Rams vs. Packers matchups: Jared Goff gets chance to step up again
When Rams have the ball: After coming off the bench and helping lead the Rams to an NFC wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Jared Goff will start at quarterback. With John Wolford sidelined because of a neck injury, Blake Bortles will be the backup. Goff is now nearly three weeks removed from right thumb surgery. Goff wore gloves during practice this week to help with his grip in a game that will be played in temperatures in the 30s or below. Receiver Cooper Kupp did not practice this week because of bursitis in his right knee. Coach Sean McVay has said that Kupp could play without practicing. If Kupp is sidelined, rookie Van Jefferson would start. Rookie running back Cam Akers is coming off a 131-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Seahawks. He also turned a short pass into a 44-yard gain. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who returned from a knee injury to play against the Seahawks, has had no setbacks. Bobby Evans could start in place of right guard David Edwards, who is nursing an ankle injury. The Packers’ defense, under coordinator Mike Pettine, features nose tackle Kenny Clark, Pro Bowl linebacker Za’Darious Smith (12½ sacks) and Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander, who has intercepted three passes.
When Packers have the ball: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on track for a possible third NFL most valuable player award. The 16th-year pro has passed for 48 touchdowns, with only five interceptions, in the league’s highest-scoring offense. Coach Matt LaFleur, who doubles as the play-caller, was the Rams’ non-play-calling offensive coordinator in 2017. At 37, Rodgers might not be as fast or mobile as he was when he led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV, but he still is a huge threat passing on the move. Davante Adams caught 115 passes, 18 for touchdowns. Tight end Robert Tonyan has 11 touchdown catches. Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones has rushed for 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has 47 receptions, two for touchdowns. The Packers are without injured All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, so Billy Turner will protect Rodgers’ blind side. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley oversees a unit that has scored five touchdowns, one on cornerback Darious Williams’ interception return last week against the Seahawks. Star tackle Aaron Donald suffered a rib injury against the Seahawks but is expected to start. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is expected to match up against Adams.
When they kick: Rams kicker Matt Gay played in college at Utah, so cold weather is not expected to bother him. Gay has made 17 of 19 field-goal attempts — three in each of the last three games. Punter Johnny Hekker has averaged nearly 45 yards per punt in playoff games. Packers kicker Mason Crosby has made all 16 of his field-goal attempts. JK Scott averages 45.5 yards per punt.
Gary Klein’s prediction: With Goff and possibly Kupp playing injured, there is little reason to believe the Rams’ offense will elevate. But Akers is due to put together back-to-back impressive performances. And the Rams’ defense has proved it can win games.
RAMS 24, PACKERS 21
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