing plays to win going away. They finished middle of the pack (see what I did there?) in run defense this season, relying heavily on dime packages (6 DBs) to keep the RBs in front of them versus loading up for the run. With a recovering-from-injury Goff starting this week, they might run more nickel (5 DBs) but the Rams ran well in those situations this year especially out of 12 personnel sets.
- Win the battle in the red zone: The Packers are particularly good at both ends of the field and need to continue this trend. The offense scored a TD 80% of the time they got into the red zone (led the league). The defense allowed a stingy 57.7% for 8th This does not bode well for the Rams and their red zone struggles. On offense, Rams scored a TD 57.9% of the time (19th overall) and were 12th on defense.
- Don’t get flustered by the defense: Can Aaron Rodgers get a good enough pre-snap read to take advantage of Brandon Staley’s defense? The Rams have been outstanding this season at disguising coverages, often starting in a base defense, and shifting at the snap to confuse the offense. Staley’s defense is the best at this, but the best QB in the game at seeing the defense in front of him. He had two weeks to prepare for this game with the former Rams offensive coordinator (Lafleur) and he might be the best in the game at the hard count. To the uninitiated, the hard count might seem like a gimmick, but it is a true game changer. Even when it does not draw a penalty, it often gets the secondary to tip coverage with an early indication – just enough to give Rodgers an edge.
- Make Jared Goff throw downfield: Goff has struggled with this all season, but now he is recovering from a broken thumb, so it is hard to expect that he would be better in the post-season than he was in the regular season with or without this injury. Keep the Rams running game in check, limit the short throws with yard-after-catch opportunities – harder than it sounds as McVay will also want to limit downfield throw by Goff. The book on Goff is to bring pressure. The Packers don’t often blitz but are in the top third of the league in pressures.
Although the Rams are underdogs (again), the defense is good enough to not only keep the Rams in the game, but to win it outright even against the best offense in the league. Rams go into Lambeau and pull out the upset 27-24 in a tight finish.