Each Tuesday, Press-Gazette Media will turn to the week ahead with three storylines for the Green Bay Packers’ next game. This week, the opponent is the St. Louis Rams. Here’s a glimpse of what to watch for when the Packers host the Rams for a noon kickoff Sunday.
1. An upstart: The Rams turned heads when they opened the season with a victory over the reigning NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Expectations faded during the next two weeks with losses to the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers, but were ignited again Sunday when the Rams went on the road and upset the previously unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.
With wins against the Seahawks and Cardinals, the Rams have beaten two playoff teams from last season, and the two teams considered the best in the NFC West. It’s enough to label them a playoff contender, and they could take another step Sunday with a win at Lambeau Field.
If the Rams are able to beat the Packers, their schedule opens up to allow them a chance to go on a nice run. Their next five opponents after Green Bay have a combined 6-14 record.
2. Protecting the right: Although there were several quarterback hurries, Packers backup right tackle Don Barclay impressively avoided allowing any sacks in his first two games filling in for injured starter Bryan Bulaga. But Barclay allowed three sacks Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and things won’t get any easier this week against one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL.
The Rams are tied (with the Packers) for second in the league with 17 sacks this season, one behind the leage-leading Denver Broncos. With a defensive line of Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn, the Rams can pressure the quarterback without blitzing, something that has given the Packers trouble in the past.
3. Another running test: So you thought the Packers’ run defense was out of the woods after starting its first four games against elite runners named Forte, Lynch, Charles and Kaepernick? Not so fast.
Rookie Todd Gurley, in only his second career game, gashed the Cardinals’ formidable run defense for 146 yards on 19 carries Sunday. That’s a 7.7 yards-per-carry average against a Cardinals defense that had averaged just 94.6 yards allowed through the first three games.
Gurley is a rare type of tailback, drafted 10th overall in an era when running backs are almost never taken in the first round. He might not have dropped that far if not for a torn ACL last year. His knee is clearly feeling good now, and he could be a significant test for a Packers run defense that has answered the challenge three straight weeks.