Hello Packer Nation!
Well, the playoffs have officially begun and it was a great weekend to watch "Super Wild Card" games. With the additional team in each division, three games are played each day. The Packers earned their opponent for the Divisional Round, and will play Saturday 1/16/2021 against the LA Rams at 3:35PM CST on FOX. The game is obviously at Lambeau so bring on the Frozen Tundra - game time weather is days out but scheduled to be in the mid 20's with no precipitation. The Rams have not played in that type of cold all year.
How did the Rams advance to play at Lambeau? They beat the Seattle Seahawks 30-20 in Seattle, rather convincingly. Of all the teams that won this weekend, the Rams looked like the most formidable team. Their defense completely shut down and harassed Russell Wilson, on top of holding NFC receiving yards leader DK Metcalf to 33 yards. They came out of the game with some injury concerns, so we will go through them.
Who are the Rams as a team?
The Rams have been a perennial playoff contender since head coach Sean McVay came on board. They played 6 playoff teams on their 2020 schedule and won 4 of those games (Washington, Chicago, Seattle and Tampa Bay). This years team contended for the NFC West title until a week 16 loss in Seattle ended those hopes. They are really a hard team to understand, especially when the winless NY Jets came into LA and beat them. They lost two out of their last three games and do not come into the playoffs on a roll. But, if anyone watched their week 11 game in Tampa Bay, they looked like a Super Bowl contender and forced Tom Brady into throwing two INT's, the last of which ended the Buccaneers hopes of a comeback win. The Rams won 27-24. The Packers, for those who remember, lost to the Buccaneers in Tampa 38-10.
How does the Rams offense look?
The Rams were banged up at QB with Jared Goff not starting against Seattle due to thumb surgery to repair his broken thumb on throwing hand 12 days before the Seattle game. Unfortunately for the Rams, he could not sit and rest as starter John Wolford was injured early in the game on a QB sneak and did not return. It is obvious Goff is less than 100% and his surgically repaired thumb caused him issues throwing the ball. He had three pins inserted to stabilize the finger so it is one hit away from possible disaster. He handed the ball off with his non throwing hand and did as much to keep his hand from contact. Playing in the cold, he will have difficulty gripping the ball. My assumption is he will be the starting QB for the Rams this weekend at Lambeau. He gets happy feet when pressure gets to him so look for the Packers defense to focus on creating pressure in their game plan.
During the regular season, Goff was turnover prone. He threw 13 INT's and fumbled the ball 7 times, losing the majority of them. He threw for under 4,000 yards after two consecutive seasons over 4,600 yards in 2018-2019. There are those who say he regressed, but this offense isn't as explosive as years past. They are a possession type team that do not have any dynamic "home run" hitters at their skilled positions.
At running back, rookie Cam Akers came to life in Seattle in their Wild Card win, amassing 131 yards on 28 carries with a TD. He also had 45 yards receiving and was instrumental in keeping their offense alive as Goff did not look good in his return. Malcom Brown is a goal line back and led them with 5 rushing TD's. Their back up RB Darrell Henderson was placed on IR a few weeks ago and doesn't look to return. They are decent here and Akers is a young back with much promise.
At wide receiver, this is a veteran group led by Robert Woods, who had 90 receptions for 936 yards and 8 total TD's. He is a threat as a runner and averaged 10.4 yards per carry. Cooper Kupp had 92 receptions for 974 yards. He is a great route runner and technician. He finds holes in zones and is savvy. Their third receiver, Josh Reynolds, had 52 receptions for 618 yards. He had some big games during the season. Rookie Van Jefferson rounds out a solid receiving corps.
At tight end, a productive group lead by Tyler Higbee had 521 yards receiving and 5 TD's. They use a lot of "two TE" plays and Gerald Everett had 417 yards receiving. There is nothing great here, but their TE's were productive. This could be an under the radar position against the Packers defense.
On the offensive line, they have a veteran group lead by Andrew Whitworth, who at age 39, keeps producing at a Pro Bowl level. He is good pass blocker but can be beat by speed rushers as he doesn't bend well. Two former Badgers are starters with David Edwards at LG and Rob Havenstein at RT. This group really controlled Seattle's front seven so they are important to the Rams success on offense. A good group, overall.
