Before the Green Bay Packers take on the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, let’s get to know the opponent.
In what has seemingly become an annual tradition, the Rams are making the trip to Lambeau Field, where Green Bay has had the upper hand. However, this year, these are two very different versions of these teams.
To help us get familiar with the 2023 Rams, Bret Stuter of Ramblin’ Fan was kind enough to answer a handful of my questions to provide some insights, and I provided the Packers’ perspective on things along the way.
I also reciprocated and answered five of Bret’s questions about the Packers, which you can find here.
What would you say is the strength of this Rams team at this point in the season?
Bret: The LA Rams are a young and energetic team this season. Because they are so young in so many critical positions, the team has been a bit unpredictable at times. The LA Rams dismantled a very good Seattle Seahawks team in Week 1 but were themselves dismantled in Week 8 at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. But young players learn from adversity and grow with each passing week. The Rams have taken their lumps and played better the following week as a result.
Takeaway: The Packers are a young team as well, especially on offense. Unfortunately, they aren’t experiencing the same growth or progress that it sounds like the Rams are. In fact, the same self-inflicted errors continue to poop up every single week, with no apparent answers in sight. If I were asked what the strength of this Packers team is, I’m not sure how I would answer. It certainly isn’t the offense, who has nothing to lean on right now. Nothing that can provide a spark or get them going. Although the defense has held opponents to under 20 points in four of the seven games this season, their overall performance in other key metrics shows that a regression in that regard is coming.
Conversely, what has been the Rams weakness?
Bret: The Rams are not playing consistent football. That has a way of frustrating coaches and fans alike. But it’s never the same factors, which would be correctable and coachable. Sometimes, it’s an abundance of dropped passes. Sometimes, it is too-aggressive play from defensive backs, resulting in horrifically timed penalties. Sometimes, it’s missed field goals. And finally, it’s even poor play-calling and game clock management.
Takeaway: That sounds like the Packers, to a degree, minus the part about the defensive backs being overly aggressive. Self-inflicted errors continue to derail the Packers offense before it even has the opportunity to get going–and, unfortunately, it’s often been the same mistakes happening over and over. The Packers enter Week 9 as the most penalized team in the NFL. Dropped passes, a failure in contested catch situations, and running the wrong routes have plagued the Green Bay pass catchers, while the offensive line has not been the strength of this unit as hoped.
The run game can’t get going, and Jordan Love has been pressured on the fourth-most dropbacks over the last four games. The culmination of this is that the offense too often finds itself in predictable long down-and-distance situations, which allows the defense to do the dictating and gives them the advantage.
If the Rams are going to win this game, what does their path to victory look like?
If the LA Rams are to have any hope of winning in Week 9, the Rams will need to play fundamentally sound football that includes:
– Running the ball effectively
– Controlling the Time of Possession
– Winning the turnover battle
Of course, it makes complete sense that whether or not Matthew Stafford can go, the Rams will want to run the ball. The Rams had some success in doing so with the likes of veteran running back Royce Freeman, and the return of former Rams running back Darrell Henderson Jr. If the Rams can run 30+ times, they have won those games this season. The biggest roadblock to the Rams is the fact that HC Sean McVay does not like to run the football.
Takeaway: The path to victory for the Packers starts with not playing from behind. The offense has to find a way to score a touchdown within the first possession or two, and hopefully, the defense will be able to get some stops. This would completely change they dynamic of the game from what we’ve seen over the last month-plus. During this losing streak, Green Bay finds itself in this vicious cycle they can’t get out of.
The offense can’t pick up a first down and punt quickly. The defense – who is allowing the most plays per drive in the NFL – can’t get off the field and has given up points early. The offense gets the ball back, can’t pick up a first down, and a now-tired Packers defense is back on the field. The process then continues to repeat itself, and because Green Bay is playing from behind constantly and in long down-and-distances, they never truly get into their game plan, as Matt LaFleur pointed out following the Minnesota game, and everything spirals.
