Thu, 25 Feb 2021

Rams head to Green Bay with NFC Champ berth at stake

Los Angeles Rams
15 Jan 2021, 17:24 GMT+10

In this week’s game preview, presented By Cedars-Sinai, J.B. Long dissects the matchup between Jalen Ramsey and Davante Adams, breaks down if weather will be a factor on the Frozen Tundra, and details what trends may be in play when the best scoring defense squares off against the best scoring offense on Saturday. J.B. Long

Does defense really win championships?

Here comes the latest installment of putting that maxim to the test.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, this is the fifth matchup between the best scoring offense and the top scoring defense in the last 20 postseasons. The defense won three of the prior four meetings.

Alright, that bodes well for the Rams.

But according to NFL Research, this is the fourth playoff game in the last 50 seasons between the individual passing touchdown leader and the team that allowed the fewest passing touchdowns outright. The quarterback's team has won all three of the prior games... and gone on to win the Super Bowl that postseason, too.

That would tend to favor presumptive MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Don't Pack it In

So of the three teams that have defeated the Packers this season, how did they pull it off?

Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Indianapolis all rushed for at least 140 yards in the game and won the turnover battle.

In a way, those contests were less pronounced versions of what we saw from San Francisco in last year's NFC Championship game.

The Giving Tree

Another branch on the same coaching tree, Kyle Shanahan took it to Matt LaFleur and company last January, to the tune of 42 handoffs for 285 yards rushing and 37 points. Comparatively, Jimmy Garoppolo attempted just eight passes and completed six for San Francisco.

Would Sean McVay take it to that extreme on the Frozen Tundra?

Secondary to None

You can count on one thumb the reason he may want to, but we'll get to the Rams quarterback situation in a moment.

First, credit to the Packers, who may have the best secondary outside of Los Angeles.

Jaire Alexander was named second team All-Pro after leading the team with 13 passes defensed. Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos form one of the league's great safety tandems. Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan complete the picture.

And much like the Rams, Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves to leverage those defensive backs to his advantage, prioritizing the passing game, and leading the league in dime coverage usage.

Weather Report

Okay, to the issue we've all been wrangling with since the Saints beat the Bears, assigning L.A. to Green Bay.

It's going to be cold on Saturday; perhaps you've heard. Far from an Ice Bowl, but chilly. The coldest kickoff for the Rams since that fateful night in Chicago in 2018.

Even with a healthy throwing hand, Jared Goff has not fared well in two career games below freezing, completing just 47 percent of his throws without a touchdown, five interceptions, and eight sacks.

Conversely, Rodgers missed a career in cold storage (and game show host), apparently. According to The Athletic, he's undefeated in his last 10 thermometer games, with 26 scoring tosses against just one interception when the mercury dips below 32 degrees.

21 And Over

So let's assume for the moment that the Rams defense can and will do its part, as it has just about every week.

Rodgers has never lost a playoff game in which his defense held opponents to 21 or fewer points. He's 7-0.

That would indicate that the Rams offense has to find at least three touchdowns at Lambeau, unless the defense can continue its remarkable run of scoring.

Just for Kicks

How prolific has this Green Bay offense been?

They've scored touchdowns on nearly 40 percent of their drives, the highest rate since the undefeated 2007 New England Patriots. No team cashed in red zone opportunities at a higher clip than the Packers.

Consider that placekicker Mason Crosby, who became the first in franchise history to go an entire season without a missed field goal, only attempted 16 in 2020.

Matt Gay had the exact same number of field goal attempts in seven regular season games in Horns!

Punting for the Win

And while we're on the kicking game, let's highlight what might be the soft underbelly of the Packers: punting.

They ranked 31st in the NFL in yards per punt return, 30th in net punt average, allowed a league-high 17 yards per punt return, including punt return touchdowns by the Jaguars and Eagles. Oh, and they also had a punt blocked.

I'm not even going to mention the punter's name, because this isn't meant to call him out. Merely to point out that there's an opportunity here the Rams must capitalize on.

They run into a peer in the basement of the special teams rankings. With some momentum coming off one of their better outings on teams in the Wild Card win, can they carry that forward to Saturday?

If Johnny Hekker can flip fields, Gay continues to stripe kicks, and L.A. steals yardage in return and coverage, perhaps this won't feel like such an uphill climb to the NFC Championship.

I'll Be Back (From a Rib Injury)

But when push comes to shove, it's up to the Rams best players, including the Terminator, Aaron Donald.

Instead of Sarah Connor, this Los Angeles-based cyborg assassin is after Aaron Rodgers.

Our nominee for Defensive Player of the Year against the presumptive MVP and a Packers offensive line that boasts the league's best pass block win rate and allowed zero or one sack in a league-best 13 games this season.

Thankfully, Donald's pain can be controlled - you just disconnect it.

20 Degrees

Davante Adams is the first player in NFL history to register 100 receptions and 18 receiving touchdowns in a season.

He played 14 games.

His 18 scores were two shy of the Rams team total on offense; one more than the Rams defense allowed all season.

Adams has been aligning in the slot more than ever, according to NextGen Stats, and fortunately Jalen Ramsey is that supreme talent who can cover from any spot on the field.

Can Ramsey freeze Adams out, like he has D.K. Metcalf... and DeAndre Hopkins... and Mike Evans... and Allen Robinson?

Blind Sided

Adams and Ramsey are deserving first team All-Pros. And so is Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari, who unfortunately suffered a season-ending ACL injury while practicing on the final day of the calendar year.

According to ESPN, Bakhtiari was one of three offensive tackles to finish the regular season top-10 in both pass block win rate and run block win rate.

The others?

Mike Remmers of Kansas City. And our very own Andrew Whitworth.

I encourage you to listen to Big Whit's podcast interview with Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter of the NFL Network. It'll lift your spirits and confidence level going into Saturday knowing that he's in your team's huddle.

Let's face it: the Rams are underdogs this weekend.

Banged up, on the road, the lowest remaining seed, in harsh and unfamiliar conditions, against a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who's having a career season.

There's really only one path to the NFC Championship for Los Angeles. To want it more.

"Playoff football, it's really about imposing your will," Whitworth said. "This time of year, it's really about that grit, that determination to win."

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