The Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams will face off on Thursday night, but before the two teams open the 2022 season, we talked with Evan Craig of Turf Show Times, to give us an inside view of what the Rams bring to the table and what’s changed since the Super Bowl.
1. The Rams won the Super Bowl and are at the top of the heap for now. What big changes have come to the roster and staff since then that makes you think they might take a step back in 2022?
For one, the Rams lost offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell to the Vikings for their head coaching vacancy. The team also most notably lost Von Miller (free agency), Robert Woods (trade) and Andrew Whitworth (retirement). Those players were replaced with Bobby Wagner, Allen Robinson and Joe Noteboom. It’s kind of expected that LA will take a step back to some degree because it’s so difficult to repeat. Part of that reason is that they have a brutal schedule which includes playing the all-star squads of the AFC West. Despite that, the Rams will again be one of the top teams in their conference. I’ve said many times this offseason that the conference will be between the Bucs and Rams. Everyone is worried about Tampa and all their injuries but I believe they’ll figure it out. Green Bay I’m not too worried about either since they always figure out a way to blow it. LA will take a step back record-wise but their efforts will still be enough in a fairly weak conference.
2. Buffalo’s cornerbacks are young and green outside of Taron Johnson, the slot CB who will be focused on trying to slow Cooper Kupp. How can the Bills slow down the Rams’ passing attack and protect their boundary youngsters?
Cooper Kupp will always find a way to get open no matter what. There’s going to be very little if anything that can be done to limit him. The Bills can protect their boundary youngsters by trying not to stay fixated on Kupp the entire game. I know that’s easier said than done but LA has other receivers that can step up which will make live even harder on such a young secondary. To slow down the Rams’ passing attack, pressure Stafford into making mistakes. As well as he played last season, Matthew led the NFL in interceptions for a reason. He can be baited into a boneheaded turnover or two if the defense is hungry enough to feast.
3. What is the weak point of the Rams’ defense that the Bills can exploit with their potent offense?
LA’s cornerbacks, besides Ramsey and Troy Hills are incredibly inexperienced heading into Thursday’s game. Youngsters David Long and Robert Rochell have promise but had their ups and downs last season. Behind them are rookies Decobie Durant and Derion Kendrick. There’s enough depth at the position but the experience is lacking which if it comes down to the Rams playing all these young guys, Josh Allen will rudely welcome them to the NFL.
4. Which player on the Rams who we’ve never heard of could play a huge role in Thursday night’s game?
My vote is on TE Brycen Hopkins who I listed as the team’s surprise difference maker back in June. Hopkins played a huge role in the Super Bowl, catching four passes for 47 yards after backup tight end Kendall Blanton (starting for the inactive Tyler Higbee) went down with a shoulder injury. It isn’t a stretch to say the Rams would’ve lost the game without him. He stepped up on the game-winning drive in particular. Those heroics coupled with his performance during camp is why Blanton was released, making Hopkins the only other tight end on the depth chart behind Higbee.
5. The Bills are 2.5-point favorites (per our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook) even though the Rams won the last game of the season and it’s in LA. Has the team, media, or fans been discussing this disrespect or just letting it ride? What makes you think the Bills should be favored or not?
For the most part, the team has been letting the disrespect ride. It’s odd to think the Rams are the first defending champion to enter the season opener as an underdog since the Broncos in 2016. LA has consistently been overlooked throughout the offseason, whether it’s been Sean McVay being listed outside the top-10 in head coach rankings or the team not being listed among the best rosters in the NFL by some in the media. The Rams have perhaps the toughest schedule in the league and I think that has factored into some pundits not believing in their repeat aspirations. I do however think it’s completely justified for the Bills to be favored in this game. This is such a difficult matchup for anyone to predict as both teams come in as Super Bowl favorites. What these oddsmakers seem to forget is that the Rams will be playing at home and will be fired up and showing why it was a mistake to be overlooked to begin with. I’m not saying that alone will win them the game but history is on LA’s side since the last defending Super Bowl champ to lose their opener was the Patriots in 2017.