Sneak Peek: Powerhouse Rams present immense challenge for wobbly Broncos

Aug 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) attempts a pass over Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray (56) during the second quarter of a preseason game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos are coming off an ugly road loss to the New York Jets, and now come home to host the dominant Los Angeles Rams. Five weeks into the season and the Rams appear to be the cream of the NFL crop, with both a top 10 offense and defense. The Broncos were able to give the high-flying Chiefs a tight contest, but in a belly flop of a performance against the Jets, it appeared the Broncos may be headed for another long losing streak.

Strengths

Led by Sean McVay and Wade Phillips, the Rams’ coaching staff is easily among the best in the league. Phillips was, of course, the defensive coordinator for the Broncos and won a Super Bowl. Phillips’ defenses are always dangerous and aggressive, but this Rams one is especially so. The Rams rank in the top ten in both scoring defense and total defense.

The defense is headlined by Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh; the best pair of defensive tackles in the league. Donald is the rare defensive tackle that is just as dangerous rushing the passer as he is stopping the run. Players like Donald only come around once every five to ten years – and the Rams have two of them. Since Donald entered the league, he has either finished first or second among all defensive tackles in sacks, while new running mate Suh has ranked in the top ten among defensive tackles in all but one year of his career.

While Phillips runs the Rams’ stout defense, McVay is the genius behind their potent offensive attack. The year before McVay took over, running back Todd Gurley had the lowest yards-per-attempt of any player with at least 150 carries on the season, rookie quarterback Jared Goff’s passer rating was worse than Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, and Blaine Gabbert, and the offense was last in the league in both yards and points scored. The McVay turnaround wasn’t just unbelievably quick, but incredibly successful as well. In McVay’s first season as the Rams’ head coach, Gurley eclipsed 2,000 yards from scrimmage and won the award for Offensive Player of the Year. Goff saw similar success, finishing the season as one of just five quarterbacks with a passer rating over 100, and he looks even better this season.

Weaknesses

Trying to find a weakness on the Rams is like trying to find an imperfection on a supermodel. At least the Broncos are running into the Rams at a good time, as they’re missing former Broncos star Aqib Talib due to injury. This creates a hole in the Rams’ secondary that Case Keenum, along with the Broncos’ talented receiving core, could possibly exploit.

The Rams are also missing All-Pro kicker Greg Zuerlein to a groin injury and starting former Chief Cairo Santos instead. Santos was an incredibly efficient and accurate kicker for the Chiefs. In fact, his 84.8 kick-conversion percentage is better than Zuerlein’s, but what Santos has in accuracy, he lacks in strength. The outer limit of Santos’ range is around 55 yards, and should be even shorter in the poor weather conditions expected for Sunday. This means if Denver’s defense can bend, but not break, they might get handed some gifts by the Rams’ rarely flawed special teams.

The Rams’ most glaring flaw however, is their lack of an edge rush. The Rams boast the league’s best interior rush with Suh and Donald, but they don’t bring much pressure off the edge. According to Pro Football Focus, the Rams’ best edge rusher is Samson Ebukam, a 2017 fourth rounder out of Eastern Washington. Despite being the Rams’ best edge rusher, Ebukam ranks 25th among all pass rushers and 19th in the league among fellow edge rushers. There’s quite the drop off too between Ebukam and his edge rushing partner John Franklin Myers, who ranks 100th among all pass rushers, and forces pressure on just 8.8% of snaps. This could finally be the game where Garrett Bolles gets back on track. If he’s not able to, Keenum could be in for a long day.

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