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Los Angeles Rams vs. Baltimore Ravens: The Professor’s Preview

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The Prof takes a look at the Rams’ 2018 preseason opener.

Baltimore Ravens RB Javorius Allen is tackled by St. Louis Rams DT Nick Fairley in a Week 11 loss, November 22, 2015.
Baltimore Ravens RB Javorius Allen is tackled by St. Louis Rams DT Nick Fairley in a Week 11 loss, November 22, 2015.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The fun begins

Well Los Angeles Rams fans, the time has finally come to once again embark on the journey towards the ultimate quest of winning the Super Bowl. First up is our preseason opener on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, formerly known as the Cleveland Browns.

Unlike last year, the Rams have established themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender by winning the NFC West Division in 2017 and bolstering their roster this offsaeason. Not bad for first year Head Coach, Sean McVay. The remarkable turnaround from 4-12 in 2016 can be directly traced to the improvement in play of QB Jared Goff and the coaching overseeing his development coupled with a revamped offensive line and receiving corps and RB Todd Gurley having his a best year as a pro topping it off with winning the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award.

Offseason moves

The defensive side of ball has seen some big changes since the Rams lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the Wildcard Game last January.

Gone are starters from last year in CB Trumaine Johnson, OLB Robert Quinn, OLB Connor Barwin and MLB Alec Ogletree. Via trade the Rams acquired CB Marcus Peters, formerly with the Kansas City Chiefs, CB Aqib Talib. formerly with the Denver Broncos.

In free agency the Rams, signed DT Ndamukong Suh, formerly with the Miami Dolphins, and to pair him with last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year DT Aaron Donald who is currently in a contract holdout and missing from training camp for the second straight year.

On offense, the Rams acquired WR Brandin Cooks via trade from the New England Patriots for our number one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft letting WR Sammy Watkins go via free agency who then inked a multi-year, multi-millionaire dollar deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.

While most people might view the roster turnover as fixing something that wasn’t broken, General Manager Les Snead found a way to upgrade the roster with head spinning moves with a bevy of talented, albeit in some instances “troubled” players which at least on paper makes them better team. The Los Angeles Rams are becoming an attractive team to play for—that’s what winning does for you in the NFL.

The offseason isn’t a time to stand pat if you didn’t win the Super Bowl. There’s always plenty of room for improvement. If and when Donald ends his holdout, I view the Rams on both sides of ball the Rams as better then they were coming into 2017.

Now it’s time to prove it.

Starting positions

Most of the starting positions and in particular, on offense are set. Thus, look for the Rams to limit the playing time of their projected starters to one or two series at most.

When the Rams have the ball

It will be interesting to see who the Rams rotate at RG considering out of the gate of the regular season Jamon Brown will serve a two-game suspension. Brown may start, but I wouldn’t a number of backups and rookies drafted this year will get a considerable amount of time at the RG spot.

The way I see this game playing out, the Rams will be also looking to assess the backup wide receivers behind Cooks, Robert Woods and Copper Kupp. We’ll see who, if anyone, among the wide receivers will surprise the coaches and fans this year like WR Josh Reynolds did last year.

There will also be a battle among the primary tight ends: Tyler Higbee , Gerald Everett and Temmarick Hemingway. Don’t be surprised to seen these guys in and out at that position as well.

The Rams have some good competition for back-ups to Gurley. So I see RB Malcom Brown, and Justin Davis, last year’s undrafted free agent rookie surprise, with this year’s draft pick John Kelly getting a lot of work as well.

It’s hard to imagine that the Rams offense could improve on their average of 30 points per game of scoring, but now that every other team has the dreaded “video tape” from last year it will be interesting to see how an improved Ravens defense manages to defend against the Rams.

At quarterback, Goff just needs to get his reps in—getting used to the actual speed of game competition rather then reps in OTAs or training camp—that’s all the catching up he needs. If he doesn’t play at all, that would not surprise me, since the Ravens sat starting QB Joe Flacco in the Hall of Fame game last week Thursday. If he does play, it will be limited to only be a series or two. The Rams can’t take chances with their franchise quarterback, and Goff has a year’s experience under his belt in the McVay offense.

