Packers vs. Rams preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (3-2-1) at Los Angeles Rams (7-0).
WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum,
TV: Fox with Thom Brennaman (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (sideline).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Series tied, 46-46-2.
LINE: Rams by 9 1/2.
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, high of 81.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (134-80-2) vs. Los Angeles' Sean McVay (18-6)
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
GHOSTBUSTERS: A big emphasis for the Packers' defense this week has been eye control. The Rams run a lot of motion with their skill players, sometimes using it to get the ball to that player and sometimes using it as a decoy. The Packers refer to the latter as “ghost motion," and it’s something they must ignore. It means being extra disciplined with their eyes, focusing in on what their assignment is and not getting distracted by the motion. “They have a lot of things, a lot of window dressing, a lot of things where they’re doing those motions, trying to get your eyes to look at one thing and doing another,” inside linebacker Blake Martinez said. “For us, it’s going to be trusting our fundamentals, trusting the play that is called and doing our job on that given play and not worrying about, ‘Oh, this guy is flying across, I’m going to look for a second.’”
THE BYE AND BYE: Under coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have enjoyed decent success around the bye week. Coming out of a bye, they are 9-3 and have won seven of their last nine. Only five times have they won coming in and out of a bye. They beat San Francisco going into the bye this year, but might be facing their most difficult test in McCarthy’s time coming out. “We’ve got our work cut out for us but we’ve had a good week of work so far,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “And coming back off the bye we’re as healthy as we’ve been. We like the opportunity.”
HALF AND HALF: Why exactly the Packers have been so much better on defense in the second half of games than in the first half is something defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his staff studied during the bye week. “I think we have a better sense being able to kind of sit back and kind of look at all of it one more time from a different lens,” he said. “Some of it you can’t put your finger on in terms of the slow start part, but it’s something we talk about every day.” The Packers rank 29th in the NFL in average points allowed in the first half (16.7), according to teamrankings.com. The good news for them is that they rank second in the NFL in second-half points allowed (7.3). Overall, they rank 15th in the NFL in points allowed (24.0).
FAIR TO LITTLETON: The Packers have been up and down on special teams this season and desperately need to be on the upside this week. The Rams filled all four Pro Bowl special teams positions (returner, punter, kicker, long snapper) last year and blocked five kicks in 2017. Linebacker Cory Littleton had two of those blocks and this year he has two more, as well as another he deflected. As well as opponents know Littleton, they can’t stop him. “I promise you, they (the Packers) are going to know where ‘58’ is, and hopefully we can stay in front of him and not give him a chance there,” special teams coach Ron Zook said. Last year’s Pro Bowl returner, Pharoh Cooper, is on injured reserve, but punt returner JoJo Natson (17.2 average) and kickoff returner Blake Countess (25.7) rank fourth and seventh in the NFL in their respective duties.
ROOKIE SPOTLIGHT: The contribution of the rookie cornerbacks and wide receivers has been well-documented, but there is at least one other guy who could be heard from this season: Tyler Lancaster. After losing defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson to a broken leg, the Packers tried to add another defensive lineman to the roster. They looked at nose tackles because Kenny Clark is the only true nose they have. They went after Brian Price, but couldn’t get him to leave Cleveland’s practice squad. They worked out veteran Quinton Dial. They finally decided to bring 6-4, 313-pound undrafted rookie Lancaster up from the practice squad Oct. 6. Lancaster played three snaps against the 49ers, but with stopping running back Todd Gurley a priority this week, Lancaster is going to be needed to spell Clark. “He's strong at the point of attack,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. “He's also disruptive at times and will get off blocks. I envision him playing a little more.”
The possibility of a blowout exists, especially if the defense gets off to another poor start. But coach Mike McCarthy has done a good job in the past getting his team ready after a bye week and the Rams are due for a letdown. All that said, the best the Packers will do is cover the spread. Rams 37, Packers 31
Green Bay is healthy and had an extra week to set the game plan. But odds are the Packers’ defense won’t be able to deal with both the NFL’s best running back (Todd Gurley) and a young quarterback (Jared Goff) who puts the ball on the money in play action. Then there’s the problem of blocking two inside rushers (Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh) who can keep Aaron Rodgers from dominating. The Packers are a heavy underdog for good reason. Rams 38, Packers 27
Aaron Rodgers is the biggest underdog he’s ever been based on the betting lines. The Rams are the NFL’s most talented team, if not also its best. It’s hard to determine where the Packers will face their biggest challenge. Blocking Aaron Donald? Tackling Todd Gurley? Defending Sean McVay’s explosive passing scheme? The answer: yes. Rams 34, Packers 23
While I believe the Packers' offense is finding itself, I haven’t seen a complete game out of the defense - and I’m not sure they’ll put one together this week on the road. Rams 35, Packers 30
The Packers have a recent history of playing better than expected as underdogs (even last season when Brett Hundley kept them in the game at Pittsburgh). Expect Aaron Rodgers to keep the game competitive before being outgunned in the end. Rams 38, Packers 34