The Los Angeles Rams didn’t fare all that well in Baker Mayfield’s first start with the team on Monday night. His second start will be even tougher against one of the league’s best defenses in the Denver Broncos.
At least Mayfield’s team has familiarity with Russell Wilson, who will be making his return under center after missing last week’s game versus the Cardinals. Rams Country, I spoke with Ian St. Clair from SB Nation’s Broncos blog Mile High Report to gain more insight into L.A.’s opposition this week. LET’S RIDE!
Q - By now you have probably gotten tired of being asked this question but here goes nothing. Russell Wilson was expected to be the franchise savior since Peyton Manning retired. Instead, he’s been the subject of ridicule, from having more bathrooms than touchdowns to the Dangerwich (something I would try). It’s been a rough year for him but I find it hard to believe he’s completely washed. Is his lack of production due to being pigeonholed into an offensive scheme that he isn’t comfortable in or is it because of something else entirely?
A - I’m one of the few who doesn’t believe Wilson is washed. If you get a competent head coach and offensive coordinator, I feel you’ll get close to vintage Russ. But I do think it’s a combination of everything. And Wilson certainly takes some of the blame. He hasn’t played well. Now, injuries to the Broncos certainly haven’t helped either. I think the loss of Tim Patrick has impacted this team more than people have discussed. However, in the end, this is all on Nathaniel (will never) Hackett. Get rid of this terribleness and you take the first step.
Q - The last two weeks, the Broncos’ offense has been fairly watchable which is a nice change considering many of their games have been deemed cruel and unusual punishment for their fans. Nathaniel Hackett has been a big reason for these struggles and there’s zero chance he returns next season unless the Waltons want a Mile High revolt on their hands. What kind of progress have you seen out of this offensively offensive offense, namely against the Chiefs and Cardinals and how could they build upon it moving forward?
A - Let’s put some of this in context: On Sunday, the Broncos offense didn’t start doing anything until the Cardinals’ third-string quarterback was in the game. So basically, that’s the key. Broncos Country will throw out the “bUt WhAt dOeS ThE tHiRd-StRiNg qB HaVe tO Do wiTh ThE oFfEnSe.” Well, when your defense gets three-and-outs or turnovers, everything. At least on Sunday, it also helped to focus on the running game. That’s what opened the offense up. If I’m the Rams, I take that away and force whoever plays QB for Denver to throw the ball. Needless to say, I’m not sold on this offensively offensive offense. Now it actually faces a real defense, even with the injuries. If your readers get the hint that I’m a little jaded, they’re right. I just don’t want any chance of Hackett being brought back, and already these two fluky offensive showings have started those rumblings. No, just no.
Q - On the flipside, the defense has been one of the top units in football. They’ve kept the Broncos in every game. Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero has been a godsend for this team and he knows the Rams well after being an assistant for their Super Bowl winning team. How do you anticipate Evero to attack LA given his familiarity with Sean McVay’s scheme?
A - This is a double-edged sword because McVay also knows Evero. And he’ll know right away the Denver defense is terrible at stopping the run on the edge. So he’ll attack that weakness, and he should attack it over and over again. That would allow McVay to run some screens and wheel routes as well. McVay should also attack the middle of the Broncos defense with his tight ends. Force Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton to cover and take them “out of the box,” so to speak.
Q - Back in early November, linebacker Bradley Chubb was traded to Miami in a move that Denver was supposedly planning to make no matter their record. How has the pass rush fared since the trade and how do you expect them to perform against LA’s oft-injured O-line?
A - Quick note on the Chubb trade: Broncos GM George Paton fleeced the Dolphins. Not only did he get a first-round pick for Chubb, but Miami also extended him to a huge contract extension. And Chubb has been non-existent for the Dolphins since the trade. As for the Broncos pass rush, it’s been led by Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper. And now Randy Gregory is back from IR. The play of Cooper has been impressive, and Browning has had moments where he’s looked like Von Miller. The key for Browning now is to get consistent. The problem has come, as I mentioned earlier, on stopping the run on the perimeter. But the fact Paton got a first-round pick, albeit a low first-round pick since it seems the San Francisco 49ers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, is big.
Q - According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Broncos are 2.5-point road favorites with an O/U of 36.5. What is your prediction for the game and how can the Broncos avoid the dreaded lump of coal in their stocking?
A - It’s interesting you mention the total because the last two weeks it’s hit. Coming into the Chiefs game, the under was 11-1. Now it’s 11-3. Sunday gets back to the mean. Both of these defenses are good and will not allow these garbage offenses to do anything. Since the Rams are better coached, I expect McVay and his staff to attack Denver’s weaknesses and hand the Broncos a big lump of coal in a 16-13 LA win.