It is true that this looks like a winnable game without DE J.J. Watt and even moreso without rookie phenom QB Deshaun Watson. Nevertheless, the Rams cannot overlook this lack of key players as reason alone for banking on a victory. The Rams could easily lay an egg this Sunday, but given Houston’s current situation it’s not likely.
Replacing Watson, the Texans are starting Tom Savage at QB. Who is Tom Savage? Who knows, but he is certainly not even close to being the Watson at the most important position on the football field. Without Watson, it’s hard to imagine Savage putting up the kind of passing numbers he will need to do against the formidable and improving Rams defense.
Additionally, without Watt it’s hard to imagine the Rams offense will not put up big numbers against the Texans, being the highest scoring team in the NFL thus far through nine weeks.
The Texans play in arguably the worst division in the NFL, the AFC South. The division includes such lackluster teams as the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. So, it’s easy to see why coming into the 2017 season the Texans as rostered were one of the sleeper picks to go to this year’s Super Bowl.
Now? The Rams have already beaten the Colts and Jags. The Texans are two games out of first place and falling fast. Presently, they’re only one game ahead of the last place Indianapolis Colts and given the devastating injuries to their key personnel on both the offense and defense, the Texans will be struggling to hold onto this ranking above the Colts.
When Watson was quarterbacking, this was a fun team to watch. The Texans put up 38 points against the Seattle Seahawks, a remarkable feat as the Seahawks have a formidable defensive unit. Then the wheels fell of the following week after he suffered a season ending ACL injury. Without a competent quarterback running the offense, the Texans lost last week to the Colts 20-14.
It is the opinion of this writer that the pundits have always overrated the Houston Texans. Any team from the AFC South can make the playoffs by winning the division with either an 8-8 or 9-7 record. Any team winning this division with an 8-8 or 9-7 record is a “pretender” not a contender and their being no dramatic changes made by any of these teams in the offseason together with the devastating injuries to each of these clubs during the season hasn’t changed my opinion one bit.
As a result, the Rams’ games against the AFC South shouldn’t be merely winnable games, but easy wins. So far this has been proven true, as the Rams beat the Colts 46-9 and the Jags 27-17. But just because the Rams have a better team then any of the AFC South members doesn’t mean the Rams can forget to put the metal to the pedall.
For the Rams to win, they must play their game. This is a combination of effective running and passing game while keeping opposing offenses in check.
When The Rams Have The Ball
The Texans even without Watt are a tough team to run on. They currently rank 9th against the rush. Their biggest deficiency is defending the passing game where they currently rank 21st.
For this game, these statistics should not affect the gameplan. The Rams must continue to be effective with RB Todd Gurley carrying the load. He must be able churn out yardage even if its tough rushing yards. It might be boring, but it’s key ingredient to the Rams success thus far. Who knows, maybe Todd will break a big one this week.
Counting on QB Jared Goff to have his usual stellar performance, he should be able to get the ball to his core of young receivers exploiting the Texans secondary. WR Robert Woods should follow up his breakout game from last week with another equally compelling performance as well as WR Sammy Watkins. If neither of them are open, look to see WR Cooper Kupp to step up for the key catch.
Not much can be said regarding the Rams offense that hasn’t already been written or talked about. Hopefully the Rams won’t read into this that they’re that good after eight weeks and fall into a trap.
Execution of the plays by avoiding lackadaisical line play, dropped passes and penalties means the Rams will score 30 or more points in this game and should secure victory.
When The Texans Have The Ball
It’s imperative that the Rams do to Savage what they have previously done when playing the other AFC South teams to replacement QB Scott Tolzien of the Colts and starting Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles — pressure and sacks. The ability of the Rams to pressure these talentless quarterbacks has been part of the Rams +6 margin in interceptions this season.
The Rams’ defense must also shut down the Texans running game featuring RB Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman. Because of the injury to Watson, the Texans are bound to rely on the run game to keep them in the game against the Rams’ high-scoring offense. If the Texans are forced to rely on Savage, they will want to get out of Los Angeles as quickly as possible.
Last week, the Rams defensive line got pushed around by the New York Giants’ offensive line in the run game leading to a near even split in the number of plays each team had. The Rams need more three-and-outs, and it starts with shutting down the run. Once this is established, Savage will be forced to pass. The Rams can then double team Houston’s most dangerous weapon WR DeAndre Hopkins on must-pass third-and-long situations, and with pressure the Rams should be able to force a few turnovers. This will lead to another Rams blowout of their opponent.
Since replacing Tavon Austin with Pharoh Cooper, the Rams’ punt return game is vastly improved.
On top of blocking their second punt of the the season, Cooper had a huge punt return called back on a questionable block in the back penalty. By not muffing the punts, Cooper has been giving the Rams’ offense good field position to strike with their explosive offense.
As long as Cooper continues this, the Rams will be fine; however, I would love to see Cooper break one this week for a touchdown against the Texans. That would make the Rams special teams more special then it already is.
Both K Greg Zuerlein and P Johnny Hekker continue to have All-Pro worthy seasons. If the Rams offense sputters, you can still count on Johnny nailing his punt, pinning the Rams opponents deep in their own territory. When the Rams sputter on the opponents side of the field, Greg has been Mr. Automatic from 50+.
These are the kind of things that have made the Rams’ special teams play the best in the game for a number of years.
The Rams need to keep up the good work in this most often overlooked part of the Rams offensive and defensive arsenal.
With a win, the Rams will maintain their one game divisional lead over the Seattle Seahawks. Lose to the Texans, and the Rams will not only be tied for the division lead again but will have people scratching their head wondering how that happened.
The Rams’ prior history of blowing the games they should win is one answer that comes to mind. Yet, this is not your typical Rams team as they are on a journey this year which they hope will lead them into the Super Bowl.
This team needs to prove the doubters wrong that a collapse of the Rams is inevitable. The Rams shouldn’t feed into these skeptics this Sunday against the Texans. Instead they need to win this week if only to shut down these disbelieving pundits.
Expect the Rams to have one more win in the win column thereby taking one step closer to the dream of a Super Bowl Championship for Los Angeles. It won’t be like winning the World Series since the Dodgers lost to the Astros, but it will be somewhat sweet revenge, softening the bitter taste left in the mouth of Angelenos.