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Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders: Five Rams to watch

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC vs AFC Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams will make the short commute to the bay area this weekend and open their 2018 NFL season against the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football.

As of Saturday morning, the Rams were 4.5 point favorites and largely expected to cover the spread. I predicted a 37-17 Rams victory in this week’s TST staff predictions, so I’m obviously in that crowd.

Here are a few players to watch on Monday night that will have crucial roles in determining whether we are all fools or experts on Tuesday morning.

Aaron Donald

Donald is here for two reasons.

The first is because he again missed the entirety of the Rams offseason program. Yes, he ended up being Defensive Player of the Year but he also entered the Rams week 6 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a single sack. I understand that Donald was still a disruptive force but it’s fair to be concerned about Donald getting a slow start in 2018.

The second reason is because Donald is just fun to watch. He’s a nightmarish blend of athleticism, strength, and quickness that most offensive lineman just aren’t equipped to handle. I expect Donald to knock off the aforementioned rust quickly and be in Raiders QB Derek Carr’s face all day.

Austin Blythe

The offensive line was a huge strength for the Rams last year. With Jamon Brown being suspended for the first two games of the season, Blythe will get an early audition to show whether he is a capable starter in the NFL. Let’s not forget that Brown is in the last year of his contract and Rams head coach Sean McVay could be looking at these first two games as a peek into 2019 when Blythe could possible could fill in for Brown.

Pharoh Cooper

Yes, he was an All-Pro last season, but will the third year WR out of South Carolina be able to start fresh in 2018? He was responsible for 2 turnovers in the Rams wild card loss to the Atlanta Falcons and that had to leave a sour taste in his mouth.

Special Teams coordinator John Fassel is one of the best in the business, so I expect Cooper to have a level head on Monday, but it’s worth watching to see if there are any residual nerves from his errors at the end of last season.

Jared Goff

Goff took a huge step forward under McVay last season, but there was next to no pressure on him until late in the season. His playoff performance left a lot to be desired as well. He only completed 53% of his passes for 259 yards in the loss to the Falcons. Let’s hope that was an anomaly and not the start of a trend of poor performance under pressure for Goff.

Linebacker Corps

I know this is somewhat of a cop out, but I wanted to highlight the LB corps in some way and it’s impossible to focus on just one of these guys. Mark Barron is battling some injuries and might not play while Samson Ebukam, Cory Littleton, and Matt Longacre are all extremely inexperienced.

The Rams will have a dominant defensive line and secondary, but if the linebackers struggle teams will be able to dink and dunk their way down the field. Is this group talented and healthy enough to keep that from being the Rams Achilles’ heel? Monday will give us our first real glimpse at that - and it’s something we should all be watching carefully.