The New England Patriots’ trip to Los Angeles started in successful fashion: the team blew out the Chargers 45-0 in Week 14 to improve its record to 6-6 on the season. In order to move to 7-6 and stay alive in the race for the playoffs, however, a win versus a different caliber of L.A. team is needed. The Los Angeles Rams, after all, are currently leading the highly competitive NFC West and field one of the best defenses in the game today.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 8-4 (1st place NFC West)
Points scored: 17th (25.1/game)
Points against: 5th (20.3/game)
Head coach: Sean McVay
Coordinators: Kevin O’Connell (offense), Brandon Staley (defense), John Bonamego (special teams)
While still led by Sean McVay in his fourth year at the job, his coaching staff has seen some major turnover from 2019 to 2020. Gone are defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and special teams coach John Fassel, while the team hired Kevin O’Connell to serve as its offensive coordinator — a title that remained vacant since Matt LaFleur’s departure after the 2017 season. For as much turnover as the Rams have seen on the sidelines, though, they still very much employ an impressive group of coaches that has led its team to an 8-4 record.
Season so far
Week 1 vs Dallas Cowboys: W 20-17
Week 2 at Philadelphia Eagles: W 37-19
Week 3 at Buffalo Bills: L 35-32
Week 4 vs New York Giants: W 17-9
Week 5 at Washington Football Team: W 30-10
Week 6 at San Francisco 49ers: L 24-16
Week 7 vs Chicago Bears: W 24-10
Week 8 at Miami Dolphins: L 28-17
Week 9: Bye
Week 10 vs Seattle Seahawks: W 23-16
Week 11 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: W 27-24
Week 12 vs San Francisco 49ers: L 23-20
Week 13 at Arizona Cardinals: W 38-28
The Rams are well on their way to their fourth straight winning season under Sean McVay. The team started its season by winning four of the first five games, beating the entire NFC East but losing in Buffalo. While two more losses followed over the next three weeks, the team was in a good position heading into its Week 9 bye at 5-3. Coming out of the weekend off, L.A. celebrated some big victories over two of the NFC’s better teams before a second loss to the 49ers and a bounce-back victory at Arizona.
The Patriots and Rams have met 14 times so far, with two of the meetings taking place in the Super Bowl
- Patriots: 9 wins (including 2 playoff wins)
- Rams: 5 wins
Given that they are playing in different conferences, the Patriots and Rams have met only a handful of times throughout the years. Two of those games, however, came on the biggest of stages: New England went up against the then-St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36 and despite being 14-point underdogs won with a final score of 20-17; 17 years later the two organizations met again with the Patriots beating the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in a defensive affair.
When it comes to the regular season, the two clubs last met in 2016 — a game the Patriots won 26-10 at Gillette Stadium. To find the last game between the teams played in Los Angeles, one has to go back all the way to 1992 and a 14-0 Rams victory.
Projected starting lineups
QB Jared Goff; RB Malcolm Brown; WR Cooper Kupp, WR Robert Woods, WR Josh Reynolds; TE Tyler Higbee; LT Joseph Noteboom, LG David Edwards, C Austin Blythe, RG Austin Corbett, RT Rob Havenstein
Even without Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the Houston Texans this offseason, the Rams offense still has plenty of firepower around quarterback Jared Goff. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in particular have played some impressive football, and are first and second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards. Up front, meanwhile, the team is missing veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth but has still looked good in both pass protection and run blocking.
DE Michael Brockers, DT Aaron Donald, DT Sebastian Joseph, OLB Samson Ebukam; LB Troy Reeder, LB Leonard Floyd; CB Jalen Ramsey, CB Troy Hill, CB Darious Williams; S John Johnson III, S Jordan Fuller*
The biggest name on defense is of course Aaron Donald, one of the NFL’s best defenders and the Rams’ leader in sacks with 11.0. He is not the only big name on defense, though, as the team is also fielding star cornerback Jalen Ramsey in its secondary as well as an athletic group of players all around. Add it all up and you get a unit that is ranked top-10 in most major categories — most importantly scoring.
K Matt Gay, P Johnny Hekker, LS Jacob McQuaide; KR/PR Nsimba Webster
Johnny Hekker remains one of the best punters in the game, as the Patriots found out first-hand during their meeting with him in Super Bowl 53. The rest of Los Angeles’ special teams has been a bit shaky at times, however, with the team giving up 15.5 yards per punt return and 28.7 yards on kickoffs — numbers that are clearly better than primary returner Nsimba Webster’s averages of 5.4 and 21.5, respectively.
Three things to watch
1. Will Jared Goff be thrown off again? The Rams offense was red hot entering Super Bowl 53, but it ran head-first into a defensive buzzsaw that held the unit without a touchdown by not allowing Jared Goff to get into any sort of rhythm as a passer. Whether or not New England will be able to do that again — especially without the veteran talent in its front seven in lost over the last two offseasons — will be one of the biggest storyline entering this week’s contest.
2. Will Aaron Donald be kept in check? Aaron Donald did have some moments in Super Bowl 53, but the Patriots were able to neutralize him by double-teaming him at first and later taking advantage of his high snap total with some well-executed one-on-one blocks by guard Joe Thuney. Thuney is still around, and so is the rest of the interior line that kept Donald in check two years ago. Of course, the quarterback is a different one this time around — and one whose release is not as lightning fast as Tom Brady’s, possibly generating opportunities for Donald and company.
3. Can New England’s return game keep its momentum? As noted above, the Rams have had some issues with their kick coverage this year. The Patriots’ return game, meanwhile, has come to life the last two weeks with impressive games against the Cardinals and Chargers. If Thursday night is more of the same, L.A. could be in for a long game and some tough field position spots.