Sean McVay returns to FedEx Field, bringing his 3-1 LA Rams team with him. The last time the burgundy & gold faced off against their former OC, it was Week 2 of the 2017 season in LA, and the good guys came away with an upset 27-20 victory. Washington has won two in a row against the Rams and 3 of the last 5 games (dating back to 2011). Washington has dominated the all-time series with a 26-13-1 record. The Rams have never won more than three consecutive games against Washington, and the one time that happened was in the 1940s.
The Rams are favored on the road this week, but Washington can do things on offense, defense and special teams that could allow the Football Team to surprise pundits and extend the winning streak against the Rams.
No. 1 - bring relentless pressure on Jared Goff
I haven’t been able to find the numbers for the first quarter of the 2020 season yet, but in mid-2019, Jared Goff was significantly worse when under pressure than from a clean pocket. Let’s look at Goff in comparison to the four other passers Washington has faced so far this season:
Again, these stats are almost a year old, but I think they are useful. They indicate that there’s not a lot to be gained by pressuring Lamar Jackson, and that was the approach taken by Jack Del Rio. Last week, the Washington defense focused on solid coverage and a containing pass rush. Against Kyler Murray, the defense was gashed repeatedly by Murray when the rush was too aggressive and left lanes for him to run in.
Wentz, quite simply, is not playing very well in 2020. He was harassed and harried by the WFT defense, and he was so shaken that he was ineffective after the first 20 minutes or so of the game.
We didn’t get the win in Cleveland, but that was due primarily to offensive breakdowns — especially from our young quarterback — not so much a failure of the defensive plan. Furthermore, Mayfield has taken a huge step forward this season as opposed to 2019. He looks more poised, with better understanding of the offense under HC Kevin Stefanski than he did a year ago under HC Freddie Kitchens.
Goff has some mobility, but he seems the most vulnerable of the QBs that Washington has faced so far in this young season.
Per PlayerProfiler.com, in 2020, Goff’s clean pocket completion percentage is 82.4% while his percentage of completions under pressure is just 53.8%. Goff is ranked 32nd in air yards per attempt at just 6.2. For comparison, Dwayne Haskins, who hadn’t been exactly pushing the ball downfield, averaged 8.3 yards per attempt. The Rams are making a living by throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage or within 10 yards of it. The Washington defense — especially if Chase Young returns this week — has ability to hurry Goff’s throws (pushing his completion rate down to the mid-50s), and the speed to limit yards after catch on the short passes that Goff tends to throw.
No. 2 - Contain Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee
Kupp is the most dangerous receiver on the Rams offense; still, he averaged just over 72 yards per game last season. So far this season, he is averaging 74 yards per game, and has scored two touchdowns in four games. Robert Woods is averaging around 57 yards per game and has scored a single TD. The tight end Higbee is averaging less than 40 yards per game, but has 3 TDs — though all three came in a single game against the Eagles.
The Rams are not executing an explosive passing attack. They are just 15th in the league, averaging around 266 passing yards per game, and they rank 19th in the league in receiving TDs. The Washington defense should be able to limit the passing game of the Rams, much as the Giants did (Goff threw for 200 yards and a TD last week), and try to win a low-scoring game that could look a lot like the 17-9 affair between the Rams and Giants played last Sunday.
No. 3 - Antonio Gibson and the other RBs need to rush 25 times for 125 yards or more
The Rams defense is giving up 5 yards per carry so far this season. Only four NFL teams are giving up more. In addition, the Rams have given up 4 rushing TDs in 4 games, while Washington has scored six rushing TDs this season, at a clip of 1.5 rushing TDs per game.
Gibson is showing signs of being able to flex his muscle as a dual-threat running back, and this game offers him the opportunity to get more carries than receptions, and use his incredible balance and abilities to cut back and break tackles to pile up yards, move the chains and burn up clock in a low-scoring game dominated by defense and rushing.
No. 4 - Washington needs to win the battle of field position
First and foremost I’m thinking about special teams here. Tress Way needs to repeatedly pin the Rams inside their 20 yard line. The kickoff return team needs to make sure the offense never starts a drive inside the 25.
But this also means that Washington can’t lose the turnover battle, and it means that Rivera has to make good decisions on 4th down and with field goal attempts of 49 yards or more. I think this is a week to be a bit more conservative; use the punting game to keep the Rams offense needing long drives to score, as the Rams offense hasn’t really had a lot of big-play ability on display this season. I’m thinking that the winner of this game will score less than 22 points, and that each team may be limited to 11 or 12 drives. “Tilting” the field position in Washington’s favor will be a huge advantage in what looks to be a low-scoring contest.
This may be the most favorable matchup the WFT has faced in the 2020 season. The Rams have a middling offense that runs a fairly balanced attack, with no star receivers or running backs. The QB is capable, but is much less efficient under pressure.
Defensively, the Rams are vulnerable against a decent running attack. They surrendered over 130 yards to an anemic Giants attack that didn’t have Saquon Barkley. The Football Team should be able to rely more on the run this week than they could in the first quarter of the season, and the slow-developing cohesion of the offensive line should benefit from more runs and fewer passes.
I’m not ready to predict victory this week, but I think this will a lot closer than the Rams -8.5 point spread I saw when I checked the betting lines. I believe this game will be similar to the Giants - Rams game from a week ago, and that it may well come down to the last possession to decide the winner.