Not having Matthew Stafford would be a big loss for the Rams. If he doesn’t play, what do Packers need to know about Brett Rypien? What can be expected from this offense with him at QB?
Bret: There is not a lot of history with quarterback Brett Rypien for the LA Rams. He was clearly earmarked to be the Rams QB3 until mysterious circumstances surrounded rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett. Rypien had three seasons of varied experience with the Denver Broncos prior to arriving with the Rams, but he has averaged no more than 100 passing yards per game. So if the Rams are going to move the football, the smart money is on the Rams running backs. In four offensive possessions, the Rams punted twice, turned the football over on downs once, and did manage to drive 25 yards in seven plays to kick a field goal.
Takeaway: Regardless of who the Rams’ quarterback is, they have a trio of wide receivers that will stress this now short-handed Packers secondary. Since Cooper Kupps’ return from injury, he and rookie Puka Nacua have formed a dynamic one-two punch. Both are very good at creating separation and picking up yards after the catch. Tutu Atwell, meanwhile, has been one of the more productive downfield targets in the NFL this season. Sean McVay will also move all three receivers around to give the defense different looks and to exploit matchups.
Cornerback was a strength for the Packers coming into the season, but now it is an unknown. Rasul Douglas has been traded, Jaire Alexander will play but is still limited in practice with that back injury, while Eric Stokes has been on IR. Rookie seventh-round pick Carrington Valentine will presumably get the start, and the backups are Corey Ballentine and Robert Rochell, two practice squad players as of last week. Safety is also a bit depleted, with Darnell Savage on IR and Rudy Ford questionable.
Who is one player on offense and one on defense that Packers fans may not be too familiar with but could make an impact on Sunday?
Bret: The LA Rams are a relatively unknown team, even to Rams fans this season. But with the way this game is taking shape, there are two Rams players who could be surprisingly effective in Week 9. The first player is veteran running back Royce Freeman. He is a huge load to handle; weighing 238 pounds and standing 6-foot-0, Freeman has a punishing style of running the football that delivers more to a defender than they bargained for. And the more that he is fed the football, the more effective he becomes.
On defense, I like the play of Rams rookie nose tackle Kobie Turner. While not a sumo wrestler in body mass, he compensates with a surprising mix of power and agility, which allows him to split double teams, shed blockers, and get after the quarterback. He may not be heavily involved in every play, but when he does make an impact, it is felt and very well-timed.
Takeaway: Freeman has 21 carries in the last two games, his only action this season, and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry with a touchdown. The Green Bay run defense was actually a bright spot against Minnesota and put the Vikings in a number of second and third-and-long situations–although the Packers’ defense was horrendous on third downs in that game. As a team, the Rams rank 17th in rush attempts per game and 15th in yards per carry with 4.2.
Turner has 11 pressures this season but has made the most noise in the run game. Out of all interior defenders, he has PFF’s 12th-highest run-defense grade and ranks eighth in run-stop rate. As already mentioned, the Packers have not been able to get the run game going this season, which has put more of the onus on a passing game that is already struggling. The combination of Aaron Donald and Turner in the middle could very much give the Packers struggling interior offensive line issues. The quickest way to wreck any play is with a strong push up the middle.
Bret: This game is a far cry to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs when an injured Jared Goff was outdueled by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This time around, the dueling quarterbacks look like Packers QB Jordan Love hosting Rams QB Brett Rypien. The only question now is, can the depleted Rams defeat the depleted Packers? While the winner retains faint hopes for a berth in the upcoming NFL Playoffs, the loser is even more firmly entrenched in a solid position for the 2024 NFL Draft.
As much as I would love for the Rams to get back on track winning games, I fear that the absence of Matthew Stafford and the undeniable struggles that the Rams seem to experience at Lambeau Field will prove too much to topple. Again.
Packers 21 – Rams 13