The Rams Will Score at Will; Can the Pack Keep Up?

So here we go. Aaron Rodgers said this week he has never seen a stretch like this. It stood out as soon as the schedules were released in April. Four out of five on the road, three in prime time, and it begins on a national stage at 3:25 against the unbeaten Rams. It's why we knew the Pack really needed to get out to fast start this year. But sitting at 3-2-1, they have left themselves very little wiggle room, needing to go no worse than 2-3 in this stretch to stay in the playoff mix.

This will mark the Pack's first visit to historic LA Memorial Coliseum in 40 years and they get to follow it up by traveling across the country to visit Tom Brady at Foxborough next Sunday night. Yikes. Fortunately, the Packers won't be starting David Whitehurst at QB, like they did in the season-ending loss in '78.

The Packers have never been bigger underdogs with Aaron Rodgers under center as they are this week, getting nine points. And they'll likely be at least a touchdown underdog next week. If they can somehow steal one of these games, it would completely change the tone of the season. The good news: the Pack has won six of their last seven NFC matchups in the game after the bye. The bad news: they've never faced anything like Sean McVay's Rams.

They emerged last season, when Jared Goff saw the light bulb turn on and he became more than the 'game manager' he was identified as after a mediocre rookie season. Under McVay's tutelage, and with a cupboard full of dangerous playmakers, Goff has become a legitimate MVP candidate, routinely serving up big plays (something the Pack's defense has been allowing to much lesser talent). The presence of the game's best back, Todd Gurley keeps opposing defenses honest and allows Goff to use play action as effectively as any QB in the league.

If the Packers are to stay in this game, the defense will have to be able to get off the field occasionally on third down (provided the Rams offense even needs a third down) and take the ball away once or twice. Providing hope is the health of the defense; everyone is available for this game, so getting rookie Jaire Alexander back as well as recently acquired Brashaud Breeland will give the secondary a shot in the arm, providing the depth needed to deal with Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp (he hasn't practiced all week after missing last week with a knee injury and may miss this one as well).

I think it's safe to say the Rams will get their points this week. The question is, can the Packers keep up against the league's seventh ranked defense (fourth in points allowed)? There is reason for hope. While the Rams' D has handled QBs like Derek Carr, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and CJ Beathard, the ones they've faced with serious pedigree have put points on the board: Rivers 23, Cousins 31, and Wilson 31.

The Pack's offense is healthier coming out of the bye, with Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb set to make their returns, barring any setbacks in the next day or two. Rodgers is still wearing a brace on his knee, which is disappointing, but he will be thrilled to see those guys back on the field. Cobb, in particular, could be a big weapon on Sunday: the Rams have been the eighth worst against slot WRs this season. Look for Rodgers to pick on former teammate Sam Shields, who has resurrected his career in LA, but has been targeted as the weak link since Aquib Talib got hurt a few weeks ago.

The strength of the Rams defense is up the middle, with the game's best defender, Aaron Donald (four sacks last week) leading the way and Ndamukong Suh right next to him. Despite all that beef in the middle, their run defense has not been stellar, surrendering the seventh most yards per carry, 4.74, and the second most yards after contact. That sets the stage for Aaron Jones, who should be Rodgers' best friend on Sunday. For years we've understood that Packer opponents wanted to run effectively, to keep the prolific Green Bay passing game off the field. This week, the shoe is on the other foot.

If the Packers are to spring the major upset, they will have to be much better in the red zone--there can be no settling for field goals against this team. They need to limit the penalties and special teams mistakes and get a couple of takeaways. Basically, they need to play a fundamentally sound game for 60 minutes: something we've seen exactly once this season, against the Bills.

The Rams are returning home from a three game road trip and they are also looking at this as the beginning of their toughest stretch of the season. Could they be looking past the Pack a bit, with a visit to the Superdome to face Drew Brees and the Saints next week? Then they get a rematch with the Seahawks (first meeting: a narrow 33-31 win) and then the game of the year: vs. the Chiefs in Mexico City.

I do think the Packers have an edge, playing an unbeaten team that keeps hearing how great they are, while they are in a dogfight in the NFC North. Green Bay's been very good coming off the bye, 9-3 under McCarthy. They've also performed well as dogs, 4-0 against the spread when a 6 1/2 point underdog or more. Rodgers and the Pack will move the ball on this team and I think it will be closer than most expect, but ultimately they come up short.

Rams 31 Packers 27


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