Seventh in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2018 regular season.
GREEN BAY - A year after being the NFC’s young, upstart contender, the Los Angeles Rams are taking nobody by surprise this fall.
With one of the NFL’s most talented rosters, the Rams were given the eighth-best odds to win Super Bowl LIII. Their 18-to-1 odds tied the New Orleans Saints, an established contender led by quarterback Drew Brees. A year ago, the Rams were 75-to-1 odds to win Super Bowl LII, third worst in the NFC.
So the mystery this season isn’t so much whether the Rams are talented enough to win (they are), but how they will withstand the crosshairs of expectation.
There will be more pressure on the Rams than they have experienced in more than a decade. That’s what happens when a franchise with zero winning seasons since 2003 suddenly jumps up to 11-5, winning the respectable NFC West in the process. Their division should only be tougher this season, with Jimmy Garoppolo’s rise in San Francisco making the 49ers a formidable opponent to join the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.
The Rams also lack an element of surprise with coach Sean McVay. A year ago, he was a 31-year-old enigma-turned-prodigy, his flexible, explosive offense taking the NFL by storm. Now, opponents have had a full offseason to prepare, using last season’s 16-plus games of film.
So there is a different vibe around the Rams, yet still plenty of questions. Here are three things to know:
Playing like a No. 1
Most of the attention has gone to the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, and justifiably so. Before his second NFL season ended with a torn ACL, Carson Wentz was a top contender for league MVP. But something else also happened in 2018: Jared Goff became the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. Goff, who won’t turn 24 until October, saw his numbers increase across the board from his rookie season. He completed 62 percent of his passes (up eight points). A year after throwing five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven starts, Goff had 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 15 starts. His 100.5 passer rating (up almost 40 points) ranked fifth in the league, one spot behind Wentz. You can’t win in the NFL without a quarterback. In his second season, Goff showed he's a quarterback who can win.
Gurley gets it done
A strong run game is a quarterback’s best friend, and in 2017 few tailbacks ran stronger than Todd Gurley. A Pro Bowler and offensive rookie of the year in 2015, Gurley slumped in 2016 with 885 yards and six touchdowns. He returned — and then some — to his rookie form last season, finishing with 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns to be selected first-team All-Pro. The biggest difference last season was Gurley’s all-around game. He finished with 2,093 yards from scrimmage, thanks to 64 catches for 788 yards. His six touchdown catches led NFL running backs. While Goff was invaluable behind center, Gurley was the foundation for the Rams' offense.
For several years, the Rams’ mantra was that they could win games if ever they had an offense that matched their defense. As McVay’s offense took off last season, the defensive side didn’t slip. That’s primarily because the Rams have the NFL’s most dominant interior pass rusher in Aaron Donald, who was selected first-team All-Pro for the third straight time in 2018. Donald, a Pro Bowler in each of his four seasons, has 39 sacks since being drafted with the 13th overall pick in the first round out of Pittsburgh. No other full-time defensive tackle in the league has more in that time.
Packers schedule glimpse
Oct. 28 at Rams, 3:25 p.m., Fox
Week before: Bye week.
Week after: at Patriots, Nov. 4.
On the horizon: vs. Dolphins, Nov. 11.
Los Angeles Rams
Coach: Sean McVay (11-5, second season with Rams).
2017 record: 11-5, first in NFC West.
Scoring offense: 29.9 points per game (1st in NFL).
Total offense: 361.5 yards per game (10th).
Scoring defense: 20.6 points allowed per game (12th).
Total defense: 339.6 yards allowed per game (19th).
Series: Tied 19-19.
Last meeting: Only three years ago, the last meeting between these teams highlights just how far the Rams have come. In the first of what would become a season-long slog for the Packers' offense in 2015, Aaron Rodgers & Co. managed only 322 yards in a 24-10 win at Lambeau Field. Rodgers’ league-record streak of 587 passes and 49 touchdowns without an interception ended in the first quarter, but Quinten Rollins’ pick-six highlighted a strong defensive effort against a Rams offense that became one of the NFL’s worst.