In the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Denver Broncos are preparing to battle the unbeaten Los Angeles Rams. They will need just more than a good week of practice to buck the skid and defeat the Rams. A win on Sunday would change the narrative of the Broncos’ season and subsequently save a few jobs in the process. Most likely they will need a miracle to come out victorious, but miracles happen every day, so why not on tomorrow afternoon? Anyhow, here is a deeper look at the Rams, some keys to the game and my final score prediction.
A quick glance the Rams’ offense
Last week the Broncos’ defense was destroyed by the New York Jets, who entered last week’s affair having one of the league’s worst offenses. On Sunday that same defense who put up a disastrous effort will be going up against a much more formidable high-powered Rams offense that is one of the league’s best. But hey, maybe we can find a little hope that they will be slowed down a tad with a forecast of several inches of snow for the game, right folks?
After enduring half a decade of Jeff Fisher led mediocrity, the Rams went out and hired rising star and offensive mastermind Sean McVay in 2017. In his first year as their head coach, he was a key cog in revamping the league’s worst offense from 2016 (in points and yards) to the league’s number one scoring offense and tenth ranked in respect to total yards. Now that is a hell of a turn around! The Rams’ offensive success has continued five games into the 2018 season and is third in points scored (averaging nearly 35 points per contest) and tops in yards produced (468 yards per game).
The offense is led by Jared Goff, who is completing an impressive 72 percent of his passes and has 1,727 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season with only 4 interceptions. The wide receiver trio of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and the offseason trade acquired Brandin Cooks are lethal. Each of them has 26 receptions and 400 yards or more and often make their living operating in the middle of the field — giving the Rams arguably the best trio of receivers in the league. Their feature back and perhaps their best offensive player is running back Todd Gurley, who already has nearly 650 all-purpose yards and 9 touchdowns on the season in 120 total touches.
While their offense doesn’t utilize the tight end much, those five players are much better than anything the Jets had to offer talent-wise last week and you saw what they did to the Broncos. Therefore, it’s hard to come up with any imaginable scenario where the Broncos will be able to keep them all in check, unless they have a defensive outing like they did against the Kansas City Chiefs, sans the disastrous fourth quarter.
A quick glance at the Rams’ defense
A familiar face coaches the Rams’ defense and that’s former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips — the unsung hero and architect of the formidable defenses the Broncos fielded in 2015 and 2016. Humble as always, he seems to think he gets too much credit for that, but we all know if it wasn’t for him the franchise wouldn’t have gotten their third Lombardi Trophy.
One of the best defensive minds in the history of game, Phillips has undoubtedly helped turn that side of the ball around with his play-calling helping them sport a top ten ranked defense (7th in points allowed, 9th in yards allowed), despite having no top-tier edge rushers and a secondary battling injuries. Their passing defense is ranked 9th in the league giving up 235 yards per contest, and their rushing defense comes in below-average at 19th overall, giving up over 106 yards a game and five yards per carry. If there is an weakness on their defense the Broncos could exploit — that would certainly be it.
The two key players on the defense are Aaron Darnold and Ndamukong Suh, who are a handful for opposing offensive lines to handle on the interior of their defense. They have combined for 6 sacks this year and put a lot of heat on opposing quarterbacks, so it will be a big test for Ronald Leary, Matt Paradis and whoever the Broncos decide to start at right guard on Sunday. Even though he has had a down season after suffering a calf injury and being heavily-targeted with teammate Aqib Talib being sidelined, the Broncos need to keep an eye out for Marcus Peters, who has the ability to make game-changing plays on defense. We all know how dangerous he can be, so it’s best not to sleep on the veteran despite poor performances in recent weeks.
“I think our terrible run defense over the last two weeks is primarily due to our own stuff."— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 12, 2018
With Broncos Offensive Strengths, #LARams Must Play Gap-Sound Run Defense on Sunday » https://t.co/kT263F2XGj pic.twitter.com/yqJ1Geb4DN
Two Keys to the Game
Actually utilize Royce Freeman and get Phillip Lindsay involved heavily
Like I said about the when the Broncos hosted the Chiefs, sometimes the best defense is a good offense that can control the clock and the pace of the game. Going up against an impressive Rams’ offense will be no easy task, so keeping Goff and Co. off of the field and sustaining long, time-consuming drives would be wise for Denver. If snow is in the forecast for Sunday, that’ll impact the passing game — but it will be a prime reason to actually give Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay ample opportunities to demonstrate their talent.
As shown above, the Rams have been below-average against the run all year long and are giving up five yards per carry. It’s about time the Broncos’ coaches woke up and realized they need to run the ball more, especially in respect to Freeman. It’s the most effective part of their offense, so their willingness to abandon it and not establish it early on has been quite bothersome.
Find a way to limit Goff’s success in the middle of the field
Goff has been on fire when targeting receivers in the middle of the field this season, which is unfortunately the area the Broncos are most deficient at coverage-wise. With both Kupp and Cooks passing concussion protocol this week, they will be active for Sunday’s game and often find success against the heart of opposing defenses, especially on crossing routes. I’m not counting on Denver’s linebackers to excel in coverage in the middle of the field, so it will take some creative game-planning on behalf of Joe Woods to ensure the Broncos’ defense isn’t throttled in the open field. Oh, and the pass rush actually showing up this week would definitely help at getting Goff out of rhythm.
I’m usually an eternal optimistic, but the Broncos’ three-game losing streak has wiped away most of my positive outlook for the remainder of the season. Perhaps last week’s implosion against the Jets will be the wake-up call the coaches and players finally need, but I’m not going to hold my breath. The Rams are an incredibly good football team, in fact, they are the top contender to represent the NFC in this year’s Super Bowl. One team playing this Sunday has quality coaches and players that execute when it matters, one of them doesn’t. I will leave it to you to figure out which team is which — it’s certainly quite obvious. But I’m sure the Broncos had a good week of practice.
Rams 30, Broncos 20.