The Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will play at So-Fi Stadium for the first time in the regular season on Sunday. Both teams are in two different spots as the Chargers are in the thick of the playoff race while the Rams sit at 5-10 and playing the role of spoiler.
This will also mark Sean McVay’s first meeting against Brandon Staley as a head coach. Coming off of a big win against the Denver Broncos on Christmas, here’s what the Rams need to do to get a win against their same city rival.
1. Continue Riding Cam Akers
The Rams have a rejuvenated Cam Akers running the football in the later parts of this season. It’s true that Akers’ success came against four of the 10 most generous run defenses in the league.
Akers is making guys miss and hitting holes that he wasn’t seeing early on in the season. He’ll have an opportunity again on Sunday. Brandon Staley’s defense with the Chargers ranks 28th in run defense DVOA and 27th in run defense EPA. Staley’s defense is allowing 5.3 yards per carry which is the second worst mark in the NFL.
McVay called Akers’ number 23 times last week in the run game. A lot of that was certainly game script with the Rams up by such a large margin. However, Sunday’s game is one in which the Rams can win on the ground if they stick to it.
2. Don’t give up the big play on defense
The Chargers offense has not been their strong suit this season despite having Justin Herbert under center. Joe Lombardi has taken some warranted criticism as a play-caller and play-designer.
Over the last three weeks, Herbert has thrown zero touchdowns to three interceptions. The Chargers rarely take advantage of Herbert’s arm and instead end up with play designs like the one below.
Herbert has a tendency to get impatient and look for the big play when it’s there. The Rams secondary can’t give that up.
3. Keep it Simple for Baker Mayfield
McVay has done a very good job at keeping things simple for Baker Mayfield. Mayfield didn’t light it up against the Denver Broncos, but remained extremely efficient and his 0.427 EPA per dropback illustrates that.
The Rams and Chargers play two very similar style defenses. Since Week 14, Staley’s group has only allowed 11.4 points per game. McVay needs to continue keeping it simple for Mayfield. The Chargers will look to limit explosives. Take what Staley’s defense gives you and don’t force anything that isn’t there.
4. Keep Chargers Out of ‘Go-For-It’ Situations
Being able to win on third down and keep the Chargers out of “go-for-it” situations is going to be crucial. The Chargers are one of the best teams on third down this season, ranking 10th in conversion rate on offense. When they don’t convert, Staley isn’t afraid to keep his offense on the field.
This season, the Chargers have gone for it on fourth down 29 times. That’s the fifth-most in the NFL. They’ve converted 51.7 percent of their fourth down attempts which ranks fifth out of eight teams that have gone for it at least 25 times.
If it’s one area that the Rams defense needs to improve, it’s on third down. They have the number 22 defense in DVOA in third and fourth down situations. Additionally, they have the 23rd ranked overall third down defense, allowing a conversion on 40.7 percent of attempts. If the Rams face a 3rd-and-7, they can’t give up six yards and expect Staley not to go for it. Raheem Morris’ group needs to play this game like the Chargers are working with four downs.
5. Win at the Line of Scrimmage
This may seem like an obvious one as it’s something teams should look to do every week. However, it seems to be even more so the case when it comes to the Rams. Since Baker Mayfield took over as the starter, being able to win up front as been key to his success.
Against the Raiders, Mayfield was sacked four times, but was only pressured on 26.8 percent of his dropbacks. Against the Green Bay Packers, that number was up to 40.7 percent. Mayfield was once again clean against the Broncos as he was under pressure on just 10.3 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest percentage for the week.
The Rams defensive line got to Wilson last week as the defense tallied six sacks. Herbert has a tendency to hold on to the ball. He’s been sacked 37 times this season which is the eighth-most in the NFL. His 2.77 seconds in average time to throw also ranks in the middle of the league at number 15.
It’s going to be important for the Rams to get to Herbert while keeping Mayfield clean. The Chargers could be with their full pass-rush arsenal as Joey Bosa returns from injury.