The Los Angeles Rams come into Saturday’s playoff contest in proud possession of one of the league’s very best defenses.
An elite unit, to be sure, but not unbeatable. However rarely it may have happened, teams have found ways to exploit the Rams this year. It stands the reason that the Green Bay Packers, who happen to feature one of the league’s best offenses, should be able to find a way to do the same.
How, though? We asked our writers what they thought. Here’s what they had to say.
Shawn Wagner: By utilizing the sidelines
In a Week 16 win, as well as a wildcard loss, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks targeted the left side of the field heavily, presumably because Jalen Ramsey was primarily on the other side. In fact, Seattle completed just a single pass right of the hashes last week in particular, so that in itself will be a consideration. But reviewing those two games, the only true aerial success Wilson had was targeting the sidelines and that came with not only DK Metcalf but Tyler Lockett and David Moore. Five of Wilson’s six longest passing plays in those two games came in that vicinity and the sixth was close to the sideline on a 51-yard scoring strike to Metcalf when the original play broke down.
For a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers who has made millions off of his ability to improvise and work the sidelines at a high rate, the matchup with LA should work to his strengths. Although Davante Adams figures to receive a strong challenge from Ramsey, there should continue to be back-shoulder opportunities for the All-Pro. The vertical opportunities along the sideline should also keep coming for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, while Allen Lazard works the short-to-intermediate edges. Perhaps a wheel route to Aaron Jones would also be a useful surprise attack on a critical down. Regardless, working the sidelines will be important for Green Bay based on Seattle’s passing charts.
Tex Western: Go single-high on defense, attack Jordan Fuller
Simply put, the Rams’ pass defense should scare exactly nobody. Regardless of whether they start John Wolford coming off a neck stinger or Jared Goff and his bad right thumb, the Packers should be able to keep LA’s passing game in check — and that is especially true if Cooper Kupp is limited or unable to play. With that in mind, I’d like to see the Packers go to a lot of single-high safety looks with Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos rotating between playing deep in coverage or acting as a robber closer to the line of scrimmage.
The Packers should also be in their base 3-4 a lot on Saturday, much like how they started the games against the Titans and Bears before a big lead forced the opponents to scrap the running game. Give me 20-25 snaps from Snacks Harrison with Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry or Tyler Lancaster flanking him to keep the Rams from having success with the run.
When the Packers have the football, I expect them to use a heavy dose of the run game and play-action. One player I hope they try to isolate is strong safety Jordan Fuller, a sixth-round rookie out of Ohio State. Fuller has good size at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, but he’s an underwhelming athlete, posting a 4.67-second 40 at the combine. Looking over his stats, he has not had his hands on a single pass over the last six games and has just five defended passes in 13 games all year — three picks and two deflections. Fuller has also allowed 80 percent of targets into his coverage to be completed, giving up 9.3 yards per target and three touchdowns. That helps to account for the fact that the Rams rank 21st in DVOA defending passes to the middle of the field, and it is a sign that the Packers should take some deep shots with MVS and Robert Tonyan between the hashes.
Rcon14: Plenty of play-action
The Packers offense has been humming on play-action this year. Green Bay had a league-best 0.41 EPA/play on throws off play-action this year while the Rams were a well below-average unit defending against play-action ranking 22nd in YPA. This plays directly into where the Rams defense is weakest. Jalen Ramsey is a star, but drawing the linebackers in attacking in over the middle and in the half-spaces will allow GB to take advantage of the Rams weaknesses there.
It’s not super complicated, but sometimes football doesn’t have to be.
Kris: All the crossers. Make them go cross-eyed.
There is ample evidence that shallow to medium crossing routes can be the Rams’ weakness on defense. Seattle in the regular season had plenty of success beating the vaunted LA secondary with crossing routes and the Packers are plenty equipped to do so as well and perhaps more efficiently.
This might also be the best way to specifically neutralize Jalen Ramsey against Davante Adams. Make him consistently run the length of the field and the big play will eventually be there. It would just be up to Adams and Aaron Rodgers to successfully connect and does anyone really want to bet against them at this point.
Bottom line: a flurry of motion by receivers in the middle off the field should be enough to keep their secondary on their toes and eventually put them on their heels.
Paul Noonan - Pre-Snap Motion, Don’t Fall in Love With Shotgun
The most important thing you can do when attacking the Rams is to make them show something pre-snap. You need to cause confusion and dictate what they see, and the more your passing game benefits from play-action, motion, or unusual sets, the better. If you want to see how to beat this team, go watch either 49ers game from earlier this year. They run jet-sweep motion frequently, they almost always do something to help them identify zone v. man, and they relentlessly attack the middle of the field, where the Rams are the least efficient per DVOA’s zone breakdowns.
When you go to shotgun, you lose some of your ability to cause confusion, you can’t run conventional play-action, and your running game gets less effective. If you want to see this fail, go watch the Seattle game from last weekend.
Be like Kyle Shanahan, not like Pete Carroll.