The Los Angeles Rams kick off the 2022 NFL season on Thursday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills. This potential to be a Super Bowl preview with both teams looking to make deep postseason runs. Despite being the defending Super Bowl champions and playing at home, the Rams enter this game as 2.5-point underdogs. Here are five things that the Rams need to do to ensure victory.
1. Be Ready for a Josh Allen Mistake
Josh Allen and Matthew Stafford are very similar quarterbacks. Both quarterbacks will have two or three throws per game that will leave you scratching your head asking why. As gunslingers, they simply can’t help themselves sometimes.
Last season, Josh Allen ranked tied for third in turnover worthy plays with 26 according to Pro Football Focus. Football Outsider has an adjusted interceptions metric that shows who the luckiest and unluckiest quarterbacks are in the league. In 2021, Allen was the fourth-luckiest quarterback with a differential of -2.7.
It’s likely that Allen gives the Rams a few looks during this game. The defense needs to be able to capitalize on those opportunities and not let Allen off the hook. If the defense can get a turnover or two, the Rams will be in good shape.
2. Find Room in the Run Game
The Bills made a few moves this offseason to help them stop the run on defense. At edge rusher, they brought in Von Miller who ranked fourth against the run last season among edge rushers according to Pro Football Focus. They also added Daquan Jones on the defensive line. However, Jones’ stop percentage ranked just 113th among defensive linemen.
Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are among the best safety duos in the NFL which could make throwing the ball, especially over the middle of the field, challenging.
Against the Tampa Buccaneers last season, the Bills gave up 113 yards and 5.9 yards per carry to Leonard Fournette. Jonathan Taylor averaged 5.8 yards per carry and had 185 total yards on the ground in the Indianapolis Colts’ win over the Bills. Lastly, everyone remembers that game last year in which Mac Jones threw three passes as the New England Patriots went into Orchard Park and came out with a win.
A lot has changed since these two teams met in 2020, but after being down 28-3 in the third quarter, Sean McVay got back to the run game and it helped bring the Rams back. Darrell Henderson rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries in that game and had it not been for a call on Darious Williams, the Rams would have completed the comeback.
There is potential to out-physical the Bills defense up-front. The question is, can the Rams offensive line do it? The Bills ranked just 11th in both run defense DVOA and EPA per play last season. If the Rams can lean on Cam Akers and Henderson and take some pressure off of Stafford, it will make for a great combination on offense.
3. Attack the Bills Cornerbacks
This seems contradictory to the point listed above. However, the Bills will be without Tre’Davious White who was placed on the PUP list. In his place will be rookie first round pick Kalir Elam.
The Bills safeties are very good. The cornerbacks on the other hand can be exploited. Elam will be making his first career start while Taron Johnson will be on the other side and allowed the 17th most yards after catch last season.
The Rams should be able to win this matchup with Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. It’s worth noting that the Bills defense allowed just a six percent explosive pass rate in 2021 which was the second best mark in the NFL.
4. Lock Down in the Red Zone
The Rams defense can’t have a performance in the red zone like they did in Green Bay last season when the Packers started 3-for-4 in the red zone. The Bills offense was the best red zone team in the NFL last season, scoring touchdowns on 66 percent of their red zone drives. In their last three games on 2021? The Bills scored a touchdown in the red zone at a clip of 92 percent.
The best way to slow down a high-powered offense is to force them into empty possessions or make them settle for three. The Rams defense ranked eighth in the NFL last season, allowing touchdowns in the red zone at just a 53 percent rate. It’s only Week 1, but the Rams defense will need to be on their game right out of the gate.
5. Remain Composed
There’s going to be a lot going on during this game that doesn’t necessarily involve the game. The Rams will be having a “banner reveal” prior to the game, celebrating the team’s Super Bowl win over the Cincinnati Bengals. This will be the first time that the Rams have taken the field as a team since their win in February. There are going to be a lot of emotions likely similar to the emotions prior to the Super Bowl.
The Rams will also be taking the field for the first time as defending champions. Sean McVay is 5-0 in season openers, but never have the Rams had a game quite like this. Joe Noteboom will be starting his first game as the full-time left tackle going up against Von Miller. Bobby Wagner won’t be wearing a Seahawks jersey for the first time in his career.
Over the last year, the Rams have played with so much pressure and Thursday night will be no different. However, like they have for much of the last year, they’ll be expected to handle it well and play at a high level.