Los Angeles Rams Gameplan: Sean McVay Continues Winning Mentality

by Blaine Grisak
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Last week’s topic was easy to come up with and think about as it was Matthew Stafford’s debut game with the Los Angeles Rams. This week however, was more difficult. Not that there wasn’t a lot to write about, but more just narrowing in on one topic.

With the Rams playing Carson Wentz, it would have been easy to write about Goff-Wentz in 2016 and how both quarterbacks are now on new teams. Aaron Donald potentially facing off against Quenton Nelson has also been a widely discussed topic this week surrounding the game.

However, for the fourth straight season what’s been lost in all of the Donald-Nelson talk is that for the fourth straight season, the Los Angels Rams will be going for a 2-0 record to start the season. As of last year, 57% of the teams that start 2-0 since 2007 have made the playoffs. On the flip side, 89% of teams that go 0-2 miss the playoffs. That leaves approximately 30% for all of the 1-1 teams.

I started thinking about this earlier this week when it comes to Matthew Stafford and then again on Thursday when the New York Giants fell to 0-2 for the fifth straight season. The Giants became the first team since the 2007-2011 Rams to start 0-2 in five consecutive seasons.

Now, here the Rams are going for 2-0 for a fourth straight year.

That’s no easy feat. Last year when the Los Angeles Rams made it three straight, it became the first time since the 1999-2001 seasons. Now? The Rams haven’t started 2-0 in four straight years since literally the beginning of the NFL. The last time the Rams started 2-0 in four consecutive seasons was 1967-1970.

Roman Gabriel was the starting quarterback and Deacon Jones and the Fearsome Foursome were terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.

Yes, it’s true that the Greatest Show on Turf was short-lived. However, in 2002, the Rams started 0-5 after being undefeated in the first six weeks of an NFL season in the three years prior. From 99-01, the Rams were 18-0 in their first six games.

What maybe even more crazy is that Matthew Stafford will have a chance to start a season 2-0 for just the third time in his career. The Lions haven’t started 2-0 since 2017. Detroit started more than twice as many seasons 0-2 (5) with Stafford than 2-0 (2).  Stafford gets criticized for not having postseason success, but as seen earlier, the first two games of a NFL season is important.

Since Sean McVay, the culture in the Rams organization has done a complete 180. Gone are the days of starting 0-2 and now, this is a team that consistently starts 2-0. This is a team that has made the postseason in three of McVay’s four years. From 2007-2016, that sort of run seemed impossible.

The dark days are over and we’re solidly in a new era of Los Angeles Rams football and Matthew Stafford is in a new era of his career. If the Rams start 2-0 for a fourth straight year, we are arguably witnessing one of the best eras of Rams football in the history of the organization. All that’s missing is a championship.

Sustained success in the NFL is difficult.

The Los Angeles Rams are looking to build a culture of sustained success and with Sean McVay at the helm, building that actually seems possible.

Five Los Angeles Rams Players to Watch

1. DT Aaron Donald

Aaron Donald has yet to get a sack in his career against the Indianapolis Colts. It’s probably fair to assume that Donald will be looking to change that on Sunday. The Colts could be without three of their starting offensive linemen and Carson Wentz has a tendency to hang onto the ball too long. If Donald goes up against the much anticipated matchup between he and Quenton Nelson, it will be against a hampered Nelson who is dealing with his own injuries. Donald could have a field day against the Indianapolis Colts offensive line.

2. C Brian Allen

Brian Allen had a good first game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. It was the type of performance that gives Los Angeles Rams fans optimism for the rest of the year. Allen was the second-highest graded center by Pro Football Focus in the run game. Allen only gave up one sack against the Bears, but will have a tough matchup against the DeForest Buckner.

3. WR Robert Woods

Robert Woods had a relatively quiet game against the Chicago Bears. However, this week feels like a game that Woods is going to have a big game. The Colts secondary got lit up by the Seahawks last week. While Cooper Kupp had a big day against the Bears, don’t be surprised to see Woods have a similar performance on Sunday afternoon.

4. EDGE Justin Hollins

As mentioned, the Indianapolis Colts will likely be without three of their starting offensive linemen. Because of that, I’d expect the Los Angeles Rams front seven to have a very strong game. Justin Hollins had two sacks against the Bears in Week 1 and I’d expect him to continue that momentum in Week 2 against the Colts. The Rams brought Hollins in to play inside linebacker last season, but he’s found a place as an edge rusher and is taking advantage of his opportunity.

