Rams face Jaguars to begin road trek
The Los Angeles Rams have a daunting travel schedule the next three weeks. The first leg of the trip puts them in Jacksonville on Sunday for a matchup with the Jaguars.
Both teams enter the contest 3-2, but Jacksonville is coming off a big road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Rams lost a winnable game last week in Los Angeles against the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks, 16-10. The Rams head to London in Week 7 for a "home" game vs. the Arizona Cardinals before facing the New York Giants in New Jersey in Week 8.
According to how the schedule has played out this season, this is a game the Rams will win. The Rams are undefeated on the road. Add that to these facts, the Jaguars won in Week 1, lost in Week 2, secured a victory in Week 3, were beaten in Week 4 yet blew out the Steelers in Week 5.
"That goes back to the consistency," Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said on Monday when talking about the team being able to put together a series of wins. "That's what we're going to have to do week in and week out. We're talking about on Sunday. I think those things go hand in hand.
"We want to be a consistent football team. We want to be a winning football team. A lot of that is going to depend on what we're doing during the week. A lot of that is going to depend upon our performance when we get out there on Sunday."
Both teams are young, and each team is inconsistent. The Rams had a chance to secure a decisive victory against the formidable Seahawks, but turnovers and mental errors cost Los Angeles the win. Five turnovers vs. a solid defense will cost most NFL teams.
"Just take care of the ball and the rest takes care of itself," Rams running back Todd Gurley said after the game. "We just weren't able to do that, but it's stuff we can fix for sure. Taking care of the ball, we will definitely get that fixed for sure."
Gurley, who was the NFC Offensive Player for Week 4, had a fumble against the Seahawks and was held to 50 rushing yards.
Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay must find a way to keep Gurley more involved in the offense, especially against a schizophrenic Jaguars defense.
Jacksonville shut down Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell in the Week 5 win, holding the All-Pro running back to 47 yards rushing on 15 carries. Yet this is the same defense that gave up 163 rushing yards to the New York Jets running back Bilal Powell in a Week 4 loss.
Gurley and company need to take advantage of the front seven of the Jacksonville defense. The Jaguars' rushing defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per game at 146.4.
The Rams' rushing defense also has been a liability at times this season as well. Los Angeles is allowing 133.6 yards a game on the ground, which ranks 27th in the NFL.
The Jaguars enter the game leading the league in rushing attempts and in rushing yards. Jacksonville rookie running back Leonard Fournette (109 carries, 466 yards, five touchdowns) is primed for a career game.
Therein lies the rub for the Los Angeles offensive passing game. Jacksonville's passing defense is third in the NFL. The Jaguars also lead the NFL in sacks with 20 and takeaways with 15. Rams quarterback Goff, who committed three turnovers in Week 5, will be tasked with being smarter with the football against an aggressive and opportunistic opponent.
Jaguars quarterback Bortles has not thrown for more than 250 yards in any game this season. He has seven touchdowns (four coming in a win against the Baltimore Ravens) and four interceptions. Both Bortles and Goff have shown the propensity to make big-time plays with their arms but then will revert to making rookie-type mistakes.
Another area to watch is the Rams' punt return game. High-priced gadget player Tavon Austin was benched after a muff versus Seattle and will no longer be returning kicks. Rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp will get the first shot against a very good Jacksonville coverage unit.
Updated October 11, 2017