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Packers-Rams Week 15 Q&A: Why the Rams’ defense appears unusually vulnerable

With several players across the Rams’ defensive line expected to be out (potentially including Aaron Donald), the Packers might have some running room on monday night.

Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

As fans keep a close eye on other games around the NFL this weekend, the Green Bay Packers themselves must shift their focus to their Monday Night Football matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. Green Bay can get all the help in the world from other teams around the NFL, but it will mean nothing for their playoff hopes if they don’t win the games in front of them.

The first of those over the final four weeks comes against a Rams team coming off a mini-bye following a late comeback last Thursday over the Las Vegas Raiders. That game saw Baker Mayfield — whom the Rams had claimed on waivers just two days earlier — leading a 98-yard touchdown drive to win the game.

Does Mayfield provide a spark that the Rams have been missing with Matthew Stafford injured and/or unavailable for most of the 2022 season? How is the team coping without superstar wide receiver Cooper Kupp? And is the once-vaunted Rams defense truly vulnerable this week?

We asked those questions and more of Evan Craig, one of the writers at the SB Nation blog Turf Show Times. Our thanks go out to Evan for his responses and check out TST for full coverage of Monday’s game from the Rams’ perspective.

APC: It seems from the outside that Cooper Kupp is the most important player on the Rams’ offense, even more so than whoever is throwing him the football. What changes have the Rams made to the offensive personnel and scheme to try to account for his absence?

Not too many if the play calling is any indication. There hasn’t been enough balance to counter the inexperience under center and the lack of personnel on offense. LA doesn’t have a run game or O-line so unfortunately, whoever’s been under center has been dealing with an unnecessary amount of pressure to counter it. The Seattle game two weeks ago was the first time since the loss of Stafford and Kupp that the team had shown any commitment to complimentary football this season. They had run for over 170 yards and a pair of scores which I thought would’ve been their philosophy to managing those losses. Turned out that game was an outlier so who knows what Rams offense shows up this week.

LA has given more snaps to Tutu Atwell who’s proven to be an effective deep threat and versatile weapon when utilized. Problem is he hasn’t been used enough by McVay but he appears to be gradually changing his tune. Ben Skowronek has shown chemistry with Mayfield and will be a trusted guy Baker will turn to frequently Monday night. As you would expect, there’s absolutely no accounting for the absence of Cooper Kupp. He’s one of the best players at his position so making up any of that production is impossible. However, McVay needs to roll the dice on the guys he has now and scheme up more ways to get them involved. That has been his biggest weakness this season as he hasn’t always utilized his players to the best of their abilities in ‘22 which is odd considering he’s made it a career in Los Angeles.

APC: The Baker Mayfield comeback last Thursday was a fun story, but now he has a full week — a long week, at that — to prepare to start at Lambeau Field, where he gift-wrapped four interceptions to the Packers on Christmas Day a year ago. What do you expect him to bring to the Rams’ offense on Monday night and over the final four weeks of the season?

Baker will be bringing a veteran presence that LA hasn’t seen under center since Matthew Stafford was in the lineup. Rams backups Bryce Perkins and John Wolford aren’t NFL quarterbacks and their respective starts are proof that the team needs someone experienced on the depth chart behind the starter more than ever. Enter Baker Mayfield who was exactly what LA needed given Stafford’s recent injury history. That win over the Raiders was a fun story but I’m very curious to see what he can do with all that extra time. Heck, give him four days between games and see how he fares! Maybe the guy can take a mini vacation and meet the rest of the team in Green Bay. Either way, I believe he’ll be significantly more confident under center after knowing more of the playbook. Not saying it will lead to a win but all that preparation time will mean the world for him and the rest of the offense as they warm up to him. Still, for a guy he essentially had a pop quiz on the field, he passed it with flying colors.

APC: The Rams’ pass defense is ranked 31st in the NFL against deep throws, according to DVOA. Have explosive plays been a problem for this unit, and are opposing teams picking on specific members of the secondary or is there a schematic issue at play here?

The secondary as a whole has been weak, even (gasp) Jalen Ramsey. He has taken a step back for sure this season which I can date back to his performance throughout LA’s Super Bowl run. Teams aren’t as afraid to target him any more and they’ve cashed in with big plays. Stefon Diggs, Travis Kelce, Chris Olave and Davante Adams (nothing new there) have each taken a turn at embarrassing him and it’s worked. It’s not just him but fans will continue to pounce on him as much as they can. Two weeks ago against the Seahawks, the unit played single-high on most of Geno Smith’s dropbacks and he just picked them apart with ease, allowing Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to each go over 100 receiving yards. Rookie Derion Kendrick also couldn’t keep up with Metcalf and he’s been largely overwhelmed in his limited action this season. So to answer your question, explosive plays are a problem for this unit and they’ll continue to be while they don’t have the personnel to combat their woes. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Christian Watson burn Ramsey on a deep route so the haters better have their twitter fingers ready.

APC: On the other hand, the Rams defense gave up over 160 yards on the ground last week, and the running game is critical for the Packers. Although LA has been good against the run most of the season, is that an area where the Packers can find advantageous matchups, especially with Aaron Donald likely still sidelined?

This is absolutely an area where the Packers can exploit the vulnerabilities of the unit with Aaron Donald and now A’Shawn Robinson and Marquise Copeland out with injuries. They held their own against the Seahawks (aided by the injury to Kenneth Walker III) but they eventually broke with their performance given up on the ground last week. Could be the result of a short week but I highly doubt that. There’s a lack of depth at a number of positions on this team and defensive line and edge rusher are a couple of them. Earlier this week, LA brought in Larrell Murchison off waivers from the Titans. He didn’t have a huge role with Tennessee so he’ll likely be seeing a lot more action than he’s used to. With all the uncertainty, Green Bay should run the ball down the Rams’ throats while LA should be praying they won’t choke too much.

APC: Regardless of the injuries and absences for the Rams, this Packers team doesn’t feel like it should be a 7-point favorite (as of Thursday on DraftKings Sportsbook) against just about any team, even at home. Do you think that point spread is reasonable or do you think the Rams will at least cover?

The point spread isn’t all that unreasonable given the performance of both teams this season. I think the Rams should cover in what might be a fairly defensive game. I don’t anticipate much scoring between these offensively challenged squads. When I did my game-by-game predictions for the Rams back in September, I predicted they would upset the Packers at Lambeau. There was no way I could’ve anticipated the performance of these teams by December. Instead, give me the Packers in a low-scoring affair where they escape Baker in the final moments, eerily similar to their Christmas Day game against him and the Browns last season.

Packers 20 Rams 16.