Last week, St. Louis knocked off one undefeated team. Sunday, the Rams will take aim at another. A trip to 4-0 Green Bay isn’t generally anybody’s preferred destination, but after last week’s win in Arizona against the previously-spotless Cardinals, St. Louis looks at this as an opportunity to mess with someone else’s perfection. Although the Rams have been somewhat inconsistent this season, their outstanding defensive front and the steady play of quarterback Nick Foles has made them dangerous, no matter what the opponent’s record might be.
Not that the Packers head back home after a win in northern California afraid of the Rams. They have overcome injuries to become one of the NFC’s Super Bowl favorites, and though quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ excellence has been a big reason for Green Bay’s unbeaten start, the defense has been a big factor, especially in the passing game.
St. Louis at Green Bay
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Green Bay -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Sack Attack
The Rams have spent plenty of time and draft picks on building a defensive front capable of disrupting any opposing offense, and the unit’s 17 sacks this year demonstrate just how good the group can be. Aaron Donald already has 3.5 sacks, while Robert Quinn has three. St. Louis has the depth and talent up front to keep its front four fresh throughout the game, so that it can attack rivals into the fourth quarter. How well Green Bay keeps the ferocious Rams pass rush away from Rodgers will go a long way toward deciding the game.
2. Defensive Posture
When a team has a QB who has completed 72.4 percent of his throws and is on pace to finish the season with just under 4,000 yards through the air, it tends to be labeled an offense-first outfit. But Green Bay is eighth in total defense and third in points allowed (17.8). Green Bay pass rushers have accumulated 17 sacks, are allowing enemy passers to complete just 56.5 percent of their throws and have made an improvement over last year, when the team was still pretty good on that side of the ball.
"This defense has some bite to it," Packers defensive end Mike Daniels said recently. "Maybe it wasn't always like that, but this is a different group. And I think we're going to keep getting better."
3. Backfield in Motion
The Rams finally gave rookie running back Todd Gurley full-time work last week, and he responded with a big effort, gaining 146 yards on just 19 carries in the win over the Cardinals. Gurley, who has spent much of the past year rehabbing a knee injury, has a great combination of power and speed. He exhibits superior vision, something that helped him strive last week in the desert. Though Green Bay has been excellent against the pass this year, the Packers are allowing rival backs to gain 4.8 yards/carry, something that could help Gurley thrive.
The smart play in this one is to take the Packers, especially at home. Green Bay has tremendous confidence, and the Lambeau Field advantage is considerable. Rodgers has been so good that it has become almost boring to list his exploits every week. Suffice it to say there is none better in the sport. If the Green Bay defense can keep it rolling and not surrender long runs to Gurley, it should be a happy Sunday in Lombardi-land.
The Rams are searching for consistency. Last week’s win in Arizona was great, but St. Louis has to prove that it is more than just a .500 team. That won’t be easy in Green Bay, but it is possible. If Gurley has another strong day, it will make Foles’s job easier. Meanwhile, the Rams’ front four will take aim at Rodgers, hoping to disrupt his rhythm. And watch out for Tavon Austin, a special teams threat.
Prediction: Packers 24, Rams 20
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.