The Los Angeles Rams finally experienced a step back in the preseason after suffering their first loss against the Denver Broncos.
This has set the stage for what should be an intriguing final preseason game with many questions still surrounding the team in terms of the roster depth chart. It also provides them one last opportunity to work out a few things prior to the start of the regular season.
Los Angeles will have to do that against another tough assignment in the Minnesota Vikings, who won the NFC North last season for just the first time in seven years. Here are a few things to watch for on Thursday night:
With the starting job all but cemented for Case Keenum, it will likely open up more playing time for rookie Jared Goff as the starter in his second NFL road game.
Albeit it’s still just the preseason, it’s clear that the 21-year-old needs all the in-game experience he can get at this point. He has struggled to get a true grapple over the playbook and at times looks timid against opposing defenses.
The fact of the matter is that Goff needs more time to get a better feel for the speed of the NFL game. He’s isn’t ready yet to be thrown in the fire as the starting quarterback in the league. The extended playing time he will get in the fourth preseason game, if Keenum is indeed sitting out, could instrumental to him getting a first hand look of what it takes to succeed against a first-team defense.
Goff will go up against another formidable defense that was tied for seventh in sacks (43) last season. This will mean that he will have to be active in the pocket keeping plays alive while also make progressions on his read and changing plays at the line of scrimmage when he feels it’s necessary.
This is still a tall order task for Goff, but the Vikings will be another strong test to see where he’s at in his comfortability playing in an NFL game.
Play of First-Team Defense
The one area that the Rams are hoping to see continued improvement is with their first unit of the defense. The coaching staff got just that last week against the Broncos.
Los Angeles had a strong start to the game by forcing two straight three-and-outs.Their starting defensive line was a force during this stretch with Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald all recording tackles for loss. Starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson also made a solid play in the second quarter by getting a key pass deflection near the goal line that prevented a touchdown and allowed for safety Cody Davis to make an athletic interception.
With Teddy Bridgewater out for potentially the year due to a dislocated kneecap and torn ACL, it will push the Rams’ attention more toward the running game. All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson likely won’t suit up, but Minnesota will still look to emphasize using their ground attack.
The Rams have struggled in all three preseason games in this area allowing more than 100 rushing yards to each opponent. This will be an opportune time for them to fix some kinks against an opposing running game before the regular season begins.
Offensive Line Protection
The Rams will head into this upcoming season once again holding one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL. All of their starters are 28 years old or younger with three of them having two years or fewer of experience.
This will mean plenty of bumps and bruises ahead for their unit. The Rams went through just that last week against the Broncos by allowing six sacks and 11 hits on the quarterback. Granted, Denver possesses one of the best defensive lines in the league it still provided another learning experience.
The Vikings will present another test for the Rams offensive line that will welcome the return of starting right tackle Rob Havenstein, who has missed most of training camp due to a foot injury. This will also allow for Roger Saffold to go back to his starting job at left guard.
Although the Rams will primarily be a ground-and-pound offense, the play of the offensive line in pass protection will be key in allowing for big plays through the air to occur more frequently. If they can solid consistent blocking, it could potentially be a big factor in the team’s success.