This week’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams won’t be like many of the previous matchups. The Packers are 2-5 and on a four game losing streak, while the Rams are 3-5 and expected to be without Matthew Stafford.
Here are six things to watch for as Sunday’s matchup unfolds.
Can Green Bay pressure the quarterback?
From the sounds of it, Brett Rypien will be under center for the Rams. Pressuring the inexperienced quarterback will be a must. For one, it will hopefully lead to turnover opportunities, but also, if the Packers fail to get after the quarterback regularly, I imagine the Rams are going to have a lot of quick passes dialed up for Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua, both of whom have been very good at creating space and picking up YAC. Green Bay enters the game ranked 12th in pressure rate, but outside of Rashan Gary, who ranks second among edge rushers in pass rush win rate, the rest of the Packers edge rushers have been inconsistent in that regard.
Jones has played the last few games, but Matt LaFleur said prior to the Minnesota game that he wasn’t 100 percent yet. However, this past Friday, LaFleur said that Jones had a good week of practice and they were ready to “cut him loose.” In the last two games, Jones is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 15 attempts and has 40 receiving yards on seven receptions. Green Bay needs Jones to be the catalyst for this offense—someone they can lean on. With that said, with how poor the run blocking has been this season, simply giving Jones more carries may not be a cure-all for that. It would also be nice to see LaFleur dial up more creative ways to get Jones the ball in the passing game, rather than just simple throws to the flat. For an offense struggling to move the ball through the air, getting Jones more touches would hopefully create relatively simple plays for the offense to execute on with some big play potential.
Aaron Donald vs. Packers IOL
Aaron Donald, as we know, is one the most dominant defenders in the NFL, and it’s been that way for a number of years. This season is no different. Donald ranks second at his position group in total pressures and is fourth in pass rush win rate and run stops. As already alluded to, the Packers offensive line, especially the interior, has struggled this season. Green Bay is averaging just 3.8 yards per rush this season and Jordan Love has been pressured on the fourth-most dropbacks over the last four games. The Rams will be without Ernest Jones, but we’ve seen other one-man wrecking crews absolutely derail the Packers game plan. If the run game can’t get going or Love doesn’t have time, it’s again going to be a long day for the offense.
Question marks in the secondary
With Rasul Douglas in Buffalo, rookie seventh round pick Carrington Valentine will start at cornerback. Green Bay’s backups now consist of Corey Ballentine and Robert Rochell—two practice squad players as of last week. At safety, Darnell Savage is on IR while Rudy Ford is questionable. Even with Brett Rypien at quarterback, the Rams have a trio of receivers that can really stress this secondary. Sean McVay does a good job of moving Kupp and Nacua around pre-snap and both are often targeted on short to intermediate routes where they can get the ball in space to pick up YAC, while Tutu Atwell has been a productive downfield target.
Can the Packers find any sort of first half success?
In the last five games, the Packers have been out scored 73-9 in first halves. The same self-inflicted errors continue to put the offense in a hole. Whether it be penalties, an inability to move the ball in the run game, or an inconsistent passing game that features receivers running the wrong routes and dropping passes, Green Bay too often finds themselves in third-and-longs, where the defense has the advantage and the offense is forced to be one-dimensional. As LaFleur pointed out following the Minnesota game, being in these obvious passing situations as often as they’ve been doesn’t allow the Packers to fully get into their game plan.
When the Packers have found success this season, oftentimes they’ve been in hurry-up mode. While this approach can’t be the Packers’ identity, starting the game in this fashion could at least allow them to pick up some first downs, and who knows, maybe score. In part, this approached has worked for the Packers’ offense because the defense loses its ability to do the dictating and simplified looks—which is a good thing for an offense with so much inexperience.
I also wrote recently that I don’t believe things will consistently improve on offense until the downfield passing game becomes more consistent. Right now, defenses don’t fear that element, which leads to them playing closer to the line of scrimmage, making moving the ball on the ground and on short to intermediate routes more difficult—there is just less space to operate in. However, connecting on some downfield attempts will create better spacing and opportunities for others underneath.
A must win for the Packers
This isn’t a must win because it keeps the Packers playoff hopes alive. But rather, and with all due respect to Rypien, but if Green Bay loses this game at home to a backup quarterback on a 3-5 team, it really feels like things could truly spiral out of control for the Packers. At that point, I’m not sure when their next win will come. Yes, it’s an evaluation year, but having two wins 10-plus weeks into the season with no sign of progress is a failure. While trading away Rasul Douglas won’t by any means be the sole reason for what could transpire in the coming weeks following a loss, not having a strong locker room presence during these hard times will have an impact.