How does the Rams defense look?
I have always believed good defenses are made in the trenches, and they are stellar up front and on the back end. Their defense can be downright dominant and led the league in many categories (overall yards given up, pass yards, sacks and points per game). This unit has stymied Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, who are top QB's. They are strong on their defensive front and it generates a lot of problems for opponents to handle, as evidenced by their top ranked defense. They institute a 3-4 defensive alignment lead by young and upcoming Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley, who will be in the running for head coaching openings this offseason.
On the defensive line, they have a complete group, but the guy to who stirs the drink is Aaron Donald. He had an off year in 2020 with 13.5 sacks (yes this is low for him after 20.5 sacks in 2018). He is the most complete defensive lineman in the league, and unquestionably, the best there is. He forced 4 fumbles and had 20 tackles for loss, summing up his penchant for getting in the backfield. He beats double teams and lines up everywhere along the line. He has brute strength and a dynamic first step. He injured his ribs against Seattle and will likely come into the game less than 100%. Rumors are he broke ribs but are not allowing that truth to leak. Leonard Floyd, a former Bear cast off, had a revival year in his first season with the Rams. He had 10.5 sacks and had a big game harassing Seattle last weekend. I am not sure if he is a defensive lineman as he is more of an OLB. Michael Brockers is a BIG dude who commands double teams. Sebastian Joseph-Day, Morgan Fox and Greg Gaines round out a deep line that is instrumental in their defensive dominance, so it will be very important for the Packers to control this unit in order to win.
At linebacker, they use them all in a multitude of ways. They can be pass rushers, cover the second level, etc. They are a very flexible group. Samson Ebukam was used in a pass rush specialist roll. Troy Reeder and Micah Kiser seem to be just guys in the middle. Leonard Floyd, who I talked about above, is a "hybrid" guy playing a variety of positions but mostly as a pass rusher like Za'Darius Smith. This group (with the exception of Lloyd) remind me of the Packer linebackers in the middle - young and upcoming dudes who haven't done much yet.
In the secondary, CB Jalen Ramsey is likely the best cornerback in the league. Ramsey does everything so well and there is no weakness in his game. He excels jamming receivers and being an enforcer. He excels off the ball with great instincts. He blanketed the quicker and stronger DK Metcalf this past weekend. He will likely shadow Davante Adams and it will definitely be a matchup of the best at their respective positions. The other starter is Troy Hill, a quick dude who has returned two INT's for touchdowns. Darious Williams is another productive DB who had a "pick 6" against Russell Wilson in their win at Seattle last weekend. Safeties John Johnson and Jordan Fuller are rising safeties.
How about special teams?
This is a rock solid third wheel of the team. They are leaders in coverage yards given up. They went through three kickers before settling on Matt Gay, who hit 14-16 field goals during the regular season. Punter Johnny Hecker had 28 punts inside the 20 yard line, which is pretty good. Their returns units are nothing to ride home about.
Is this a good matchup for the Packers?
On paper, not really. I said before the playoffs the one team the Packers didn't want to face was LA Rams. Well, here we are. The Rams defense will be the difference in this game. They have a supreme cover corner in Ramsey to slow down Adams. They have pass rushers in Donald and Floyd who can put Rodgers in the hospital. If the Packers can control Donald and other receivers step up as well as establish a rushing game, it should be a good day for the Packers. The Packers pass offense will be challenged. But, they are a much better offense when Rodgers is making plays off play action, so a rush threat of Jones, Williams and Dillon needs to be real. If Rodgers is required to pass the ball the majority of time, that falls right into the Rams strength, and the Packers cannot let this happen. Without Bakhtiari, the Packer OL is weaker and more susceptible to a good pass rush the Rams present.
This is a game of strength against strength - #1 ranked Packer offense versus #1 ranked Rams defense. Let’s get it on!
Green Bay 27
LA Rams 17
Go Pack GO!