The Los Angeles Rams defense looked fiery and fierce against the Chicago Bears in their 20-point victory in Week 1, carrying over their strong play from the 2020 season. Sure, we can argue that the Andy Dalton-led Bears are not a good measuring stick for what’s to come; however, Chicago still has a number of high caliber players on offense and LA cannot control who they line up against.
Wins are hard to come by in the NFL, and a more stringent test is ahead of the Rams in Week 2: the Indianapolis Colts.
The difference between the Bears and the Colts is like graduating from algebra 101 to algebra 201. Without looking too far ahead, the Rams make a jump to calculus in Week 3 and will face the defending Super Bowl champions and Tom Brady at SoFi Stadium.
Indy’s quarterback is a touch more dangerous (though very volatile) than what LA faced in Week 1. Their ground game is led by the tough Jonathan Taylor and the versatile Nyheim Hines. The most stark difference between the first and second contests will be the offensive line - where turnstiles have been replaced with mauling road graders.
Rams-Colts: 3 key matchups to watch on Sunday
Los Angeles lived up to high expectations and impressed on Sunday night football, but this week they may need to be just a little better. The Colts are looking for a rebound. The Rams are hoping to start a win streak, and they can do so handily with a strong defensive performance Sunday morning in Indy.
There are two key battles the Rams defense will need to make the most of in order to come leave Indianapolis with a victory in hand:
1 - Take away WR Michael Pittman, Jr
With veteran TY Hilton on injured reserve, the far and away best receiving option the Colts have left is second-year wideout Michael Pittman, Jr. At 6’4, 223-lbs, Pittman is a big bodied receiver that would present a matchup problem for the Rams’ smaller defensive backs. While Pittman’s reputation might not warrant a shadow from star corner Jalen Ramsey, the size advantage over players such as Darious Williams (5’9) and David Long, Jr (5’11) may force LA’s hand.
Indy’s secondary pass catcher is fourth-year receiver Zach Pascal, who was remarkably consistent between the 2019 and 2020 seasons finishing each with around 40-45 receptions, about 600 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Pascal is consistent, but he’s unlikely to carry the offense.
In the slot for the Colts is third-year veteran Parris Campbell. In Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks, Campbell was targeted three times and recorded one catch for 24 yards.
If Los Angeles can minimize the damage done by Pittman, the remaining Indianapolis receivers shouldn’t scare the Rams. The Colts running backs are a much more significant threat, which brings us to...
2 - Don’t let Jonathan Taylor beat you, and keep Nyheim Hines from making explosive plays
If there was a losing aspect of the Rams in Week 1 against the Bears, it was the defense’s ability to stop the ground game. David Montgomery rushed 16 times for 108 yards, representing a per average attempt of 6.8 yards. LA’s offense outscored and outpaced Chicago, which limited the Bears’ ability to run the ball late in the second half. If the game had been closer, the damage could have been a lot worse.
Sean McVay attributed the porous run defense to rust and a lack of contact after sitting starters and key role players during the preseason
The Los Angeles defense is schematically inclined to stop the pass game first, and philosophically the team would rather be more susceptible to giving up a 7-8 yard run versus a 15-30 yard pass play. This approach certainly played a role in the damage done by Montgomery a week ago; however, the Colts are an offense equipped to take advantage of holes in the run game and then some.
Indy’s offensive line is considered one of, if not the best, units in the NFL. It is worth mentioning that Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith are dealing with injuries ahead of the Week 2 contest against the Rams, though both played in the team’s first game.
While LA’s defensive front is considered stout, they will have their hands full with this group. If the Rams cannot control the line of scrimmage, the Colts could be able to control the clock and keep Matthew Stafford and LA’s explosive offense off the field.
Injury update: DT Joseph-Day is limited in practice on Thursday
Indianapolis is willing to stick to the run should the game script dictate it. In Week 1 against the Seahawks, Jonathan Taylor carried the ball 17 times and Nyheim Hines also had 9 attempts. Neither back averaged more than 4 yards per carry, indicating the Colts are committed to the ground game and a balanced attack.
Taylor and Hines are also threats in the pass game, both finishing with a team-leading 6 receptions each against Seattle for 60 yards and 48 yards respectively.
The Rams’ main priority on defense will be preventing chunk yardage on deep passes and off play action. The recipe to counteract this, if you’re the Colts, is to remain patient and take what the opposition gives you. LA’s defense is philosophically willing to allow 4 yard runs to stop the pass first, but Indy must be willing to commit to the ground game and put together long drives with a dozen plays or more. Use check downs to Taylor and Hines to continue to move the chains. The Rams defense will jump at the first chance the Colts get greedy, grow impatient, or try to push the ball down the field.
The Bears had success against the Rams with this approach at times, putting together a measured 16-play drive. The issue is that the Rams offense was able to score on explosive plays and outpace the Dalton and the Bears, forcing them out of the game plan.
In order for the Colts to contend against the Rams Sunday, they will need to keep Pittman busy and take a measured approach to keep the chain moving. Indianapolis may be built to control the clock and keep Stafford and the explosive Rams offense off the field, though they must stick to their game plan. If LA can force Indy to grow desperate and take chances in the pass game, things could get out of hand quickly.