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5 keys to victory: Can the Rams keep their playoff hopes alive against Packers?

How can the Rams keep their playoff hopes alive against the Packers?

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NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

For a third consecutive year, the Los Angeles Rams will be traveling to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. Every one of those meetings have come late in the season with dropping temperatures and Monday Night will be no different.

Early in the season, many would have thought that this game would potentially have huge playoff seeding implications. With the teams sitting at 4-9 and 5-8, that isn’t the case. Both teams are still alive in the playoff hunt, however. Here’s how the Rams can keep their playoff hopes alive.

1. Ride Cam Akers

The Packers run defense ranks 32nd in DVOA. Their 0.073 EPA per rush allowed ranks 31st. They are allowing five yards per carry which also ranks in the bottom-5 at 30th.

On Monday Night, it’s going to be a cold at Lambeau Field. This needs to be a Cam Akers game. It’s been awhile since Rams fans have seen Akers take over a game. That needs to be the case this week.

The Rams run game has struggled all season, but Akers, outside of the fumble against the Raiders, has been playing better. Akers is averaging 4.01 yards per carry over the last four weeks and according to The Athletic, has a positive EPA per rush in two of those four games.

Back in the 2020 NFC Divisional Playoffs, Akers rushed 18 times for 90 yards which is an average of five yards per carry. The Rams will need that Akers to show up.

2. Be Ready for the Vertical Passing Game

The Packers offense has struggled this season. The Rams absolutely cannot allow explosives to make it easier for them. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are two receivers that can win down the field.

The player to be most worried about however is Watson. The rookie out of North Dakota State is tied for second in the NFL with an average depth of target of 18.4 yards since Week 9.

The Rams have struggled defending passes over the top this season. Davante Adams had two such receptions last week for the Raiders. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Rams put Jalen Ramsey on Watson. The star corner will need to be ready for Watson’s ability to win down the field.

3. Keep it Simple, but Expand the Offense

Earlier this week, Sean McVay recounted a conversation that he had with Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens when getting Baker Mayfield ready for Thursday:

“Give them just enough to try to go play great. Bite-sized increments. You can sometimes immerse these guys in information, and not all of it is necessary to go play at a really high level,” he added. You want to be selective with the information that you’re giving. You see the way that he’s really building on some of the initial understanding of those things, and that’s what’s been impressive.”

The Rams need to build on what they did with Mayfield on Thursday, but continue to keep it simple. While there is more time for Mayfield to prep for his first start with the Rams, A little under two weeks is still not a lot of time in football terms when it comes to grasping an offense.

McVay needs to continue to utilize play action which is where Mayfield excels. They’ll have more time to prepare for this game to get a grasp on what Mayfield is comfortable with. However, the full playbook likely still won’t be available. That’s fine. As McVay said, give Mayfield bite-sized increments so that Mayfield can continue to succeed.

4. Make Aaron Rodgers Beat You

This isn’t something that you would have said in the past, but it’s absolutely the case this year. After losing Davante Adams, Rodgers simply doesn’t have the same chemistry with his young wide receivers. Watson has developed over the past six weeks, but even last week against the Bears, it was AJ Dillon and the Packers run game that did a lot of the work. In the win against the Dallas Cowboys, Aaron Jones rushed for over 130 yards.

The Rams run defense has been one of the best this year. It’s going to be crucial for the Rams to shut down the duo of Jones and Dillon and make Rodgers trust his young wide receivers. Rodgers has thrown nine interceptions this year which is the same number he threw in 2020 and 2021 combined.

This is going to be a low-scoring, physical game. The Rams need to shutdown the run game and put the pressure on Rodgers and Matt LaFleur

5. Continue Playing Like You Have Nothing to Lose

While having a 4-9 record hasn’t been great, watching the Rams play the last few weeks has been fun at times. They took the Seattle Seahawks to the brink and had an exciting come from behind win against the Raiders.

With Wolford and Mayfield under center, it’s forced McVay to get more creative on offense which is something that he should have done earlier in the season. TuTu Atwell is getting involved on offense, the Rams are utilizing play-action again which has opened up the intermediate and deep areas of the field, McVay is designing plays with a lot of smoke-and-mirrors stuff.

Despite Stafford being out, the last few weeks of offense has been a lot of fun. The same can be said about the defense. Morris has dialed up a lot of blitz packages. Michael Hoecht is playing on the edge. These are things that you wouldn’t have expected at the beginning of the season.

The Rams need to continue with this “just go out there and play” mindset that they’ve had. Typically the defending champions have a lot of pressure and that was the case early in the season. With less than a one percent chance to make the playoffs, that’s no longer the case.