Like the Cardinals last week, the Los Angeles Rams don't stand on the opposite sideline from the Texans but every four years. Unlike the Cardinals, though, the Rams will be flying to Houston to take on the Texans in Week 8 of this 2021 season.
Much was made last offseason about the Rams acquisition of QB Matt Stafford and, somewhat surprisingly, he's been even greater than the hype. It also has transformed the Rams offense from a really good unit to an exceptionally explosive force that hasn't yet met its match, in all honesty. The Rams defense sports two of the best overall players in the NFL, Jalen Ramsey and the player most think is the best defensive player in the NFL - Aaron Donald. With Stafford slinging the rock, Cooper Kupp benefitting and Ramsey/Donald leading the way on the defensive side of the ball, the Rams are as talented and dominant as any team in the league. Head Coach Sean McVay and GM Les Snead have put together a formidable roster, and the addition of Stafford made them a legit candidate to be playing in the final game of the season in their own building. Yeah, that SUPER game.
It's a team the Texans face just every four years, so there'll be some feeling out early in the game. That said, they did see Stafford last year when he was with Detroit, but being on the Rams sideline changed his entire paradigm and his new team's as well. As such, let's get to know this year's version of the Los Angeles Rams in preparation for the first meeting between these two teams since 2017.
2021 Schedule (6-1)
Week 1 - W Chicago Bears 34-14
Week 2 - W @ Indianapolis Colts 27-24
Week 3 - W Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-24
Week 4 - L Arizona Cardinals 37-20
Week 5 - W @ Seattle Seahawks 26-17
Week 6 - W @ New York Giants 38-11
Week 7 - W Detroit Lions 28-19
Week 8 - @ Houston Texans
Week 9 - Tennessee Titans
Week 10 - @ San Francisco 49ers
Week 11 - BYE
Week 12 - @ Green Bay Packers
Week 13 - Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 14 - @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 15 - Seattle Seahawks
Week 16 - @ Minnesota Vikings
Week 17 - @ Baltimore Ravens
Week 18 - San Francisco 49ers
Rams OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing yards per game - 95.4 ypg (23rd in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 301.7 ypg (3rd)
Total offense per game - 397.1 ypg (8th)
Turnovers lost - 7 (2 fumbles lost, 5 INT)
Expected Rams starting offense for Week 8
QB - MATTHEW STAFFORD
RB - Darrell Henderson
WR - Cooper Kupp
WR - Robert Woods
WR - Van Jefferson
TE - Tyler Higbee
LT - Andrew Whitworth
LG - David Edwards
C - Brian Allen
RG - Austin Corbett
RT - Rob Havenstein
Key offensive non-starters
RB - SONY MICHEL
WR - DESEAN JACKSON
WR - TUTU ATWELL
TE - JACOB HARRIS
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Rams offense
- Revitalized - The transformation of Rams QB Matt Stafford was swift and debilitating. Well, it was debilitating for opposing teams from the jump. As soon as Stafford took over, Rams Head Coach Sean McVay knew he had found the exact secret sauce for his offense. In Game 1 against the Bears, Stafford turned up the heat with a near-perfect passer rating (156.1) with three touchdowns on 20 of 26 passing for 321 yards, and Stafford hasn't slowed down yet. In fact, the Mad Genius (McVay) has only looked for further ways to open areas of the passing game that Stafford can exploit because of his arm acumen. That's the most difficult part of facing Stafford for the Texans secondary...deep isn't deep enough and wide isn't wide enough. He can make the throw from sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line. Every throw is in the playbook, and that's scary with the weapons at his disposal.
- Kupp O'Magic - I studied Rams star WR Cooper Kupp coming out of Eastern Washington, and he was a symphony of receiving skills. He hit the exact right note with the right tone, with the right pace, at the right time, all the time. He was so pure in his route running. His hands were perfect. He had outstanding speed. Then, I saw him up close at the Senior Bowl, and he was doing things to FBS-level players that he had done at the FCS level. His game has continued to evolve with his understanding of defenses, precise route running, speed, pacing and wonderful hands. The Cardinals are the only team to hold him without seven catches, 100+ yards or a touchdown in the 2021 season. In every other game this season, he registered at least one of those marks, and in five of his games, he hit all of those marks. He leads the league in every single receiving category and might just be the best receiver the Texans face in 2021.
- The Forgotten Duo - The thing about Kupp's production is that he's not alone in the pass-catching department. Kupp forms a strong duo with Robert Woods, who had a 95-yard touchdown catch against the Texans the last time the Texans faced the Rams in 2017. However, there are two key components to the passing game that aren't thought of as highly as that top pass-catching duo. TE Tyler Higbee and WR Van Jefferson aren't going to be option one, or even two, most of the time when the Rams break the huddle. However, it's evident that Stafford trusts each of these dynamic receiving threats. The Rams QB has targeted each guy about five times a game, and they have 48 catches, 552 yards and five touchdowns between them. Higbee became a true threat in 2019 when he had 69 receptions, and he's on a similar pace in 2021 (65.6 receptions, to be exact). Jefferson is the son of Cardinals WR Coach Shawn Jefferson, and it's clear in all that the younger Jefferson does that he's a polished product that Stafford trusts as his number three option behind Kupp and Woods.
