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Will Rams offense move ball on dominant Jaguars defense?

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff warms up before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

Believe it or not, the winner of Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars will improve to 4-2. A matchup of two teams that won a combined seven games last season is among the marquee matchups in Week 6.

The Rams enter the contest with the NFL’s second-most prolific scoring offense, while the Jaguars have allowed the second-fewest points in the league per game. In a matchup of teams both in the top 5 of point differential, let’s examine how the Jaguars defense stacks up against the Rams offense.

Rams OL vs. Jaguars DL

The Rams’ addition of Andrew Whitworth at left tackle has proven to be one of the best offseason acquisitions in the league and has stabilized a unit that struggled mightily last season. His production as a blindside protector to quarterback Jared Goff is a big reason why the Rams have only allowed six sacks this season.

While the Rams’ pass protection has held up well this season, the Jaguars will be the toughest test to date. Entering the game with the most sacks in the NFL (20), Jacksonville’s defense has a deep pool of pass rushers who are powerful and athletic. Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler have each registered at least four sacks on the season and have been problematic for opponents. An obvious key to victory for Los Angeles is finding ways to keep Goff clean by winning in pass protection up front.

While the Jaguars may have the edge on passing downs, the Rams have a clear advantage running the football. As good as the Jaguars have been rushing the passer, they are the league’s worst at stopping the run. They allow a whopping 5.4 yards per carry. The opportunity bodes well for Rams running back Todd Gurley, who is enjoying a bounce-back season after having difficulty finding space to run in 2016.

Football games are won in the trenches, and how each unit rises to the occasion to overcome the areas they have struggled with early this season will dictate the outcome of this football game.

The Battle on the Perimeter

Jaguars second-year cornerback Jalen Ramsey is arguably playing the best of any corner in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, against Ramsey’s coverage, quarterbacks have completed 12 of 31 passes (38.7 percent) with no touchdowns allowed and a passer rating of 26.5. And if you think targeting the “other” cornerback is a viable alternative, A.J. Bouye also a shutdown cornerback. Jacksonville features two cornerbacks graded in PFF’s top 10 so far this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) reacts to a call during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

With four weapons with at least 200 receiving yards and six over 150, the Rams have distributed the ball to a variety of targets with regularity this season. This battle will be won by whichever team’s depth plays better.

One of the storylines to keep in mind is Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who took to Twitter this week to voice frustrations over his a lack of targets. Currently the Rams’ fifth-most targeted option, Watkins is clearly the most physically gifted and potent of all the Rams receivers. He’s capable of winning inside or outside, so it will be interesting to monitor how Jacksonville opts to match up with him, given that their best cover men are outside corners. Watkins could easily feast if left alone against slot corners.

The Jaguars have intercepted 10 passes through five games, so Goff will need to pick his spots and be accurate with the football or else Jacksonville will make him pay.

Rams backfield and tight ends vs. Jaguars linebackers

Averaging nearly 130 yards from scrimmage per game, Gurley has also been dynamic as a receiver this season. Lining up across from him are two of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers in Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, who have the speed to handle Gurley one-on-one in space. Another weapon that Jack and Smith will be tasked with is Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, who is coming off a 98-yard performance against Seattle.

Bottom Line

Both units are playing at a high level, but this game will come down to matchups at all levels of the field. Coming off a dominant road win against Pittsburgh, where the Jaguars picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times, Jacksonville will have a ton of confidence coming back home to host the Rams.

For as good as Los Angles has played offensively this season, a cross-country trip to face one of the NFL’s most athletic defenses that is forcing turnovers at a high clip is a considerable challenge. With that said, the Rams ability to establish the ground game could be the neutralizer.

This will be a great matchup featuring two of the most exciting up-and-coming units in the NFL.

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