As a result, this leaves the door wide open for the back-ups to gain a spot on the roster. While most will say the first back-up job is Sean Mannion’s to lose, I believe that if he has a great preseason, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him traded to a team desperate for a quality quarterback by the end of the preseason.

Whether it’s through the air or ground, the Rams need to score at least 24 points against the Ravens’ defense. If not, they’ll lose, but that’s okay. It’s the preseason.

You know that when it counts in the opener, Sean McVay will have the Rams pumped up for the Monday spectacle against the Oakland Raiders and the “Return of Jon Gruden.”

When the Ravens have the ball

This will be most interesting part of the game.

The most important positions to watch will be the edge rushing OLB. What you want to see is hard and fast off the edge putting immediate pressure on the Ravens QB—then picture and imagine Donald coming up the middle.

Without a hard and fast edge pass rush, the Rams may be vulnerable this year, since OLB/DE Robert Quinn was a force at that position in years past. Quinn had great skills going right to the quarterback and ability to force a fumble, although he lacked the run stopping skills and catching up to the receiver after completion needed in the 3-4 defense, which is why he’s better suited in the 4-3.

The secondary should be fine. The Rams bring S Lamarcus Joyner back having tagged him this year, and the tandem of John Johnson III with Joyner worked well last year. The Rams have added CB Sam Shields this year and he’s been outstanding during training camp. With Nickell Robey-Coleman sharing the load at the nickel slot, I feel very comfortable with the Rams’ secondary since the key to any pass defense is a pass rush which the Rams defense will definitely have once Aaron Donald takes the field.

A quick look at the Ravens

There’s not much you want to analyze concerning your opponent going into an exhibition game. It’s more about your team since the games don’t count and the coaches want to see as many players they can for evaluation purposes. Preseason games can however set the tone for how the regular season will play out which is why I watch very intently.

Honesty is the best policy thus it’s my opinion that Head Coach John Harbaugh is on the “hot seat” this year. The Ravens need to get to the playoffs this year. They are a good team, but not a great team.

For the Ravens, winning and losing will come down to how well QB Joe Flacco plays. Since signing his multi-millionaire deal after winning the Super Bowl, his play has been inconsistent. Should the Ravens fail to win out of the box, there will be enormous pressure to replace him either with Robert Griffin III or the 32nd pick in the first round of this year’s draft, Heisman Trophy-winner Lamar Jackson from Louisville.

This is why you’re going to see a lot of both in this game. Can Griffin rise to the level of the player he was in first year with Washington under the Harbaugh’s tutelage? The Ravens need to keep their fingers crossed, he will.

Then there’s Jackson. This kid is fast on his feet. Unfortunately, for him being fast on ones feet will get you hurt once you start to scramble out of the pocket. The NFL is not college football.

For Jackson, it therefore comes down to his passing skills. From what I observed last week, he has a rifle arm but lacks accuracy. You can say he’ll learn to make better decisions over time so he won’t be forcing the ball as much, but I tend to believe these things like accuracy isn’t something you can learn and trying to change an inaccurate, running quarterback into a drop back, accurate quarterback doesn’t work in the NFL. Just ask the Niners and their experience with QB Colin Kaepernick.

Nevertheless, both Griffin and Jackson will give the Rams defense a test for the 3-4 linebackers. This is good for the Rams since I’m most interested in seeing how how the edge rushers react and how quickly the Rams linebackers and secondary converge upon Jackson hopefully limiting him to minimal gains with his legs.

So who wins

The Rams are the clearly the better team, but predicting the outcome of a preseason game is crazy. I’m of the belief that as long as the Rams score 24 points and hold the Raven to 16 or 17, given the lack of Donald and the lack of starters getting considerable playing time, I will be very happy—at least my expectations for this year will not be blown to pieces.

And most important of all, BE SAFE!

We need our Rams at full strength going into the regular season and a significant injury to one of our projected starters could ruin our season.