Now that the St. Louis Rams have teased their fans with another big win, the question remains how coach Jeff Fisher’s squad will react to another huge test.
Beating the Arizona Cardinals in Arizona is one thing, but knocking off Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field is an extremely tall order.
Here’s a look at five key questions for the Rams (2-2) at Packers (4-0) game on Sunday (noon; TV: KMOV-Channel 4; Radio: WXOS-FM 101.1):
1. Can the Rams find a way to slow down Packers superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or perhaps make him seem a little bit more human?
Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 580 pass attempts at home, tossing 48 touchdown passes during that span. The Packers have an 11-game home winning streak dating back to 2013 and Rodgers is one of only three QBs in NFL history with at least 11 TD passes and no interceptions in the first four games of a season. He is 89-of-123 for 995 yards and 11 TDs. The Rams must flash their trademark pass rush led by young star tackle Aaron Donald (3.5 sacks this season, 12.5 in his first 19 NFL games) and Robert Quinn (three sacks). The Rams have 17 sacks through four games, including 10 by the defensive line. Getting constant pressure on Rodgers and keeping him in the pocket is mandatory for any sniff of a Rams upset. The 49ers held him to 229 yards and one TD last week and still lost 17-3.
2. Is Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley ready to become a dominant runner in the NFL?
He sure looked like it last week when he piled up 106 of his 146 rushing yards against Arizona during the fourth quarter of a 24-22 victory. In his first breakout game, the rookie coming off ACL surgery displayed his signature speed and ability to break off big gains with carries of 52, 30, 23 and 20 yards. Even the usually outgunned Rams offensive line looked a lot better and needed only to create small seams before letting Gurley do the rest. The Packers rank 23rd in the NFL against the run and surrendered a 141-yard outing to Chicago’s Matt Forte in the season opener, but have shored things up considerably since then. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and company will try to keep Gurley from being splashed all over the highlight reels again this week.
106The number of fourth-quarter rushing yards by Rams rookie Todd Gurley last week vs. Arizona on the way to a 146-yard day
3. How will the Rams’ offensive line and quarterback Nick Foles hold up against the Packers defense?
Green Bay has piled up 13 sacks in the last two games and 17 this season led by defensive ends Julius Peppers (3.5) and Nick Perry (three) and linebacker Matthews (three). The Packers aren’t as tough against the run, so the game plan may be to hammer away with Gurley on the early downs and use quick throws to receiver in an effort to negate an aggressive pass rush. Rams may hope to utilize Brian Quick a bit more along with Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
4. Is Tavon Austin actually — and finally — developing into a legitimate part of the Rams’ offense?
It sure is trending in that direction. New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has done a better job of finding multiple ways to get Austin involved, whether its short passes into wide-open spaces to take advantage of his speed or using him in the backfield on jet sweeps or reverses. Austin has six catches for 96 yards and a pair of TDs last week and seems to be on his way to becoming more of a dangerous weapon.
5. Are the Rams really capable of pulling an upset at Lambeau Field that would shock the NFL?
There seems to be a slim chance if for no other reason than their aggressive defense. Along with the sacks and blitzes that keep constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Rams like to take chances that lead to high-risk, high-reward situations. Some result in interceptions and turnovers, others in big gains by the opposition. But don’t expect the Rams to stay in a base defense and let Rodgers’ surgical precision pick them apart. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins will need tight coverage on whomever he’s matched against one-on-one, whether it’s James Jones or Randall Cobb. With rising star linebacker Alec Ogletree out after undergoing surgery for a fracture fibula, the Rams will need linebacker Akeem Ayers and hybrid safety Mark Barron to step up in his place.