- Next Steps - The Rams OL plays extremely well together, and Stafford will throw the football on time and with a super quick release, but the Texans DL had some twitchy and disruptive moments in which they won early in the play and put immediate pressure on Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. Whereas Murray made them miss with his mercury-like slipperiness, Stafford doesn't quite move that way. So, to disrupt this passing attack, this Texans front must continue to win the majority of its one-on-one situations upfront as they did last week.
- Eliminate the Run - It's simple. To have a shot of slowing the Rams offense, the Texans defense must eliminate any run game effectiveness. Now, McVay finds a way to "run the ball" in different ways than just the standard handoff, but making this a one-dimensional game will be tremendously helpful for a defense that has shown the proclivity to get the quarterback in the passing game. It'll take a ton of discipline for this defense to eliminate or minimize the run by being gap disciplined and tackling well in space, in particular. Watch what happens if the Texans can do just that.
Rams DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing yards allowed per game - 111.9 ypg (15th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 262.0 ypg (21st)
Total offense allowed per game - 373.9 ypg (21st)
Turnovers generated - 12 (10 INT, 2 fumble recoveries - Rams are +5 in TO margin)
Expected Rams starting defense for Week 8
DE - A 'Shawn Robinson
NT - Sebastian Joseph-Day
DT - Aaron Donald
OLB - Terrell Lewis
ILB - Troy Reeder
ILB - ERNEST JONES
OLB - Leonard Floyd
CB - Jalen Ramsey
S - Jordan Fuller
S - Taylor Rapp
CB - ROBERT ROCHELL
Key defensive non-starters
CB - David Long
DT - Greg Gaines
DB - Donte Deayon
S - Nick Scott
LB - Obo Okoronkwo
S - Terrell Burgess
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Rams defense
- 99 - In 2013, Aaron Donald and the Pitt Panthers moved into the ACC after a stint in the now-defunct (football, anyway) Big East. I'm on the mailing list from the ACC and nearly every single week, I get an email detailing Donald's accomplishments. He was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week and/or National Defensive Player of the Week four times. He was just 6-0, 280 lb. and played inside, so I wasn't truly convinced that he could play inside. Well, that sliver of doubt existed until the Senior Bowl that year when he just destroyed everyone, EV-ERY-ONE, from guard to guard. I happened to run into him, literally, in the hotel lobby and realized that he was just 6-0, but he was RIPPED like a linebacker. Regardless, I knew after leaving Mobile that he was going to make an impact in the league, but to envision the shortest, lightest interior player in the league was going to do THIS? Become a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, potentially best that ever played the game?? No one saw quite that happening, but Donald has done just that in his eight seasons in the league. He wins cerebrally. He wins with power. He wins with quickness. He wins because teams don't know how to handle him. Here's the gist of what to do against him...pray and send a bunch of dudes his way. That's about all I've got for the best there is. Speaking of the best, the Rams have another player of that caliber in the secondary.
- The Best - In the same 2013 season, another ACC product was making a name for himself as a true freshman starting safety on a national championship team - Florida State's Jalen Ramsey. Man, he gave me Sean Taylor vibes at safety, but over his career, he bounced back and forth from safety to cornerback and back. When he came into the league after being drafted by Jacksonville, he moved over to cornerback and showed the promise of being a GREAT in this league, but his secret superpower was truly unleashed when he was traded to Los Angeles - versatility. Because he had played all over the secondary, the Rams started moving him around to take advantage of his myriad secondary skills. He has lined up at nickel as much as he's traveled the formation to cover a team's number one receiver man-to-man. Ramsey is certainly a chess piece that the Rams understand how to deploy, and he's great at everything.
- Underrated - Quick...who leads the Rams in sacks? EHHH, nope, not Aaron Donald. I had thought because of how much focus teams put on Donald that it would be someone else and, as it turns out, it's one of the best athletes on either sideline - Leonard Floyd. The former Bears/Georgia star has 4.5 sacks, in addition to 4.0 TFL and six QB hits. Floyd, unlike Donald, does his work from the edge and is a major problem. His length is a massive issue, and the Texans tackles struggled a bit with a relentless, skilled rusher (Markus Golden) last week at Arizona. Floyd presents different issues than Golden because of his length and twitch, and those issues are magnified further for the Texans pass protectors because of the beast inside (Donald).
- What pass-catcher can put pressure on the Rams defense? - This feels almost like the key itself and there's really no explanation necessary. I'd imagine that Ramsey will travel some with Brandin Cooks, which opens up opportunities for...well, whom? Which Texan pass catcher can step into the void against the rest of the Rams secondary, in particular, talented rookie Robert Rochell?
- Comfortability, Part 6 - At this point, I'm not confident of who will start at quarterback for the Texans, but I'm staying with my theme for Week 8 regardless of who starts. Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills, not unlike a lot of QBs, have played well after getting some confidence and comfortability early in the game. In that vein, the Texans interior MUST keep Donald from completely wrecking the game early, in particular, and the Texans perimeter players/pass-catchers must make any and all catches to move the sticks. At NRG Stadium, it's imperative this week to get rolling early like the last home game against the New England Patriots.
The Texans will practice tomorrow at the Houston Methodist Training Center. They'll host the Los Angeles Rams on October 31 in Week 8. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.
Check out the best photos from the Houston Texans practice on Wednesday.