Rams reel into bye week with first major concerns of season

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) walks off the field after the Rams were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers in an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

1. Deep breaths: Sunday's loss at Minnesota, the second in three games for Green Bay, gave pessimistic Packers fans plenty to sink their teeth into.

The defense came crashing back to Earth courtesy of Justin Jefferson. Offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins tore his ACL. Mason Crosby missed another kick. But I'm here to try to keep up some positivity.

It took most of two quarters for him to find his way, but Aaron Rodgers eventually did and had his best statistical game of the season. The Packers figured out how to adapt without Jenkins earlier this season and went 3-0, including in games where they had to face Nick Bosa and TJ Watt.

The Packers are in a downswing now, but the bye week is coming up and the schedule eases up a little bit after that. In the end, Green Bay will be just fine.

2. Bye-week blues: Speaking of the bye week ...

The Rams just had theirs, so they should be well rested and ready to play. The Packers, on the other hand, will be playing for the 12th straight week. Players and coaches have admitted that the last few weeks have been a grind for them, and it's no secret that injuries have taken a big toll on the team all season long.

No matter what happens Sunday, everyone in the locker room (and people who have written 12 straight weekly NFL game previews) will be happy to have finally reached the bye and have a chance to recharge for the stretch run.

3. An old friend: In one of the splashiest moves of the offseason, the Rams swapped quarterbacks with the Detroit Lions, acquiring Matthew Stafford.

Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, and it didn't take him long to become the best quarterback to ever play for the Lions.

He passed the 4,000-yard mark in eight seasons of his 12 seasons with Detroit, including a 5,000-yard season in 2011, and had at least 25 touchdown passes five times. Barring injuries, he's well on his way to reaching those milestones in his first season with Los Angeles.

Stafford was 7-13 against Green Bay as Detroit's starter, and plenty of those losses over the years can be pinned on the deficiencies of the Lions organization. The Rams, however, have a coach and roster than can take full advantage of Stafford's gifts as a quarterback—and they have.

Stafford is third in per-game passing (301.4 yards) and touchdowns (24) and fourth in passer rating (106.1). Cooper Kupp, who leads the league in catches (85), yardage (1,141) and is tied for most touchdowns (10), has emerged as Stafford's favorite target.

4. Eye on the trenches: The two places where the Packers have been especially depleted by injuries are along the offensive and defensive lines, and the Rams are well equipped to take advantage of those worn-down units.

Facing Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and now Von Miller would be challenging in the best of circumstances (the Rams are fourth in the league in sacks), but the Packers are going to have to play this game without Jenkins, David Bakhtiari, and Josh Myers.

On the defensive side, Kenny Clark and Preston Smith, the last two starters standing, found ways to generate pressure against Minnesota, but the Rams have allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the league this season. Whether Rashan Gary can play and get pressure on Stafford could make the difference in how the game plays out.

5. Contrast in styles: Since moving back to Los Angeles in 2017, the Rams have embraced making flashy moves to acquire established veteran players through trades and free agency. Think Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, Leonard Floyd, Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. The last first-round pick they made was in 2016, and the last one who still plays for the Rams is Donald from 2014.

The Packers, on the other hand, rely on the draft and internal improvement from year to year to build the core of their roster. Most of their best players—David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams—have been Packers from the beginning. This has created more than a little consternation among Packers fans who want to see their team make blockbuster moves.

I'm not here to say that one approach is better than the other—both teams have enjoyed sustained success over the last few years—but I do think the Green Bay approach is probably the more sustainable, especially if your college scouting department is really good. And Green Bay's has shown itself to be pretty good.

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