The Los Angeles Rams (10-6) have delivered a victory yet again, amidst player injuries and offensive unknowns. Toppling the Arizona Cardinals (8-8) 18-7 in their regular season finale was a huge boost. Backup quarterback John Wolford played in his first ever NFL game and thrusted L.A. into the playoffs. Now, the Rams are fresh off a 30-20 Wild Card win over the Seattle Seahawks (12-4).
The trouncing over the reigning NFC West champs came at a cost. Wolford, in his first playoff start, suffered a neck injury, and a hampered Jared Goff came to the rescue as his backup. Goff sealed the victory and added his first touchdown pass since Week 15 of the regular season.
Now, the Rams will face the number one seed in the NFC. The Green Bay Packers (13-3) will host L.A. at Lambeau Field. Veteran Super Bowl champion quarterback Aaron Rodgers is coming off his best regular season yet in completion percentage (70.7) and number of touchdowns (48). Rodgers threw 372 of 526 passes for 4,299 yards in the regular season. He only had five interceptions and 20 sacks. The Rams defense will be tested more than ever this year. Their entire defensive back corps has proven to make huge plays, turning games in the Rams favor.
First, they will need to handle Packers star receiver Davante Adams. Adams leads the NFL in touchdown receptions (18) and has 115 catches for 1,374 yards. Rams star corner Jalen Ramsey will most likely be tasked with covering the physically astute Adams. It will be no easy task, but Ramsey is the best in the league to cover him. He has already successfully covered every elite receiver the Rams have faced including DK Metcalf, Allen Robinson and DeAndre Hopkins.
Green Bay also boasts a talented tight end corps led by Robert Tonyan. Tonyan is second in receiving touchdowns (11) and has 52 catches for 586 yards. He and Dominique Dafney each had one touchdown pass from Rodgers against the Chicago Bears, closing out the regular season. The rest of the defensive backs should be able to spread and hover over the other Green Bay receivers. Receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard will be well-matched with Darious Williams and Troy Hill. Safety John Johnson’s leadership and tackling ability will be a must.
Packers running back Aaron Jones had 201 carries for 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns for the regular season. Against Chicago, he led the offense with 11 carries for 42 yards and one touchdown.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald will match up well against the Packers offensive line. Left tackle Elgton Jenkins will need to deal with Donald’s pass-rushing dominance. A double or triple-team block may be the answer. Veteran Pro-Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice during Week 17. This may open more opportunities for the Rams D-line. Donald has 13.5 sacks for the regular season and had two sacks in the Wild Card. EDGE Leonard Floyd also had two sacks against Seattle and is on fire with a career-best 55 tackles and 10.5 sacks for the regular season. Donald suffered torn rib cartilage in the third quarter of the Seahawks game and came out for the remainder, but he will play against the Packers.
The Bears matchup was the last game the Packers played going into their top seed bye. Now, with two weeks rest, the Rams will have half the preparation time but fresh off a huge win in the Wild Card. This may be in the Rams favor.
Frigid Wisconsin weather may be an issue for L.A. as they typically do not do well in extremely cold temperatures. The good news is the game will be in the daytime before the temps drop even more.
The Rams offense is still dealing with Goff’s thumb surgery recovery. That may be hard in the cold. =He did surprisingly well throwing nine of 19 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. He had no interceptions and showed toughness against the Seahawks. Wolford was able to throw three of six passes for 29 yards before his injury. There is no word on who will start officially, but head coach Sean McVay would benefit using a dual-package threat with Goff and Wolford. Both quarterbacks offer a wide-open playbook with Wolford’s mobility and playmaking skills, as well as, Goff’s big game experience.
As for the Rams’ offensive weapons, running back Cam Akers appears to have the hot hand on the ground. Akers carried the offense in Seattle with 28 carries for 131 yards and one touchdown. With Darrell Henderson on injured reserve, Malcolm Brown will again be available for short yardage power plays if needed. Akers will test the Packers linebacker corps as he did against Seattle.
The Rams offensive line played well against the Seattle and provided the needed protection for Goff and Wolford. They also opened holes for Akers. They should have success against the Packers defensive front as well.
Green Bay does not have as stout of a middle defense as the Hawks, but Krys Barnes and Christian Kirksey have 158 tackles and 9.5 sacks between them. Safety Adrian Amos leads the defense with 83 tackles. Linebacker Za’Darius Smith leads with 12.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for a loss.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp sustained a knee contusion later classified as bursitis. Kupp was limited in practice but is expected to play at Lambeau. Against the Seahawks, he had four catches for 78 yards. Robert Woods had four catches for 48 yards and one touchdown. The Rams may also use their two-tight end sets with much success. Higbee and Everett did not have a huge showing in the Wild Card but may break out in Green Bay.
Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander and safety Darnell Savage are ball hawks that the Rams offense will need to watch. Alexander leads the defense with 13 passes defended. Savage leads the defense with four interceptions.
As for special teams, the tackling is still a problem on returns and ball security will need to be a priority come game time. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby is one hundred percent on field goal kicks for the season. He made all his extra points against the Bears. In Seattle, Matt Gay made all his field goals and extra points for the Rams.
The Rams need to keep the Packers offense off the field for as long as possible to better their chances of winning the Divisional Round. L.A. is on a roll, but they need to keep trucking on all phases of the ball. The defense can keep them in there and set the tone of the game, but the offense will need to pump up the ground game even more to take advantage of Green Bay’s weak spots.
Kickoff is Saturday at 1:35 p.m. Pacific time on Fox.