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Rams must allow Matthew Stafford to ‘sling it’ against Commanders

5 keys to victory for the Rams in Week 15 against the Commanders

Los Angeles Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are into the final stretch of the season. With four games left to play, they sit at 6-7 with an opportunity to make the playoffs if they take care of business against the Washington Commanders. For a second consecutive week, the Rams will be playing a team off of their bye week. However, instead of playing the second ranked pass defense, the Commanders pass defense ranks last in the NFL. The Rams will be relying on Matthew Stafford being able to be efficient in the passing game to win this one. Here are five keys to victory.

1. Allow Matthew Stafford to win the game with his arm

Dare I say that the Rams have turned into a run-first team? This season, the Rams rank 19th in pass-rate over expected at -2.1 percent. Their overall pass rate of 58 percent also ranks 15th in the NFL and they rank 18th in pass-rate over the last three weeks.

While the Rams still need to have some sense of balance on offense, this is going to be a game for Matthew Stafford to sling the ball around the field. The Commanders defense this season ranks dead last in pass defense EPA per play and DVOA by a wide margin. The gap between the Commanders at 32 with a 35.3 percent pass defense DVOA and then the Arizona Cardinals at 31 with a 23.1 percent pass defense DVOA is the same as the Cardinals at 31 and New England Patriots at 21. Stafford has been on fire as of late and will need to continue that against the Commanders.

2. Make Sam Howell Uncomfortable

Howell has shown some promise for the Commanders this season. With that said, he is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 14 while throwing 18 touchdowns. Howell also trails just Mac Jones and Josh Dobbs in most turnover-worthy plays this season. That's not to mention Howell is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL as he’s been sacked 58 times. Washington’s adjusted sack rate of 11.5 percent also ranks 31st.

The Rams defense needs to force Howell into mistakes and negative plays. While he has the ability to make some flashy plays, he will also give defenses 3-4 opportunities per game to make a play on the ball. If Raheem Morris’ defense can make Howell uncomfortable and force him into situations in which Howell feels like he has to force a play, it could benefit the Rams.

3. Be Ready for Deep Shots on Defense

The Rams defense needs to be ready for Washington to try for the explosive play in the passing game. Howell isn't afraid to push the ball down the field. He is currently tied for fifth in big time throws on deep passes and his five touchdown passes of 20 yards or more also is tied for the tenth most.

There have been times this season in which the Rams defense has been susceptible to getting beat vertically in the passing game. It happened last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Both Ahkello Witherspoon and Derion Kendrick can get beat over the top. The Commanders have the playmakers as well in Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson who can make those explosive plays.

4. Win in the key moments

The Commanders are used to playing in close games. This season, they’ve played eight one-score games which is among the most in the NFL and they are 4-4 in those games. Washington has taken the Philadelphia Eagles down to the wire not once, but twice. The Seattle Seahawks marginally beat the Commanders, 29-26, early in November.

Over their past three games, the Commanders rank 12th on third down and when they get in the red zone, they take advantage. Washington is the ninth best team at scoring touchdowns in the red zone this season. The Rams defense needs to win on key downs and keep the Commanders out of the end zone. If Los Angeles keeps Washington in this game, they have the ability to steal one.

5. Don’t Get Caught Looking Ahead to Thursday

Too much emphasis can sometimes get put on trap games in the NFL. However, if there ever was a trap game for the Rams, this would be it. The Commanders are seen as a team out of the playoff hunt and just looking to get to next season. There are already rumblings that this is Ron Rivera’s last year. Meanwhile, the Rams have a must-win game at home on Thursday against the New Orleans Saints.

Yes, the Rams are 6-7 and aren’t good enough or in position to be overlooking teams. At the same time, the Saints game on Thursday will essentially be seen as a playoff game in Week 16. The Commanders may not be a good team, but they are good enough to catch teams trying to sleepwalk past them. Every game from this point forward needs to be full steam ahead.