When the 2017 NFL schedule was released fans instantly circle the Rams week 14 matchup. Naturally, with the obvious headline of the first and second overall picks facing off in their second NFL season. The matchup itself is a great storyline, but with the success of these two teams, there’s more to it than just “Wentz vs. Goff.” This game has serious playoff implications with the winner of the game holding the number two seed in the NFC playoff picture. Playoff seeding becomes crucial at this point, with three games remaining after they meet. With these two offenses scoring the same amount of points through 12 games (361), this game very well could come down to the defense and special teams play.
The only thing that seems certain about this matchup is that it will be circled every year it shows up on the schedule for years to come.
Los Angeles Rams Offense vs. Philadelphia Eagles Defense
Rams offense background
Sunday’s matchup against the Eagles’ dominant defense is going to be a very tough test for everyone on the Rams offense, but it won’t be their toughest. The Rams have played against the top-two defenses in terms of points allowed this year, with mixed results. Week six saw them go against a Jaguars defense that leads the NFL in yards allowed per game (282.5), passing yards allowed per game (167.1), and points allowed per game (14.8). This game saw the Rams put up the second most points against the Jaguars defense on the season. The Rams are also one of only four teams to score 20 points against Jacksonville this season.
The second meeting came against the Vikings on the road, where they failed to score more than seven points. However, they were one yard out from scoring again before turning the ball over on a fumble, this game resulted in a loss after winning four straight. The difference in the two games is that the Vikings rank second in rush yards allowed per game with 68.1. This allowed them to all but eliminate Todd Gurley from the game, something the Jaguars couldn’t do as Gurley had his second most carries in a single game and second most rush yards in a game this season, with 116 in Jacksonville.
Rams offensive needs on Sunday
If these indications mean anything, the Rams will absolutely need to stay patient and get the run game going. The team that allows the fewest rush yards per game are, you guessed it, the Eagles. In fact, they are allowing an astonishing 68.1 rush yards per game, almost 10 fewer than the Vikings. Not only can the run game get things opened up for the offense, it can help eliminate one of the Eagles’ biggest weapons, their pass-rush. This can help keep Goff comfortable in the pocket, where he has thrown all of his touchdowns. The Eagles’ 33 sacks only tell part of the story, as they are constantly in the backfield and hurrying the quarterback to make decisions they might not want to make. Fortunately, though, the Rams’ offensive line has only allowed 20 quarterback sacks, the seventh fewest in the league.
That coupled with Goff taking care of the ball and making smart decisions with the ball will be crucial. He is tied for fourth fewest interceptions with six and top-10 in throw-aways with 17, keeping the Rams in any game and frustrating defenses into giving up a big play. One key to the game for this Rams offense will be sustaining drives, something they have been very successful in doing. The Rams have converted 43 percent of third downs this season but struggled to do so last week against the Cardinals. Playing smart football and taking what the defense gives the Rams will be important to open it up for one of those league leading-explosive plays, despite the Eagles allowing the second fewest.
Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. Philadelphia Eagles Offense
Eagles run game
The Rams have struggled in the past against big physical runners with smaller inside linebackers. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they will see in running backs Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. These two are some of the more physical runners and have no problem lowering a shoulder and making you earn it. They have combined for 74 rush attempts since the Eagles acquired Ajayi from the Dolphins, totaling 446 yards and one touchdown. The Seahawks were able to limit these two to only 17 attempts and 61 yards by getting a lead on them, something easier said than done.
The other part of that is getting to the quarterback when they drop back to pass, the Seahawks also did this well by sacking quarterback Carson Wentz three times. With the Rams’ current total quarterback sacks at 38 (third most) they are no stranger to getting to the quarterback, especially All-Pro Aaron Donald. He and Robert Quinn have combined for five sacks over the last two weeks and have rookie Samson Ebukam making his second start alongside them, who had one of his own in week 12.
Watching this game may turn into a staring contest and whoever blinks first loses. The Rams rank fourth in total takeaways with 21, just behind the Eagles’ 22. Wentz had an interception and a fumble that went out of the end zone for a touchback against the Seahawks in week 13, Rams fans can relate. It will be interesting to see if the Rams use a similar approach to their game against the Saints, who are the only team that ranks higher than the Eagles in total offense that the Rams have played.
Despite being one of the heaviest blitzing teams in the league, the Rams barely blitzed at all and dropped into coverage a lot. This forced perfect throws in the face of a pass-rushing Donald. With some of the best coverage safeties and slot corner in the league, the Rams like their odds defending the pass, and probably prefer it over the duo of Ajayi and Blount wearing them down as long as they get home with their front-four. The Eagles are currently averaging almost six fewer points on the road at 25.2, while the Rams allowing the fourth fewest points at home at 15.8. Both sides will be tested in this one.
This is the start of the final quarter of the season and it is the biggest game of the season. This game could put the Rams in position to clinch their first playoff berth since 2004 when they had eight wins. Not to mention, it could also propel them into the second overall seed in the NFC, keeping their playoff destiny in their own hands. It’s absolutely astonishing how closely these two teams matchup against one another and if this game went into overtime, and down to the last second of it, no one should be surprised.
This is a game that very well could come down to special teams play and with the Rams’ unit playing some of the best in the league, the edge would have to point to them. Part of the big reason the Rams were able to beat the top-ranking defense in the Jaguars was in part to the opening kickoff being returned for a touchdown, setting the tone and giving the Rams a lead within in 10 seconds of the game starting. It’s hard to go against the Rams and their new coaching staff with how many times they proved they can get the best out of their guys at the most important times, and that’s how I see it this week, Rams 28-22.