The matchup is cemented in. The Los Angeles Rams will travel to Lambeau Field this Saturday to take on the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. There are an endless amount of storylines that we will get to throughout the week. But there’s an obvious place to start: Saturday afternoon will match the No. 1 defense in the NFL against the No. 1 offense and likely MVP Aaron Rodgers. What will give?
What makes the Rams defense truly terrifying is that there isn’t a glaring spot where you can point to as a weakness. You know I won’t drown you in stats but let’s look at some of the base numbers quickly.
The Rams are:
- No. 1 in total defense
- No. 1 in pass defense
- No. 4 in rush defense
- No. 9 in takeaways
It’s a unit that is highlighted by two all-pro players, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. And both did their part against the Seattle Seahawks this past weekend to make life absolutely miserable for the home team. Donald had two sacks and pressured the Seattle backfield on multiple other occasions, and Ramsey practically wiped out D.K. Metcalf (Metcalf’s touchdown didn’t come against Ramsey). Russell Wilson was absolutely brutal to watch.
If you want to blame their offensive line, go ahead. But Russ is regarded as a top tier quarterback, and with that comes the expectation that you’ll get out of certain situations even against a No. 1 rated defense. Wilson was nothing short of dreadful against the Rams; that’s how good this defense is.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this defense is their depth. Ramsey and Donald rightfully chew up the spotlight, and the headlines but dudes like Leonard Floyd, Troy Hill, Darious Williams, and countless others have been causing havoc all year as well. Aaron Donald missed most of the second half with a rib injury against Seattle, and you would’ve been hard pressed to notice a difference with him in the game and with him out of it because the backups in his spot played like monsters. It’s an absolutely legitimate defense that has only given up 30-plus points ONCE all season.
Then there’s the Packers offense.
A model of consistency if there ever was one. It was great right out of the gates in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings all the way up to Week 17 against the Chicago Bears. There were hiccups, of course, every team has them throughout the regular season. But the Packers offense never went through a prolonged stretch where you were left wondering what the hell was wrong.
When we say this is a matchup of the best of the best, it’s not filler. It’s not an exaggeration.
The Packers offensive line is No. 1 in the NFL in pass protection. They face Aaron Donald, who is tied for PFF’s highest-graded player in the league. The other guy? Rodgers, of course.
Jalen Ramsey is a first team all-pro cornerback. Davante Adams is a first team all-pro wide receiver and arguably the best right now. I’m fascinated to see if Ramsey follows Adams into the slot this weekend. Ramsey will mirror his every move on the outside, but Matt LaFleur and the Packers use Adams in so many different spots, including the slot, that I wonder if Ramsey will follow him to the inside as well. Ramsey is an absolute shutdown cornerback, but it’s near impossible to keep the Rodgers-Adams connection held under wraps for an entire 60 minutes.
So what will give and what makes the difference?
The key for Green Bay could be their guys not named Davante Adams. Do the Packers have more dudes who can step up on offense than the Rams do on their defense? Can Robert Tonyan win matchups against linebackers and safeties from Los Angeles and be a constant threat? I’d like to think so. This would appear to be a game heading into it where Aaron Jones will need to be as productive receiving the ball as he is running it.
Can he win those matchups? He’s shown time and again he can out of the backfield and even lined up out wide when the Packers go empty. Ramsey and Adams will get all the attention from the outside going into this. Similarly, Donald will play against the Packers’ stout offensive line. But the difference maker could be the other weapons for both sides and who makes those plays.
And as good as this Rams defense is, Rodgers’ ability not to turn it over is the ultimate trump card. Rodgers has been praised for many things throughout his career, but his ability to avoid turnovers has been masterful. In many ways, whether Los Angeles can force turnovers will make the difference in this game. Russell Wilson threw a pick-six, and the L.A. defense recovered a fumble on a botched punt.
This Packers offense doesn’t turn the ball over, but I don’t want to see them run a single kick or punt back in this game. We’ve seen this movie this year on a few occasions and it’s not pretty. Here’s a step by step manual for ANYONE returning punts or kicks for Green Bay this weekend:
1. Jog out onto the field and pump up the Packers fans that will be in attendance.
2. Look confident. Own that moment on the field.
3. If it’s a punt, call for a fair catch AT ALL TIMES or get the hell out of the way from the ball. This is not your time to be a hero. If it’s a kickoff, plant the back of your feet on the one yard line. If you have to even take a half step backwards, stop, assess the situation, and immediately jog back towards the sideline.
4. If the kick is short of the end zone and you have to run up on it, do so, receive the ball, run five yards forward and lay down on the heated field at Lambeau and curl up into the fetal position until touched down by a member of the kicking team. I swear to everything good in this world if the Packers have turnovers on special teams again…
It’s the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense. Don’t mess up the special teams and override that narrative.
If Rodgers and Co. don’t turn it over, and if the quarterback pressures can be limited, it will be tough to beat the Packers this weekend. Five. More. Days.