Unlike most of the other opponents the Rams face, there’s not a lot of history between the two clubs, but for those that like history here’s a tidbit.
After former Owner Georgia Frontiere died and her children decided to sell the team, Shad Khan, an Illinois auto parts dealer, made the highest bid. Since Missouri borders Illinois, Mr. Khan proclaimed he had every intention of keeping the team in St. Louis, which he probably would have done since negotiations for a new lease were just off the horizon. As it turned out, Stan Kroenke maintained an option clause in his contract when he became the minority owner of the Rams and chose to exercise that option acquiring the Rams in their entierty in 2010 and in 2016 moved the Rams back to the home where they belong in Los Angeles. Losing out on his chance to own the Rams didn’t stop Mr. Khan; two years later in 2012 when Jaguars founding Owner Wayne Weaver decided to sell the team, in stepped Khan with his iconic mustache.
Over the last decade, each team’s win-loss records have somewhat mirrored each other. At the end of the 2016 season, both teams fired their head coaches. Now with new coaches in place in Sean McVay for the Rams and Doug Marrone for the Jags, they both have gotten off to decent 3-2 starts.
Like the Rams did two weeks ago in beating the Dallas Cowboys, the Jags pulled a major upset last week by besting the Pittsburgh Steelers who themselves like the Rams did against Seattle committed five turnovers.
Both teams have the same record as this point in the season being 3-2, and common to both teams as well is their reliance of the run game. The Jags feature their 2017 NFL Draft first-round pick RB Leonard Fournette, and the Rams have a revitalized RB Todd Gurley a first-round selection himself from the 2015 NFL Draft.
Given the similarities to their approach to winning games, it’s important to look for the distinctions between the two clubs to find the recipe for victory for the Rams.
The Rams’ Offense
The Rams come into the game having the second-highest scoring offense ranking fifth in yards per game and pass yards per game and 14th in rush yards per game.
The Jags’ Defense
The Jacksonville defense is third in points allowed per game, 14th in total yards allowed per game, third in pass yards allowed per game but rank second to last in rush yards allowed per game.
The latter statistic should tell you right away, what the Rams are likely to do.
The Rams’ Defense
The Rams rank 23rd on defense in points allowed per game, 20th in yards allowed per game, 10th against the pass and 27th against the rush.
The Jags’ Offense
The Jags on offense rank fifth in points per game, 20th in yards per game, 30th in pass yards per game (third to last) and have the top rushing attack in the NFL in yards per game.
The latter two statistics should tell you right away, what the Jags are likely to do.
When The Rams Have The Ball
The Rams need to go back to the gameplan which got them to 3-1. The Rams got away from that gameplan when they lost last week against the Seattle Seahawks, namely getting the running game going and relying on Gurley to set up their pass game.
As the run develops, the Rams will also need to spread the ball around more. The Rams offense needs to find a way to get WR Sammy Watkins more involved. Otherwise, you’re not only wasting one of the premier deep threats in the NFL. You’re not creating options for defenses to worry about.
The success of the running game with Gurley cannot be discounted as an absolute must—it’s the Jags’ defense’s greatest weakness. Opportunities to make big plays in the passing game are only available if the run game is working.
If the Rams are unable to run the ball, you wind up playing into the Jags greatest strength—their defense against the pass.
On the assumption the Rams offense is able to move the chains, it is imperative the team finally gets the message that they’re struggles in the red zone are because of their repeated lack of focus. The Rams cannot turn the ball over, get flagged for mental errors and leave themselves with just three points, or if the wheels completely fall off, get nothing for their effort.
QB Jared Goff can’t afford to make a bad read or force his passes into coverage even if throwing means throwing it away and a lower QBR.
Through five games of this season, Goff has proven that Rams were right in making the moves needed to select him as the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Under the tutelage of McVay, Goff has become a pretty good QB.
Coming off of the loss and with the Seahawks on their bye week, now is not the time to worry about stats or naysayers—wins are a lot more important then fantasy football points.
When The Jaguars Have The Ball
Stop Leonard Fournette.
As a rookie, Fournette has never had the opportunity to receive Rams DT Aaron Donald’s “Welcome to the NFL” which will be a rude awakening this Sunday for the youngster. In addition, last week the Rams made a healthy starting S Maurice Alexander inactive and replaced him with rookie S John Johnson III which paid dividends in both the run and pass defense While the Seahawks don’t have near the running game that the Jags posses, there was enough good coming from Johnson (who had an interception in his first game) that the Rams made a roster move and cut Alexander with WR Mike Thomas coming back from his four-game suspension.
It is also hopefully expected that FS Lamarcus Joyner may finally see action after suffering a hamstring injury against the Niners three weeks ago which is a good sign for an improving Rams pass defense.
The Jags’ 3-2 surprising start is the story of how to win without a QB as Blake Bortles has yet to live up the hype surrounding his pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. His current QBR through five games is 78.2 compared to Goff ‘s 94.1.
While stats aren’t always reliable, they do give you some indication on how the game should play itself out.
If the Rams aren’t able to pressure Bortles, he has the ability to do what 75.8 QBR, Niners QB Brian Hoyer did when he burned the Rams for 332 yards passing. Thus it’s imperative the Rams offense not give the Jags a short field to work with or turn the ball over. Instead, the Rams’ offense needs to help their own defense by forcing Jacksonville to start deep in their own territory.
But if the Rams don’t stop Fournette, the Jags will not need to rely on Bortles’ arm to come out with the win.
On the other hand if the Rams stop the run, the chances increase that the Rams might get one or two interceptions and turn this game decidedly in their favor assuming they convert those mistakes into touchdowns.
The Rams’ defense is getting better by the week. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has got them headed in the right direction. The Rams should be able to pad their sacks statistics in this game and at worst keep them in the game till the end as they did against the Seahawks.
Tavon Austin is “taking a break” from his punt returner activities. This should be a relief assuming his replacement, either Cooper Kupp or Pharoh Cooper, don’t muff the punts.
While Tavon has that uncanny “he can break one at anytime” ability, Kupp’s ability to catch the ball is more preferred given Austin’s recent costly mistakes. Cooper has breakaway speed but is prone to a mistake now and again.
K Greg Zuerlein, “Mr. Automatic,” actually missed a gimme field goal in the Seahawks game. Given his stellar performance against the Cowboys, one should expect his leg to be rested and ready again for a rebound this week having apparently exhausted himself with the seven field goals against Dallas.
P Johnny Hekker should as expected, live up to his All-Pro status. Johnny is the best in the game once again.
After the Seattle game, the Rams begin a one-month excursion on the road beginning in Jacksonville. While the game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 is technically a home game, it’s being played in London, England. After that, the Rams have their bye in Week 8 and then return to the road again to play the New York Giants in Week 9 and finally after that come home for their November 12 game against the Houston Texans in Week 10.
This is very long stretch to be away, but home cooking isn’t all its cracked up to be as the Rams are 1-2 in the Coliseum yet happily undefeated on the road.
It’s important for the Rams to rebound from a tough loss suffered against the Seahawks. Both the Rams and the Jags are young teams. After a disastrous 2016 campaign for both, they have some impressive wins on their 2017 resumes.
The Jags just be might be what the doctor ordered being the right medicine for the Rams to get well with a “W” again and a boost for the long road trip ahead.