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Striking similarities between Packers, Rams suggest close game if Rodgers ignites

The difference between these two teams isn’t on defense despite LA’s big-name talent. If Green Bay’s offense plays to its potential, it can upset the Rams on the road.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers will have to play his best football of the season to beat the Rams.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When the Green Bay Packers look at the 2018 Los Angeles Rams, they must see the team this version of Green Bay was supposed to be. If Aaron Rodgers hadn’t hurt his knee in Week 1, this matchup might look even more like a mirror image than it already does, as his lack of mobility has stunted the development of the offense, particularly in the red zone.

But even with those limitations, injuries to key skill players, and shuffling along the offensive line, the comparisons between the 7-0 Rams and the 3-2-1 Packers remain more apt than one would intuitively assume.

Coming into Sunday, the Rams had the No. 1 offense in football by total yards. The Packers were second. Wade Phillips’ defense was ranked 14th, with Mike Pettine’s squad coming in at 16th. The Packers have the No. 2 passing offense in the league by yardage, with Jared Goff and company coming in fourth.

But as Pettine has noted already, yardage totals can be deceiving. By Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which accounts for opponent, the Rams boast the league’s second-ranked offense, while the Packers stand seventh. Todd Gurley and the run game are the best in the league, while Green Bay’s stable of backs are fourth by DVOA.

The difference must be in the red zone then right? The Packers have struggled mightily scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. Except it’s not. Sean McVay’s team scores touchdowns at a marginally better rate (17th in the NFL) than the Packers (22nd). But it is true that the Rams have score more touchdowns than the Packers and get in the end zone more often than Green Bay relative to how often they settle for field goals.

McVay, with Goff, Gurley and Cooks et al, averages about one more play of 20+ yards per game more than the Packers (they have ten more total, but four of them came against the 49ers). When they get chunk plays, they go for touchdowns, whereas the Packers haven’t had the same kind of success. Part of that is just lucky, the same way Julio Jones can be the most physically dominant receiver in the league and can’t sniff the end zone, whereas as Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley can’t stop finding paydirt. There’s some flukiness to it even if it’s true the Rams offense is really good. And it is.

The biggest difference right now is Jared Goff and the passing attack have been more efficient than the most efficient quarterback to ever play the game. Injuries robbed Rodgers of his ability to create outside the pocket and extend plays as consistently as he’d like. Losing two of the only three pass catchers he trusts also dented the continuity of the passing offense while early deficits robbed the Packers of any chance to be balanced in most of their games to this point.

If there’s a roadmap to success for the Packers this week, it’s simple: Green Bay gets 2016 Run the Table™ Rodgers with Cobb and Allison back from injury and the knee brace off. They get the version of the offense this team has hinted at lately, with consecutive 500-yard offensive games coming off the 420+ they hung on a very good Bills defense. If the Packers can get a little better big-play luck and improved red zone offense, it’s not unreasonable to think this game looks more like the Seahawks or Vikings game, where the Rams needed to win a shootout late.

Defensively, the two teams might as well be the Spider-Man pointing meme, despite the obvious difference in big name talent. Here’s a look at the two teams by DVOA.

Packers defense

22nd in total DVOA
15th vs. the pass
28th vs. the run

Rams defense

17th in total DVOA
14th vs. the pass
26th vs. the run

Kirk Cousins lit this Rams defense up on a short week, though Marcus Peters played hurt in that game. Russell Wilson threw three touchdowns in a game LA won by just two, and even Case Keenum threw for 300+ against the Rams in a three-point loss for the Broncos. And had Philip Rivers not suffered a handful of terrible drops, the Chargers would have given the Rams a much better game.

If a virtuoso Rodgers game is what the Packers need to win, this Rams defense has shown itself susceptible to giving those games up against good quarterbacks with quality weapons. Green Bay clearly qualifies there. Early questions will be about whether this defense can play well enough to beat the Rams, but given what we’ve seen the Rams do with a statistically comparable defense, the real question should be: can the offense? We’ve seen Rodgers do it for stretches this season even with the injuries. The second half against a very good Bears defense. The last drive against the 49ers. The would-be game-winning drive at the end of regulation vs. the Vikings. Even the no-punt performance against the Lions hints to how unstoppable this team can be moving the ball.

And we know what Rodgers looks like with an extra week to prepare, get healthy, and create some continuity. If this defense does only what it’s done all season and the offense plays to its potential, the Packers can absolutely beat the best team in the NFL. It won’t take a so-called “perfect” game to do it. But it will take an offensive performance better than we’ve seen to this point in the season from Green Bay.

In 2012, with the Packers dealing with similar doubters, a struggling offense, and a 2-3 record, Aaron Rodgers went into Houston and answered any questions with a six touchdown performance against the 5-0 Texans.

Think it can’t happen again? No. 12 might have something to say about that.