It’s fair to ask what the NFL schedule-makers were smoking when they sat down and planned the Thursday Night Football matchups. Sure, it’s only week four, but you’re squaring off two of last year’s top three NFC seeds on a short week. Shouldn’t this have been the Sunday night game in, say, week 13?
To make matters worse, our beloved Rams are banged up and will need to shore up some units to hang with the Vikings. While the jury is still out on Minnesota after an embarrassing home loss to the Bills, here are five Rams who will need to step up to preserve our unblemished record.
After a strong debut at Oakland, Ebukam has registered just two tackles combined in the last two games. Yes, one was a sack, and we’ll need to see a few more on Sunday if Rams fans are to forget about Robert Quinn anytime soon. The interior pass rush was strong against the Chargers, but only got home once. Some pressure off the edge will both make life easier in the trenches and assist our depleted secondary. If Samson is due a coming out party, this would be the week to shine.
Signed as an insurance policy during the offseason, the former Pro Bowler with a history of concussions will need to cover the deductible — and either Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen — on Thursday. He’s flashed: an INT in the preseason and one against Arizona showed his opportunsitic play in a zone. But on an island? Let’s see what you’ve got, Sam. Whispers that Shields is a liability against the run linger, but, I’d just as soon see him keep his head on a swivel (and on his shoulders) this week.
It remains to be seen how dumpster fire/emerging talent/rollercoaster Troy Hill will be deployed on Thursday. Towards the end of last season, he had a few games where he was rated above Trumaine Johnson and looked like a guy the Rams had coached up to borderline starter level. However, during the preseason, he reverted to bad penalties and missed tackles. If the Rams slide Nickell Robey-Coleman to the outside, look for Hill to pick up some slot duties. No matter how he’s used, he’ll need to play better than he’s looked thus far, or the Rams could be in for a long day. (Side note: LaMarcus Joyner is likely to also chip in at CB, which could lower Hill’s snap count)
It goes without saying, but coming off his best game as a pro, Jared Goff will need to stay sharp for the Rams to win on Thursday. Despite the absence of Everson Griffen, Minnesota brings a talented defense to the Coliseum, and they’ll be looking for blood (whether or not you believe the “they’ll be pissed off” narrative is another matter altogether — my theory on TNF games is more like “the road team will arrive at the opposing team’s stadium with a full roster.”) Against the Chargers, Goff was magnificent — accurate, decisive, and bold — and he’ll need to attack the Vikings’ secondary with the same verve and savvy he displayed on Sunday. Can he go for 350+ again and carry the Rams’ D? He may need to.
Another guy who could easily be here every week, Donald’s impact Thursday night is perhaps more important than ever. He’s getting pressure, rag-dolling linemen, and generally wreaking havoc, but against Minnesota’s porous offensive line, a breakout game in the sack department (did someone say strip sack?!) would be very timely. It’s not like the Rams are giving teams much time — Carr and Bradford checked down all day, and Rivers simply made some plays — but a few drive-killing sacks or turnovers would sure help a guy like Troy Hill (who, it must be noted, played his college ball at Oregon -cough cough-). I’m not at all concerned about Donald’s statistics, but big time players step up when the chips are down and I expect him to tomorrow night.