The Los Angeles Rams are two wins away from reaching their second Super Bowl in three seasons. Unfortunately, the first of those wins will need to come against the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, who went 13-3 in the regular season and are led by MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers.
But this game won’t just come down to stopping Rodgers, or the Rams offense as a whole having success. There are six key matchups in this NFC showdown that will decide the outcome of the game, beginning with Jalen Ramsey vs. Davante Adams, a battle between two first-team All-Pros on the outside.
Jalen Ramsey vs. Davante Adams
(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
There may not be a bigger matchup in any game this weekend than Ramsey against Adams. This is the type of matchup the Rams paid Ramsey $100 million to win, and based on the way he played against DK Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans and Allen Robinson, there’s no reason to believe he can't also shut down Adams. Adams is in the top tier of receivers, but Ramsey is on the same level as a cornerback. This is a heavyweight battle that could decide the outcome of the game. If Ramsey takes Adams away, it will make life much more difficult for Aaron Rodgers. That’s not to say the Packers can't win without Adams making a big impact – they were 2-0 without him this season – but he’s a critical piece of the offense and someone the Rams have to be very aware of.
Aaron Donald vs. Elgton Jenkins
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Jenkins has come into his own as a second-year player, performing well at left guard this season. He only allowed one sack all season and is even better in pass protection than he is as a run blocker, but he’s never faced a player like Donald. Even if he’s not fully healthy as he recovers from torn rib cartilage, Donald is a game-changer. He was outstanding against the run in the wild-card round and also had two sacks despite playing less than half of the team’s defensive snaps. The Packers will pay a lot of attention to Donald, but it’s important that he wins the one-on-one matchups that he gets. They may have to slide protection toward the left side, too, with a backup taking the place of the injured David Bakhtiari.
Austin Blythe vs. Kenny Clark
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Clark is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL, often lining up directly over the center but sometimes over the left guard, too. He’s not going to dominate as a pass rusher, but he is stout against the run and still offers some value when quarterbacks drop back to pass. Blythe will need to anchor down on Saturday against the powerful Clark. Interior pressure is something quarterbacks hate and whether it’s Jared Goff or John Wolford, Clark will do what he can to throw off the timing of the Rams’ passing plays.
Andrew Whitworth vs. Za’Darius Smith
(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Smith led the Packers with 12.5 sacks this season, emerging as the defense’s primary source of pressure against opposing quarterbacks. He led the league in pressures in 2019 and has become one of the best pass rushers in football, which presents a challenge for the Rams. Whitworth was great against the Seahawks in his first game back from a knee injury, but he’ll be challenged even more against Smith. If Whitworth wins this battle and not only keeps Smith away from the quarterback, but also takes him out of the running game, the Rams will have far more success offtensively than they will if Smith dominates.
Brandon Staley vs. Matt LaFleur
(AP Photo/Doug Murray)
LaFleur hails from the Sean McVay coaching tree, and there will presumably be some similarities between the Packers offense and the Rams’ scheme. McVay even admitted he and LaFleur steal plays from each other. That could give Staley a slight edge when it comes to preparing for the Packers, gaining insight from McVay on what could work well against Green Bay. Obviously, it’s hard to game plan against the brilliance of Rodgers, but it’s crucial for Staley to come up with a good way to at least slow down the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. It’ll be a challenge, but if the Rams can't hold Green Bay under 30 points, they won’t have a great chance to win this game.
Cam Akers vs. Packers’ LBs
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Throwing the ball against the Packers can be difficult. But running it on Green Bay is a different story. The Packers ranked 21st in yards per carry allowed this season and had issues with missed tackles early on. They’ve since shored those up, but Akers will test Green Bay’s linebackers in the running game. Christian Kirksey and rookie Krys Barnes don’t necessarily miss a ton of tackles, but they’re also not the best linebacker tandem in the NFL – certainly not in the realm of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, who Akers ran all over on Saturday. This is an area the Rams can take advantage of, and it’ll also help them keep the Packers offense off the field.