Not once during their 32-18 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday were the Los Angeles Rams “in control,” but Jared Goff inspired some optimism in the team’s 2021 outlook and the defense hung in as well as they could against the NFL’s top-ranked offense and often sans Aaron Donald.
The Rams cut the lead to 16-10 late in the first half and 25-18 early in the fourth quarter, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers consistently showed what qualities will make him the 2020 NFL MVP and it felt like the end when he connected with Allen Lazard for a 58-yard touchdown with seven minutes left on the clock; what seemed like an inevitable moment given that Green Bay’s receivers had dropped several other opportunities when they had gotten behind LA’s defense.
Rodgers finished the game having completed 22-of-35 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns, not once getting sacked by a Rams defense that clearly did not have the “usual” Donald. Despite claims during the week that he felt no pain and would be fine, Donald played a significantly lower percentage of snaps than a normal game and he didn’t appear to be effective against Green Bay’s talented offensive line.
Head coach Sean McVay told reporters at halftime that Donald was not being limited because of his ribs injury however.
Sean McVay apparently told Kristina Pink at the half that the Rams are not holding Aaron Donald on a pitch count; but since it would be unfathomable to simply limit him in the game plan and NOT because of an injury-related pitch count, I remain quite skeptical.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 16, 2021
Rodgers is only the second quarterback this season to have at least two touchdowns and no interceptions in a game against the Rams (Jimmy Garoppolo had three, zero), and his 8.2 yards per attempt was the second-highest behind Josh Allen’s 9.4. Garoppolo and Carson Wentz were the only other two quarterbacks to face LA this season and not get sacked once.
Green Bay’s offense was also driven by running back Aaron Jones at times, as he finished with 99 yards on 14 carries, including 60 on a demoralizing run in the second half. The Packers rushed for 188 yards, 52 more yards than any other team did against the Rams in 2020.
So after a season in which there were far more questions at the quarterback position than on defense, Goff had one of his best starts all year.
Goff finished the game 21-of-27 for 174 yards and a touchdown and for the second time in as many weeks, the Rams didn’t turn the ball over. Though not explosive in the passing game, the fifth-year quarterback managed the situation well given that starters Cooper Kupp and David Edwards were inactive, leaving Van Jefferson as his number two option and Bobby Evans as the left guard.
Josh Reynolds led all Rams receivers with 65 yards on three catches and Jefferson caught six of seven targets for 46 yards and a touchdown. Robert Woods was targeted a team-high 10 times, gaining 48 yards on those plays.
The clear frontrunner for the offense however was once again rookie running back Cam Akers.
A week after rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, Akers had 18 carries for 90 yards and another score, which came out of the wildcat formation. Akers would appear to be LA’s most exciting option with the ball in his hands, which is as exciting for his 2021 prospects as it is concerning for the Rams’ bevy of expensive options on offense who couldn’t help the team keep up with the Packers.
Looking ahead, the Rams know that John Johnson, Troy Hill, Morgan Fox, Josh Reynolds, Austin Blythe, Gerald Everett and several others will be free agents in March. Darious Williams will be a restricted free agent. The Rams are also expected to be against or above the salary cap, leaving few moves that wouldn’t require corresponding ones that free up places to spend. They also don’t have a first round pick and are shy on picks on day three, though they should have a few additional compensatory picks in rounds three and four.
McVay’s Rams went into Green Bay as “underdogs” that would be fighting against a superior opponent ... and that’s exactly how the game felt. An inferior opponent with talent that can throw punches and even land a few knocks, but not one that ever had the Packers on the canvas for even a second.
What can McVay’s Rams do in 2021 to go back to being the “Playoffs Goliath” they were in 2018 and not the “Playoffs David” that they seemed to devolve into over the last two months?
The search for answers begins tonight.