5. S Jordan Fuller

Jordan Fuller continues to show why he’s one of the more integral pieces of the Los Angeles Rams defense. He led the Rams defense in tackles last week while wearing the green dot. Carson Wentz likes to target the middle of the field which is Jordan Fuller territory. The Rams shut down the Bears receivers last week and will be looking to do so once again to a less than stellar Colts group. Jordan Fuller should shine once again and don’t be surprised if he comes up with an interception.

Five Keys to Victory for the Los Angeles Rams

1. Shut Down Jonathan Taylor

With no TY Hilton and the Colts young wide receivers struggling, Jonathan Taylor is the Colts offense right now. The Los Angeles Rams will need to dial in on stopping number 28 on defense. David Montgomery had 108 yards on 16 carries last week. While that was fine and was a reason that the Bears weren’t a huge threat, Taylor has the ability to completely take over football games. The Rams are going to need to be much tighter in the run game on defense.

2. Win With Four and Pressure Carson Wentz

The Colts could be without three starters on the offensive line. It’s going to be crucial that the Rams win with their three defensive linemen and one edge rusher. If the Rams are able to drop seven back in coverage and win with four, it’s going to make life very difficult for Carson Wentz. The Rams need to put the game in Carson Wentz’s hands. If they do, mistakes will happen.

3. Continue With Big Air Yard Plays

Russell Wilson had the biggest passing play of the week in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. Wilson led the NFL with an average of 10.4 intended air yards per play. Wilson also threw one touchdown to Tyler Lockett that traveled 59.4 yards through the air. The Rams found big plays against the Bears last week and could have success against the Colts secondary with the same type of game plan. 

4. Watch the Running Backs in the Pass Game

The Indianapolis Colts leading receivers last week were Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. They target their running backs often. Hynes is one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL and Taylor is a good receiving back as well. The Los Angeles Rams linebackers are going to be test in coverage. It will be crucial that the Colts running backs don’t get lost and take receptions for big plays.

5. Play Controlled on Offense

This will be the Rams first game on the road in 2021 and will be one of the few games in the last year that they will have played in front of a full away crowd. The Packers didn’t host a full Lambeau Field in the playoffs and fans weren’t allowed in the stadium against the Seahawks. The Rams only game last year with a large crowd might have been the game against the Buccaneers. The crowd noise could be something that the Rams have to adjust to during the game.

Five Matchups To Watch

1. Aaron Donald vs. Quenton Nelson

It’s the matchup that everyone is waiting for. Donald and Nelson have each been a first-team All-Pro in the last three seasons. Nelson is hurt, and if he plays, he likely won’t be 100%. However, this is a matchup that everyone will have their eyes on. Both players will show up for this game and know the caliber of player that’s on the other side.

2. Kenny Young vs. Jonathan Taylor

Kenny Young played well on coverage last week, but David Montgomery isn’t the receiving back that Jonathan Taylor is. Young will likely have the responsibility of covering Taylor in the pass game. With the limited options at wide receiver, Young will certainly be tested.

3. Brian Allen vs. DeForest Buckner

DeForest Buckner is one of the more talented and physically gifted defensive linemen in the NFL. There’s a reason that the Colts gave up a first round pick to the 49ers in a trade for him. Allen played well against a good Bears defensive line last week. However, Buckner will provide another challenge. Shutting down Buckner will play a large role in protecting Matthew Stafford.

4. Justin Hollins vs. Eric Fisher/Julien Davenport

Anthony Castonzo is going to miss a second consecutive game for the Colts. This leaves Eric Fisher or Julien Davenport at left tackle for the Colts. Davenport gave up two sacks last week and Fisher would be returning from a torn Achilles. Either way, this is a matchup that Hollins should be salivating over on the left side. Hollins had two sacks against the Bears and could be in for another big game this week.

5. Jalen Ramsey vs. Michael Pittman Jr.

The former USC wide receiver will be going up against one of the best cornerbacks in the game on Sunday. Pittman showed he has potential last season, but had a quiet Week 1. He’ll be looking to show what he can do against the NFL’s best. Ramsey as always will come to play. Given that the Colts don’t have a bonafide top wide receiver, it’ll be interesting to see how much Ramsey moves round. Given that Wentz likes to target the middle of field, Ramsey could play in the slot this week.

Five Bold Predictions for the Los Angeles Rams

1. Matthew Stafford Throws For 300 and 3 Touchdowns Again

Matthew Stafford threw for 321 yards last week on just 26 attempts. With the Colts boasting a stingy run defense, the Rams will likely rely on Stafford once again. Stafford hasn’t throw back-to-back 300 yard, three touchdown games since 2019. He’ll have a very good chance to do it this week against a banged up Colts secondary that gave up a lot of big plays to the Seattle Seahawks.

