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Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: The Professor’s preview

Will the Rams clinch the NFC West in Week 13?

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There are only two teams in the 52-year history of the Super Bowl who have never played in the big game...the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. Nevertheless, the Detroit Lions have given the Los Angeles Rams fits over the years despite the team’s historic ineptness.

In 1999, the lowly Lions were one of only three teams who defeated the eventual Super Bowl Champion Rams during the regular season. How is that possible?

The fact is the Lions match up well against the Rams.

The Rams hold a slim two-game lead at 43-41-1 in the all-time series against a team who hardly ever makes the playoffs and can’t even sniff the Super Bowl.

But this Rams team is different being far too talented to lose to the Lions.

The Lions’ offense is pathetic, but they do have a fairly good defense who just don’t have enough to even scare even me. Absent a complete meltdown, the Rams should come out on top. In doing so they will clinch the NFC West Division Championship for the second straight year. At this point in the season, a one-point win is just as important as 30-point blowout.

This is what to look for in this mismatch between two teams who historically play each other very tough.

What the Rams need to do on offense

The Rams’ offense needs to get to 30 points or above. The Lions don’t have the offense to keep up the with Rams when their scoring lots of points. Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia is the former defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots; his formula for winning games starts with defense.

So if the Rams’ offense are able to score points against the Lions’ defense, the best side of Detroit’s team, that’s good news for Rams’ fans.

To score, it’s going to start with the running game featuring RB Todd Gurley and the Rams’ offensive line. Once the Rams establish the run, it will open the passing game up with QB Jared Goff and his targets in WR Robert Woods, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Josh Reynolds and newly-empowered tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. And if these guys aren’t open, there’s always Gurley — the Rams’ safety valve.

There isn’t a team in the NFL who can stop the Rams’ offense. So unless Patricia comes up with a miracle gameplan or the Rams lay the ball on the carpet with turnovers, the Lions will be doomed with a 30+ performance from the Rams’ O.

What the Rams need to do on defense

This is the game that the Rams’ defense wakes up from their mediocrity. CB Aqib Talib is back from injured reserve just in time for the homestretch. This is by far the most important thing to watch. It will take sometime for the team to jell as a unit in the secondary. What better team to start getting better then the hapless Lions offense.

Some will argue that Talib’s return doesn’t change the lack of a Rams run defense. However, I disagree. The Rams are vulnerable to playaction. With Talib manned up against the other team’s best wide receiver and CB Marcus Peters moving to the second-best, the Rams won’t get burned as they have without him. This leads to an uptake in three-and-outs, giving the ball back to an offensive juggernaut.

The stats will improve. The Rams will move up in total defense maybe even the best defense in the playoff pack together with the best offense in the league.

This is what Rams fans were expecting to happen. Now it’s time to see it on the field.

The Lions’ offense is perfect fodder for the Rams defense to start the move upward.

On the other hand, if the Rams’ defense can’t stop QB Matthew Stafford, the run game or whatever else the Lions throw at them, then the Rams’ defense will never be as advertised. Plain and simple, the defense will be in trouble heading into the playoffs.

What the Rams need to do on special teams

PR JoJo Natson, Jr. hasn’t had a good game in three weeks. Time to get out of his funk.

PK Greg Zuerlein missed an extra point last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. This can NEVER happen. There’s no excuse for this. He’s also not having his typical automatic three points type of year. Only one of his kickoffs on Monday Night went for a touchback while the other zillion kickoffs he hit in that game fell short of the end zone. Maybe it was damp and cold night air, but Zuerlein’s lack production this season isn’t what Rams fans are used from him. Whether it’s the nagging hamstring injury still hampering him or something else, it just makes no sense. I’m back to holding my breath with Greg. That’s never a comfortable feeling regardless of whether it’s from 55 yards or 33 yards.

As far as kick returns, it seems to me from an observation point that Blake Countess was better back there then Pharoh Cooper. With the new rules, you don’t see the big run backs anymore. Catching the ball as Cooper is doing in the end zone and trying to create a big return but getting only to the 15-yard line is less productive then Countess being smart about it by taking a knee giving the Rams offense the at the 25-yard line on the touchback.

Fortunately, the Rams offense can score even when they start at the 5-yard line.

The X-factor

Putting aside the Rams being able to clinch the NFC West, this game is extremely important. Should the Rams stumble and the Chicago Bears win, the Rams’ would hold only a one-game edge for a first-round bye heading to Chicago for a huge Sunday Night matchup and needing the New Orleans Saints, assuming they beat the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, to lose two out of their next four games to gain home field advantage. Not likely.

As you head down the stretch, the Professor’s philosophy is, “Just win. All other things will take of themselves.”

Something else to consider

The last time the Lions won a NFL Championship was back in the era of Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne in the 1950s. I’ve always been a huge of fan of Layne as he was known to play the game with either a big hangover or outright drunk and was never considered one of those skill quarterbacks. He was just gusty and tough. He was Minnesota Vikings QB Joe Kapp before Joe Kapp.

Upon being informed that he was traded, he supposedly said “The Lions won’t win for the next 50 years.” So was born the Curse of Bobby Layne.

I am completely confident that that this Sunday, Bobby Layne will be watching this game, holding his favorite drink and toasting a Rams win.

Let’s get the job done, win the game, win the NFC West and begin playing like champions on defense.