Justin Rogers and John Niyo discuss the Lions' upcoming game against the Rams and the depressing nature of covering meaningless football in December. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Lions vs. Rams
Kickoff: Sunday, 1 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit
TV/radio: Fox/760 AM
Records: Lions 4-7, Rams 10-1
Line: Rams by 10
View from the other side
Rich Hammond covers the Rams for the Orange County Register. He breaks down the Lions’ upcoming opponent for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter @Rich_Hammond.
► Question: Does this Rams offense have a weakness?
► Hammond: Sure, but probably not a major one. They’ve started slow at times, in part because players say defenses have thrown unexpected wrinkles at them. Against New Orleans, and a couple other times this season, the offense has gotten out of sync when the Rams trailed early. From a practical standpoint, the offensive line has occasional protection issues and the Rams suffered a big loss this month when receiver Cooper Kupp tore an ACL. They’ve compensated by throwing more to tight ends, but a team that can lock down Robert Woods or Brandin Cooks could make things a lot more difficult for the Rams. Otherwise, nobody has been able to slow them for all four quarters.
► Question: The defense is allowing 5.2 yards per carry. What’s been the biggest issue(s) here?
► Hammond: In a couple games, tackling was a major (and surprising) issue. Too many 3-yard runs turned into 10-yard runs. They seemed to have cleaned that up a bit, but at heart, this is very much a pass-rush defense. The linebackers, with the notable exception of Cory Littleton, haven’t been great against the run, and I’ve been a bit surprised that Ndamukong Suh hasn’t been more of a force at nose tackle. He and Aaron Donald have formed a solid pass-rush tandem, but backs have been able to find lanes. The overall team speed makes it harder to run outside on them, but they’ve been slashed up the middle at times.
In more than a decade working for the Patriots, Matt Patricia never experienced this much losing. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
► Question: Cornerback Aqib Talib has been out since Week 3. Was that enough time to get a good sense for what he brought to the defense and what his return could mean for the unit for the stretch run?
► Hammond: Yes, certainly. Marcus Peters took a substantial amount of heat in Talib’s absence, but the Rams asked Peters to travel with the opponent’s No. 1 receiver, and while Talib was out, the Rams faced some pretty darn good offenses and receivers. Now, assuming Talib is full-go, they can go back to keeping Peters on the left side, where he seems more comfortable. Talib is a great communicator on the field and a leader for those guys. The Rams never really seemed comfortable with Troy Hill and Sam Shields, the two corners who filled in over the past eight games.
► Question: From someone around Sean McVay regularly, are you able to distill down and describe what sets him apart a play-caller?
► Hammond: The fact that he’s able to do so many things and make it look all the same. When you watch the same team so often, sometimes it’s possible to pick up on their tendencies and maybe even guess what’s coming. With McVay, it’s almost impossible, at least for me. They almost always line up one-back, one-tight-end sets, and yet there always seems to be some new wrinkle. His use of play-action passes is particularly impressive. Two other things: 1) He uses Todd Gurley so well. Gurley had a sore ankle against the Chiefs, but they couldn’t ignore him because he was still a threat to slip out and catch screen passes, as he did in the second half. 2) I have no idea how he designs stuff to get Robert Woods open as much as he does. By now, every team must know how good Woods is in the middle of the field, and how clutch he is on third down. And yet ...
► Question: Please try not to laugh: The Rams win this game if?
► Hammond: If they avoid turnovers. Jared Goff got massive praise for his game against the Chiefs, but he also had two strip-sack fumbles that could have been devastating. The Lions’ defensive front could take Goff out of his rhythm. But the Rams are so good at getting into second- and third-and-short situations that it’s tough to see how the Lions are going to keep them down for an entire game.
► Hammond’s prediction: Rams 28, Lions 17
Rams to watch
► Aaron Donald, DT: The best defensive player in the league. A premier interior pass-rusher, Donald leads the NFL with 14.5 sacks, despite being doubled more than anyone else. In two games against Detroit during his career, he's tallied 4.0 sacks and eight QB hits. The Lions will counter with a rookie and backup at guard. Could be a rough day.
► Todd Gurley, RB: The Lions run defense has been on point the past three weeks, shutting down opposing backfields to the tune of 2.8 yards per carry. Now they draw a matchup with Gurley, one of the league's most dynamic rushers. He's already over 1,000 yards on the year, averaging 5.0 yards per pop. He's also a threat coming out of the backfield, catching 43 balls for 441 yards and four scores.
► Aqib Talib, CB: An accomplished veteran corner, he's been on the shelf since Week 3 with a high ankle sprain. He's expected back this week, which will make life much tougher on Detroit's only viable weapon in the pass game, Kenny Golladay.