Packers to host playoff game Saturday against banged-up Rams: What you need to know

Ryan Wood

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What is important for the Packers to do this week

Speaking from his experience, LeRoy tells Tom what the Packers should do doing their bye week and what the players can expect from the coaching staff.

Bill Schulz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

GREEN BAY – By the time the Green Bay Packers host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC divisional playoff round Saturday at Lambeau Field (3:35 p.m. CT on Fox), they will have had 16 days to prepare for postseason life without franchise left tackle David Bakhtiari – and will have needed every one of them.

There are several things for the Packers (13-3) to like about this match-up – we’ll get into those – but the Rams (11-6) also present the type of opponent that could make them most miss their All-Pro left tackle. The Rams have one of the NFL’s best defensive lines, a deep group that will be a handful for a Packers offensive line that will have a makeshift configuration throughout these playoffs.

The Rams advanced to this week’s divisional round after their defensive line dominated the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson was sacked five times and hit 10 times as the Rams pulled away to a 30-20 road win. The constant harassment held Wilson to just 11-for-27 passing for 174 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 72.1 rating.

Because the Rams are the NFC’s sixth seed, their ticket to Green Bay was punched when the New Orleans Saints beat the Chicago Bears 21-9 in Sunday’s wild-card round. The Saints will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 5:40 p.m. CT Sunday on Fox in the other NFC divisional-round game. Both NFC games will be televised on Fox.

Here are five things to know about the Packers’ first playoff match-up:

A timely bye

While the Packers were the lone NFC playoff team to not play over the weekend, they saw how beneficial a bye week can be. The Rams have three major injury issues that will be a primary storyline leading into the divisional round. Aaron Donald left Saturday’s second half and did not return because of a ribs injury. An NFL Network report indicated Donald’s ribs are not broken, but he had an MRI on Sunday. The injury could put Donald’s functionality – if not his availability – in doubt. Donald, a six-time All-Pro whose 13.5 sacks tied for second in the NFL, had two sacks and three quarterback hits against the Seahawks. Quarterback Jared Goff did not start Saturday’s game because of a broken thumb that needed surgery 12 days earlier but was inserted early after John Wolford left with a neck injury. Goff clearly struggled with the thumb, completing only 9 of 19 passes for 155 yards, one touchdown and a 93.1 passer rating. Cooper Kupp, the Rams’ top receiver, also left late because of a knee injury but reportedly was OK. While the Packers got a week to rest, the Rams got beat up in their wild-card game.

All-Pro on All-Pro

The Rams’ defense is more than their fearsome defensive front. Jalen Ramsey is the All-Pro in their secondary, and his likely assignment against fellow All-Pro Davante Adams will be one of the game’s most intriguing match-ups. Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf finished with five catches, 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Ramsey frustrated him so much early in the game he was shown being upset on the sideline. Adams set a franchise record with 115 catches this season and tied Sterling Sharpe’s record with 18 touchdown catches despite playing only playing 13.5 games. Ramsey is regarded as perhaps the NFL’s best cornerback. Something will have to give.

Yardage in Akers

Two years ago, the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl behind superstar running back Todd Gurley. A knee injury diminished Gurley’s productivity in 2019, and he played with the Atlanta Falcons this season. The Rams have been unable to replace Gurley in their offense. He was a two-time All-Pro when healthy in 2017 and 2018. But after a slow start, rookie Cam Akers has become a formidable threat. Akers, a second-round pick this spring, was especially effective against the Seahawks. He rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and his 44-yard catch and run before halftime was one of the game’s biggest plays. The Packers’ run defense has been much better this season, especially late. The unit limited Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry to less than 100 yards in Week 16, then held Bears running back David Montgomery to 69 yards on 22 carries. Akers will be another challenge.

Teach vs. pupil, Part 2

A year ago, Matt LaFleur’s first season as Packers head coach ended against good friend and mentor Kyle Shanahan. Now LaFleur will coach for the first time against his former boss, Rams coach Sean McVay. LaFleur was McVay’s offensive coordinator in Los Angeles during the 2017 season, so the two have plenty of familiarity. He left McVay’s shadow after one season, becoming the Titans offensive coordinator in 2018 so he could call plays. He spring-boarded his one season with the Titans into the Packers head-coaching job. While the Packers struggled in two match-ups against the 49ers last season, LaFleur has led his team to wins against two former bosses already this season. In Week 4, the Packers won at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons, where LaFleur was quarterbacks coach under Dan Quinn in 2015 and ’16. LaFleur also led the Packers to a win against the Titans at Lambeau Field late in the season.

True home-field advantage

While the Packers will host only 6,000 fans, they’ll enjoy a natural home-field advantage on the frozen tundra. That advantage will only be amplified with a southern California team coming to Lambeau Field. Temperatures in Los Angeles this week will fluctuate between 70 and 80 degrees. The Rams will be greeted this weekend by an expected high temperature of less than 25 degrees. It’s just what the Packers want.

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