2. DeSean Jackson Scores First Touchdown

I might just keep putting this in here until it happens just to speak it into existence. The Colts gave up a deep ball last week to Tyler Lockett. This is a secondary that the Rams are going to be able to exploit. The Rams brought in DeSean Jackson for a reason. While he didn’t play a lot of snaps in Week 1, this seems like a game that Jackson could get unleashed.

3. Justin Hollins Has Another Two Sack Game

Justin Hollins had two sacks last week against the Chicago Bears. This week, he’ll be going up against a player that gave up two sacks last week or a player coming off of an Achilles injury. Either way, Hollins will have an opportunity to have another big game. The Rams have been looking for a consistent threat opposite of Leonard Floyd. They might have found it with Hollins.

4. Jordan Fuller Has an Interception

Carson Wentz likes to target the middle of the field which is prime Jordan Fuller territory. The Colts don’t have a good wide receiver group which could force Wentz to make some ill-advised throws. Wentz has a tendency to be aggressive with the football. Fuller could get his first interception of the season this week against the Colts.

5. The Rams Score 40 Points

In four of the last five games between the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts, one team has scored 40 points. The Rams came two points away from making that five for five in 2013. The Rams are clearly the better team and have an offense that is capable of scoring every time they have the ball. McVay beat the Colts in his first game in 2017, 46-9. Another blowout is possible.

Five Storylines to Follow

1. Aaron Donald Has Never Recorded a Sack Against the Colts

Aaron Donald has played the Colts just once in his career, but did not record a sack in the 2017 meeting. The Colts have a decimated offensive line and a quarterback who takes sacks. Donald will also be going up against Quenton Nelson if he plays which will be another matchup to follow in the trenches.

2. The Rams Defense Isn’t Good

The Rams have up 14 points against the Bears and yet the defense took criticism. However, the Rams made the Bears work for all 14 of those points. David Montgomery had a big game with 108 yards, but that all amounted to a loss. I expect the Colts to do much of the same, but I expect the result to also be the same. The Rams defense might give up 3-6 yard chunks, but if the Colts have to go on 15-18 play drives to score, that’s forcing the offense to work hard.

3. First Road Game of the Season

As mentioned, this will be the Rams first road game with a full crowd in likely over a year. The Buccaneers might have had the biggest crowd that the Rams went against last season. This could be an adjustment for the Rams offense and they’ll need to not make mistakes because of it. They’ll need to play disciplined and avoid false starts and delay of games that come with crowd noise.

4. Building Sustained Success

The Rams will be going for a 2-0 record for the fourth straight year. If they win, it will be the first time since 1967-1970 that they’ve accomplished the feat. The Rams are becoming one of the winningest franchises in the NFL under Sean McVay. A big win on Sunday will continue to prove that.

5. Set Up For Big Week 3 Showdown

While a win against the Colts is nice and staring 2-0 is great, all eyes will be on the matchup next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Rams can’t overlook the Colts,  but that’s the game that everyone will be watching. With the Buccaneers playing the Falcons, there’s a good chance that both teams head into next week 2-0.

Downtown Rams Mailbag

I believe that we will see a very similar game plan to what we saw last week. That game plan is also eerily similar to what Shane Waldron and the Seahawks ran last week against the Colts. The Colts will see the same thing in back-to-back weeks and it didn’t go great the first time. The Colts had the number nine run defense last year and their secondary is where the Rams can exploit them.

I’m not sure we’ll see a lot of Jackson, but it’s possible that we see Jefferson make a big play like last week or even Woods. Both guys have speed and could win deep against the Colts defensive backs.

As for the defense, again, I think we see a lot of what we saw last week. The Rams are going to be ok with teams dinking and dunking their way down the field. The Rams are ok giving that up because they know at some point, they’ll be up by 10+ and teams are going to get impatient. That may not be a tactic that the Rams can run all year, but with the Colts having the wide receivers that they have, the Rams will make them work for every yard.

Game Prediction

The Rams are favored by 3.5 points on Sunday against the Colts. That line seems way too small and is likely only that small because the Rams are the road team. At home, the Rams would be favored by at least a touchdown. This game could go much like the one last week except the Colts have a slightly better quarterback in Carson Wentz and a better coach in Frank Reich.

I expect the Rams to come out and score right away, but it could be up and down as the Rams adjust to crowd noise.  The Colts were 6-2 at home last season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see another close first half. This could be a game in which the Rams are in control late, but lead by one score and then expand that lead with a late touchdown.

The Rams wide receivers are going to have their way once again and Stafford should have success. Hopefully the Rams can run the ball better as Chris Carson averaged 5.7 yards per carry last week.

Prediction: Rams 31, Colts 17

 

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