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Interview with the Enemy: Los Angeles Rams

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Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times joins us to preview the NFC Championship rematch.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back again with the next segment in the Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times answers 5 quick questions about one of the biggest games in the NFL regular season: the Los Angeles Rams hosting the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Championship re-match.

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So what’s going on with Todd Gurley? Give me (and fantasy football players everywhere) the inside scoop.

The short answer is...nobody knows.

Todd’s knee is just in a place where we don’t know how it’s going to respond week-to-week. Last year, he aggravated it in Week 1, but it responded well and he was able to practice all week and then play heavily in Week 2 logging 19 carries. In Week 15, he aggravated again, and it just didn’t respond well. So it’s a delicate balance. You can’t not play him now that he’s healthy, but the more he plays the greater the risk that he reaggravates it and it doesn’t respond well. The Rams know they can’t use him as much as they have, so they’re leaning into the phrase “load management plan” for reducing his carries this year. How that’s going to look, I’m not sure. The Rams went to backup RB Malcolm Brown last week to a degree they never have in regular competitive games before despite Brown being the backup since 2017. They also drafted Darrell Henderson Jr. in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft to add more young talent to the depth chart.

So yeah, the inside scoop is...there is no scoop. I feel like that weird bald kid in the Matrix with the spoon (BTW...the name of that character...was...Spoon Boy).

To say Christian McCaffrey had himself a solid game against the Rams in Week 1 is an understatement. What happened there? Do you expect Alvin Kamara to find similar success in Week 2?

Well what happened there is what has happened to the Rams quite frequently since Sean McVay took over as head coach and Wade Phillips became his defensive coordinator in 2017: a running back ran all over us.

In 2018, the Rams were dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per rush (strange unrelated fact: the Kansas City Chiefs were 31st and the New England Patriots were 29th). Football Outsiders ranked us as the 27th rushing defense. The year prior, we were 30th in yards allowed per carry and ranked 21st by FO. Suffice to say, our run defense has been pretty not good in the McVay era. Of course the other obvious correlating factor...is wins. The Rams might have an issue with run defense, but it certainly hasn’t doomed things in the win-loss column.

I’m sure some Saints fans might read all this and think back to the NFC Championship where the Rams did a fantastic job bottling up RB Alvin Kamara and RB Mark Ingram who combined for just 46 yards on 17 carries, but that was an aberration from the season-long performance.

We’ll have to see how things progress for the Rams this year as we get a larger sample size (and as we see how the personnel rotation develops over the next month or so, but I don’t think most Rams fans will be surprised if it emerges again as one of the NFL’s lesser run defenses.

Who is one lesser-known player on the Rams defense that you think would be key to the Rams’ success in Week 2?

The obvious pick here is LB Cory Littleton though he’s likely less lesser-known after his first week in which he logged 14 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a recovery of that fumble all while wearing shoes from the 1960s. I’ll also throw in S Taylor Rapp here. As a rookie safety whom the Rams picked up in the second round of the 2019 draft, he probably doesn’t have a ton of awareness outside of the Rams bubble and the Pacific Northwest where he starred for the Washington Huskies. He impressed throughout the preseason and had a nice NFL debut. Not sure how often he’s going to be used as he came in under 50% of the snaps against the Panthers in Week 1 and even that was after S Eric Weddle left the game with a nasty cut on his head and went into the concussion protocol. Weddle looks to be back for Week 2, so Rapp might get even less work. Still, he has set the bar high this early in his career.

Jared Goff only went 23 of 39 for less than 200 yards and an interception. What’s the key to slowing him down like the Panthers did?

Man, I don’t know. He was just very inaccurate and that’s not a ton of rhyme or reason to it other than the idea that he didn’t play in the preseason and that left him without enough game reps to shake it off. Proponents of that theory would point to Week 1 in 2018 where he looked similarly off against the Oakland Raiders. I personally don’t buy into that too much since (a) he took hundreds of reps in practice starting with training camp and into last week’s gameplan installment work and (b) he somehow shook off that rust between Week 1 and Week 2 which would seem pretty arbitrary.

Obviously the best first practice is pressure. It certainly helps amplify mistakes against any quarterback, but Goff was particularly a worse version of himself compared to his peers in 2018. Again...NFC Championship anomaly...but on the whole of 2018, it was definitely the case. So in terms of a matchup, this one is less about Goff and more dominating the line play. The second best avenue to getting Goff off his game is to get in between him as a system quarterback and the guy who oversees the system: Head Coach Sean McVay. That was really the crux of how the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots held the Rams to the two lowest scoring outputs in the McVay era. They both used quarters coverage (good primer on it here) and were able to get good pressure on Goff -- Chicago from the edge, New England from the interior. I’m sure McVay worked something up over the offseason that he installed in the offseason program and training camp to be able to attack that scheme this year, but football strategy is always a back and forth. There’s going to be something else that will frustrate him and undo the Rams’ offense moving forward. If you can find it, it can, as we saw with the quarters shell last year, the whole thing can come crumbling down.

But overall, we’re talking about a 24-year old QB who threw for more than 4,600 yards in just his third NFL season. His overall body of work under McVay is very, very good.

What is your prediction for the game? Who wins? Final score?

I’ll back the Rams at home in this one though the experience overall will be more important (and enjoyable) than the outcome whatever it is. This is as big of a game as we’ll get all year between the quality of the two teams (the top two favorites in the NFC) and the narrative building into this one since last year’s NFC Championship. This is great entertainment.

In terms of a score? I’ll go 30-29 with a troll-pleasing outcome. Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman needs to commit pass interference in the fourth...and get flagged for it to set up a Saints TD to go up 29-27. When the Rams get the ball back though, there should be a no call on a deep pass that McVay challenges. When it’s overturned via replay, Rams K Greg Zuerlein kicks the field goal to give the Rams the 1-point win.

This is just set up to be a ridiculous exercise in sport. Might as well script it Hollywood-style.

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Thank-you, Joe, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Joe and the work his guys are doing over at Turf Show Times. You can follow Joe on Twitter @3k_, Turf Show Times @TurfShowTimes, and of course you can follow me @dunnellz.