Rams roundtable: Is shootout with Lions a bad idea for L.A.?

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The Rams clinched the No. 6 seed with a win over the San Francisco 49ers and an NFC wild-card matchup at the No. 3 Detroit Lions. That also pits the Rams’ Matthew Stafford against the Lions’ Jared Goff, both quarterbacks playing against their former teams. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, NFL columnist Sam Farmer and columnist Dylan Hernández discuss what lies ahead:

What would you consider the No. 1 priority in game-planning against the Detroit Lions’ high-powered and versatile offense?

Hernández: The Rams sent Jared Goff to Detroit for a reason, and they have to force him to make the kinds of throws they didn’t think he could make. That starts with shutting down the Lions’ running game.

Klein: The Rams do know all of Jared Goff’s strengths and weaknesses. You can be sure that defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is going to attempt to bring immense pressure. In 2021, Goff and the Lions did a pretty good job offsetting the rush with effective screen passes. The Lions sustained a loss on Sunday when rookie tight end Sam LaPorta suffered a knee injury that could sideline him against the Rams.

Farmer: The Rams certainly need to put the clamps on Detroit’s running game and contain Jahmyr Gibbs, because that’s what sets up the Lions’ play-action passing attack. Dan Campbell wants to run that ball down your throat. Selling out to stop the run can leave opponents one-on-one with receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams, and that’s a huge challenge. As Gary mentioned, that injury to rookie tight end Sam LaPorta really hurts the Lions.

Even on the road, is Matthew Stafford and his receiver corps a better group than Jared Goff and his corps? How do they differ?

Hernández: Dan Campbell pulled a Brandon Staley, and now the Lions are without their record-setting rookie tight end in Sam LaPorta. The advantage here has to go to Stafford, who is the better quarterback with the better weapons.

Klein: Amon Ra-St. Brown is terrific and the Rams know all about Josh Reynolds but, yeah, if LaPorta can’t play the Lions’ passing game takes a hit. Regardless, the Rams feature playoff-tested Cooper Kupp, record-setting Puka Nacua and Demarcus Robinson along with tight end Tyler Higbee. The Rams have the edge.

Farmer: Rams receivers Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua are what longtime quarterback Jim Everett likes to call “sporks.” They’re both spoons and forks who can be used in all different ways — short, medium and long routes, jet sweeps as well as blocking. The Lions don’t ask quite as much from their receivers. As for Goff, he’s more of a see-it, throw-it quarterback, whereas the exceptional Stafford is more of a manipulator, moving defenses with his eyes.

Lions Aidan Hutchinson (97), Derrick Barnes (55) and Levi Onwuzurike (91) celebrate against the Vikings.

The Rams need to know where the Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson (97) lines up on every play. The defensive end is disruptive against the run and pass and had 11.5 sacks this season.

(Rick Osentoski / Associated Press)

What will be the Rams’ key to attack the Lions’ defense, which has a scary front?

Hernández: This is where the game has the potential to get ugly for the Rams. They can’t let Stafford get too beat up. Establishing Kyren Williams early would be a massive help.

Klein: The Rams will no doubt attempt to establish the rushing attack with Kyren Williams, who has been a key to the offense and has rushed for more than 100 yards six times this season. That would enable Stafford to effectively run play-action.

Farmer: The Rams need to treat Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson the way opponents treat Aaron Donald; they need to know where Hutchinson is at all times. Detroit linebackers are super active, so that’s a problem too. That’s where Rams running back Kyren Williams doesn’t get enough credit. He’s an excellent runner, yes, but also an outstanding pass blocker. But if there’s a primary key, it’s neutralizing Hutchinson.

One Detroit newspaper already predicted both teams would score 30-something points in this NFC wild-card game. Do you see that happening?

Klein: Not necessarily. It’s the playoffs. Defenses should be better.

Farmer: Certainly could happen. The Lions have scored at least 30 points in six of their last nine games, winning all of those high-scoring affairs. The Rams had a run late in the season when they scored 37, 36, 31, 28 and 30. These teams can make the scoreboard look like a slot machine. Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris definitely doesn’t want that; he wants another chance to be a head coach.

Hernández: Agree, it’s certainly possible. The most critical points for the Rams might be the ones that are most taken for granted. After they let go of kicker Lucas Havrisik, they turned back to Brett Maher in their regular-season finale, and Maher promptly missed an extra point.

Do you think the Rams would fare best against the Lions in a shootout or what kind of game?

Klein: The Rams want the ball in Matthew Stafford’s hands as much as possible. Given his experience and his record for engineering comebacks, the Rams would do well in a shootout. But the Rams would fare best if Kyren Williams is running the ball effectively and McVay is creating play-action opportunities for Stafford.



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