The Green Bay Packers are up against it now when it comes to getting the one-seed. They entered last week as the favorites in the NFC to secure the all-valuable bye, but now sit behind Arizona, who has a 49% chance to take it, per FiveThirtyEight. Green Bay sits in the second position at 30%. Green Bay does have an ace in the hole as they have the head-to-head victory over Arizona, so they only need to match records.
That is what makes this Sunday’s game against Los Angeles so important; Green Bay cannot afford to slip multiple games behind Arizona. A loss would drop Green Bay’s chances at the one-seed to a meager 9%. There is a lot of Super Bowl leverage in this game as well. A win, mostly due to increased odds in a bye, would put Green Bay at 17% to win the Super Bowl, while a loss drops them all the way to 8%. It’s a very important game on Sunday, so how do the two teams matchup?
Putting on a Show
The Rams offense has been clicking with Matthew Stafford at the helm for most of the season. They have the fourth ranked offense by EPA-per-play and rank second in DVOA. As one would expect, there has certainly been an upgrade from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford as the passing attack ranks second in EPA-per-play. Not all is well in LA, though. Over the past four weeks, the Rams offense has plummeted in efficiency to 24th in the league at -0.057. This is entirely due to the passing game, which ranks just 25th over the past month. The Rams recently lost Robert Woods for the season, and adding Odell Beckham Jr. is still a major downgrade.
If there is any silver lining in there for LA, it’s that it has mostly been turnovers that has driven their production down. Stafford has thrown four interceptions in his last two games to go along with seven sacks. It’s basically impossible to be a good offense with numbers like that. The upside for Los Angeles is that turnovers can be noisy, and we shouldn’t expect Stafford to continue turning the ball over as much as he has the past couple of weeks while also discounting just how well he was playing in the season’s first two months. Regression comes for everyone and in all ways with enough time.
Green Bay is hoping the regression can wait at least one more week. The Packers defense is quite reliant on turnovers for its production. The Packers defense ranks a solid 13th in EPA-per-play but a well below-average 28th in success rate. The gap in these rankings really comes down to turnovers. The Packers have the ninth-most interceptions in the league so far and rank eighth in the percentage of opponent drives that end in turnovers. This is an unstable way to live, as we saw last week when the defensive backs just didn’t catch the ball. Turnovers can swing games, and have been vital to Green Bay’s success so far, but if you can’t regularly get the offense to punt the ball away, you’re going to have a hard time maintaining a good defense.
The Packers run defense remains susceptible to the run, but not in a way that is too problematic. Their 24th rank seems bad, but on a per play basis, they’re still allowing a slightly negative EPA-per-rush. The Rams rushing game numbers are a bit confusing as they rank only 22nd in EPA-per-rush but a very solid ninth in rushing DVOA.
The matchups in the trenches are going to be important in this one, especially if Green Bay is to force any turnovers. On the edge, I wouldn’t expect a lot of production. Both Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein rank in the top five in pass block win rate among offensive tackles. The Rams overall rank second in the metric, with the weakest spots being on the interior. If Green Bay is to spend a lot of time in the Rams’ backfield, it will likely come through Kenny Clark once again. The Rams’ run blocking is less impressive, but still ranks tenth in run block win rate.
A Star-Studded Defense
Les Snead hates drafting players, so he sent yet another pair of picks away to acquire veteran edge rusher Von Miller. Miller joins one of the league’s best corners, Jalen Ramsey, and one of the best defensive players in football history, Aaron Donald, to provide the Rams a group of star players to build their defense around.
Aaron Donald is ridiculous. His pass rush win rate is 29%. The next closest interior defensive lineman in the entire league is at 20%. He leads all defensive tackles in pressures. He leads all defensive tackles in Total Points Saved. He is unreal. The Packers were incredibly fortunate to not have to deal with a fully healthy Donald last year in the playoffs. It sure would be nice if Green Bay’s interior was as strong as it was for that playoff run as well, but Corey Linsley is gone and Elgton Jenkins will miss the next 9-12 months recovering from an ACL injury. Starting center Josh Myers is still out with a knee injury, so Donald will go up against Jon Runyan Jr, Lucas Patrick, and Royce Newman. This has major game breaking potential.
The Rams defense overall has been good, but not great. After an awesome defensive performance last year, they have regressed to that quality. Again, regression comes for everyone. LA is tenth against the pass and 21st against the run and are missing elite run stopper Sebastian Joseph-Day, so Green Bay may look to #EstablishIt early and often against a pretty terrifying pass rush unit.
In the secondary, Jalen Ramsey will catch all the headlines, and deservedly so. The veteran corner leads all defensive backs in Total Points Saved. The Rams have yet to find a partner for him to grab onto that #2 spot firmly, but they certainly aren’t a tire fire across from him. Ramsey has been more fluid positionally this year and I’d expect him to blanket Davante Adams all game long. The safety position may be the weak spot in their secondary as both Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp rank below league average in Total Points Saved. The Packers took advantage of the Rams’ safeties last year on that deep post off of play-action to Allen Lazard. If Green Bay can once again get the safeties to try and fill the alley a step or two too quickly, they could once again look for either Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling to beat them down the field.