The Las Vegas Raiders are headed to Thousand Oaks to hold joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Saturday’s preseason game between the two teams. In recent years, teams have used these joint practices as the dress rehearsals for their starters, as this allows for them to be cagey with their scheme and mitigate injuries by not tackling to the ground.
LA also held a joint practice with the Dallas Cowboys during training camp in Oxnard, but by most accounts Dallas came out on top. Will Los Angeles have a better showing this time around?
Here are 4 areas to keep an eye on as the Rams compete against the Raiders this week:
1 - Offensive Line Performance
Since the last joint practice against the Cowboys, the Rams have named Brian Allen the starting center and shifted Austin Corbett to starting right guard. Head Coach Sean McVay has mentioned Allen as one of the top performers in camp, and the center will hope to continue his momentum against Las Vegas. Bobby Evans, who figured to be the starter at right guard heading into training camp, played late into the preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers and seemed to struggle along with the rest of the interior line.
The Raiders have a formidable defensive front featuring players such as Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, Carl Nassib, Clelin Ferrell, Solomon Thomas, and Jonathan Hankins. This group will not be an easy matchup for Los Angeles, and it will be interesting to see how well quarterback Matthew Stafford is protected and how much space is created in the running game.
Rams running backs averaged 2.5 yards per carry overall last weekend against the Chargers. While the starting offensive line and Darrell Henderson did not appear in the game, this is still an area of the team that needs to show improvement. Los Angeles’s reserve runners were unable to separate themselves as they compete for a role behind Henderson, and these joint practices may represent the best opportunity for Xavier Jones, Jake Funk, and Raymond Calais to standout.
2 - Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford is not expected to appear in either of the two remaining preseason games for the Rams, and the practices against the Raiders will likely be the only opportunity to see how McVay has tailored the offense around his new signal caller before the regular season. Los Angeles struggled at times to push the ball downfield last season, so both the frequency and success of deep pass attempts will be notable.
Reports out of training camp have indicated that Stafford’s connection with veteran Desean Jackson has been hot out of the gate. Given Jackson’s age and injury history, it is fair to wonder how long the two can maintain this success. It will also be important to monitor the Rams new signal caller’s rapport with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee.
The Raiders have significant question marks in their secondary. The starting corners are expected to be Trayvon Mullen and veteran Casey Hayward. Former first round cornerback Damon Arnette had a disappointing rookie season with Las Vegas, and is hoping to rebound in his second year. The starters at safety will likely be Jonathan Abrams, an inconsistent but flashy player, and rookie Trevon Moehrig. Veteran defensive back Karl Joseph is also expected to play a reserve role.
Will the Rams’ revamped passing attack get the better of the Raiders’ work-in-progress secondary?
3 - Rotation at EDGE Rusher
Leonard Floyd suffered an injury in practice this week, but it does not appear he will miss much time. Floyd, who the Rams re-signed to a contract extension this offseason, figures to be a staple of the Los Angeles defense this season. Justin Lawler, one of the standouts from last week’s game against the Chargers, will be the primary replacement until Floyd returns to health.
Rams OLB Leonard Floyd left the practice field because of an ankle injury today. Sean McVay said "It seems like it's good" but added that Floyd would get further evaluation.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 17, 2021
On the opposite side of the defense, LA seems intent on establishing a committee approach to the EDGE position. Justin Hollins, who was claimed off waivers last season from the Denver Broncos, and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo are expected to share playing time. Hollins is a more well-rounded player who is just as capable as defending the run as the pass, while Okoronkwo is considered more of a pass rush specialist. Second year OLB Terrell Lewis suffers from chronic knee issues and his role for the upcoming season is up in the air.
Will the outside linebackers be able to generate much pressure against Las Vegas tackles Kolton Miller and Alex Leatherwood?
4 - CB David Long, JR
One of the most concerning reports from the Cowboys joint practice was the performance of cornerback David Long when matched up against CeeDee Lamb. While shut-down corner Jalen Ramsey will usually eliminate the opposing team’s primary receiving threat, the Rams wanted to test Long against a potential star receiver and the results were not encouraging.
Can LA’s third-year corner bounce back against the likes of Henry Ruggs III, John Brown, Bryan Edwards, and Willie Snead IV? Ruggs, Brown, and Snead are considered very fast players, so it will be telling how Long is able to defend against this level of speed.
With most of the Rams’ key players expected to be on the sidelines for Saturday’s preseason contest, these joint practices will be most telling sign we have in assessing the team’s preparedness ahead of the week 1 contest against the Chicago Bears.