The Los Angeles Rams’ campaign to defend their title of Super Bowl champions begins exactly one month from today.
On September 8th, the Rams and Matthew Stafford will face off against the Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen. Both teams expect to compete for the number one seed in their respective conferences, and it’s possible Week 1 is a preview of the matchup for Super Bowl LVII.
Can LA come out on top of one of the most complete teams in the NFL and successfully defend their home turf at SoFi Stadium? Here are a few early storylines heading into the highly anticipated matchup:
1 - The return of Von Miller
Miller only played with the Rams for half a season, but his presence helped unleash even more greatness out of Aaron Donald - and Donald become an emotional leader in addition to his on-field dominance down the playoff stretch.
Los Angeles fought hard to retain Miller in free agency, but ultimately the Bills were willing to guarantee the first three years of his contract and the Rams were not. Will Miller disrupt Stafford and the offense in this game, making LA regret not paying top dollar for his services?
2 - The marquee QB matchup: Stafford vs. Allen
Josh Allen has transformed himself into perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL after entering the league as a toolsy player that was more project than polished passer. He’s as big as linebackers on the opposing defense and can beat you on the ground with designed runs just as effectively as he can pass the ball downfield. With the Bills’ talented receiving corps, the Rams may need Matthew Stafford and the offense to outpace Allen and the Bills rather than asking the defense to stop them.
The relationship between Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford did not take much time to blossom - Stafford put on a show in Week 1 last season against the Chicago Bears and then really hit his stride during the team’s playoff run. Will we see the playoff version of Stafford at the start of the year? In just his second season with the team and reloaded receiving corps, it’s possible (if not likely) that we will see him take another step forward.
3 - The Bills’ offensive pivot
As more and more defenses adopt the Vic Fangio/Brandon Staley defensive schemes and substitute smaller defensive backs onto the field, Buffalo is looking to counter-punch with bigger personnel.
After having one of the least effective rushing attacks in recent seasons, the Bills now have four solid running backs in Devin Singletary, James Cook, Zack Moss, and Duke Johnson. They even have a fullback that they’ve financially committed to, Reggie Gilliam. With Dawson Knox, who broke out in 2021, and OJ Howard in the fold, you could see Buffalo mix in 12 (1 RB, 2 TE’s) and 22 (RB, FB, and 2 TE’s) personnel groupings.
The Bills are one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL, and that doesn’t seem to be changing; however, Buffalo is hoping to threaten defenses with the running game to force heavier personnel onto the field and then create favorable passing matchups against linebackers and safeties. It’s one of the more unique team-building approaches around the NFL, and the Bills might be on the forefront of a league-wide shift in that direction.
Perhaps the Rams are a team well-suited to defend Buffalo’s heavier personnel packages with Bobby Wagner and Ernest Jones in the middle of their defense.
4 - Rams receivers vs. a deep Bills secondary
Allen Robinson has stolen the headlines in training camp, and his partnership with Cooper Kupp could give defenses fits all season.
But Van Jefferson is nursing a knee injury and his availability for Week 1 is in question - who could step up in his potential absence? Tutu Atwell seems to have taken a promising step forward in year 2, and Ben Skowronek is a swiss army knife that allows McVay to reach deep into his bag of tricks.
Slowing down LA’s prolific receiver room is a tough task, but the Bills’ secondary is as deep and as steady as they come.
Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde form one of the best safety duo’s in the NFL, and though CB Tre’Davious White was hurt for most of last season he returns fully healthy in 2022. Buffalo spent a first round draft choice on Kairr Elam to shore up the cornerback spot opposite White, though he will have a tough matchup right off the bat against Kupp and Robinson.
The Bills defense has deterred deep passes at a top 5 rate in every season under head coach Sean McDermott (2021: 7% of attempts, 2nd-lowest).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 14, 2022
The Bills allowed just 167 deep passing yards this season, less than half of the next closest team.#NEvsBUF | #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/OrZ27eIUCz