It’s officially gameday. The Green Bay Packers take the field in the postseason for the first time this year following their bye during Wild Card weekend. As the top-seeded team in the NFC, the Packers got the conference’s only bye this year along with home-field advantage through the postseason, and by virtue of that top seed and last weekend’s results, the Packers host the Los Angeles Rams today for the teams’ third postseason meeting.
The last two were convincing wins, one for each side. Most recently, the Packers got blown out 19 years ago, as the Rams (then in St. Louis) won handily en route to a Super Bowl appearance. The roles were reversed in 1967, when the 9-4-1 Packers upset an 11-1-2 Rams team at Milwaukee County Stadium the week before the famous Ice Bowl. Both of those games came in the Divisional Playoffs, just like today’s contest.
The Packers and Rams will be the first teams to kick off on Divisional weekend, as the Packers play in the opening game of the playoffs’ second week for the first time since 2007. In that game, Green Bay defeated the Seattle Seahawks 42-20 behind Ryan Grant’s 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Keep it here at Acme Packing Company all day during the lead-up to kickoff and throughout today’s game.
Packers vs. Rams Divisional Playoffs: Game time, TV channel, online streaming info, & more
Here’s your playoff Game Primer as the Packers open up their postseason run.
The divisional round of the playoffs is upon us. In one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend from a pure star-power standpoint, the top-seeded Green Bay Packers welcome the No. 6 seed Los Angeles Rams to Lambeau Field to kick off Saturday’s action. Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and more will all be on the same field. This should be fun.
Let’s break down the matchup.
How to watch
Date: Saturday, Jan. 16 | Time: 4:35 p.m. ET
Location: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin)
TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App
When the Rams have the ball
The terms of engagement on this side of the ball are fairly clear: The Rams want to run, and the Packers largely struggle to stop the run. LA finished the season ranked fourth in rush offense DVOA, per Football Outsiders, as well as seventh in Adjusted Line Yards. Green Bay actually checked in a fairly solid 18th in rush defense DVOA, but a more concerning 23rd in Adjusted Line Yards, indicating that they more often than not lost the battle in the trenches.
So, the Packers are likely to be treated to a heavy dose of Cam Akers, who has fully taken over as the Rams’ lead back over the past several weeks. After playing scarcely through the first 12 weeks of the season — his 24 snaps and 33 percent snap share in Week 1 each represented high-water marks until Week 13, and he played just 111 snaps during that span — Akers has largely boxed Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson (now injured) out of the backfield pecking order. He’s played at least 61 percent of the snaps in each of the last five games, rushing 114 times for 471 yards and two touchdowns.
In Green Bay’s three losses this season, the Packers surrendered 158, 173, and 140 rushing yards, to opponents who averaged 4.5, 5.1, and 3.8 yards per attempt. The Colts staged a second-half comeback by running their way into field goals and tightening up on defense. Tampa’s early lead came on a pick-six and another interception returned to the 2-yard line, so it was only Minnesota that really came out and just ran the ball right down Green Bay’s throat from the jump. But even the Vikings didn’t take the lead for good until the third quarter, and didn’t put things away until Dalvin Cook took a screen pass 50 yards to the house.
Of course, the Packers know the Rams want to run the ball. And the Rams know the Packers know they want to run the ball. Which is why it’s a good thing their entire passing game is about marrying play action to their favorite run concepts. With Jared Goff’s thumb injury, it may be a good idea to get him quick strikes on screens to the perimeter, as well as half-field reads on bootlegs, where he can just dump it off to one of his targets and let them make a play with the ball in their hands.
Things get more difficult for the LA passing game with Cooper Kupp’s knee injury, putting more pressure on Robert Woods (who seems likely to see a whole lot of Jaire Alexander, who would be getting a lot more attention this week if he weren’t playing against Jalen Ramsey’s team), Josh Reynolds, and Van Jefferson. LA’s best passing game matchups are probably their tight ends (Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett) against the Packers’ linebackers and safeties, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) looks from the Rams, hoping to get heavier looks from the Green Bay defense and then hit the tight ends on crossers out of play action.
When the Packers have the ball
The marquee matchup here, obviously, is Davante Adams vs. Jalen Ramsey. Adams solidified himself as something like the consensus best wide receiver in football this season, racking up 115 catches for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 14 games. (And it was really 13.5 games, as he exited halfway through the Packers’ Week 2 contest.) He and Aaron Rodgers share a mind-meld that is unmatched by any other quarterback-receiver combination in the league at the moment, and they challenge defenses to cover every inch of the field.
Lucky for the Rams, they have a cornerback who is up to the challenge. Ramsey shadowed an individual receiver in 10 of the 17 games the team has played so far this season, per NFL.com tracking, and he has been … incredible in those games, as you can see in the table below.
(Note: The reception, yardage, and touchdown totals for these games include ONLY targets where the receiver was covered by Ramsey, so they may not account for 100 percent of the player’s production in that given game.)
The most fascinating thing about the Adams-Ramsey battle is that it’s extremely unlikely to be won at the catch point. Instead, it’s all about the release. Adams was given less cushion at the line of scrimmage than almost any receiver in the league this season, per NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats. Defenders were an average of 5.0 yards off the ball at the snap when defending Adams, the sixth-tightest cushion among the 132 receivers and tight ends that were targeted at least 43 times. And yet Adams created an average of 3.3 yards of separation per target, according to the same tracking, meaning he did better than almost anyone shaking his defender. (Adams was one of only eight players who saw the differential between their cushion and separation close by 2 yards or less.)
So, if there’s anyone who can shake Ramsey’s in-your-jersey coverage, it’s probably Adams. And even if he can’t, he and Rodgers have proven themselves more than capable of navigating tight windows, particularly to the edges of the formation, where they are the most dominant duo in the league. Lining Adams up out wide might be a better strategy than moving him into the slot; Ramsey is likely to follow him inside anyway, and the Rams like when they can line him up closer to the formation so he can stick his nose in and make plays. Keeping Adams on the perimeter eliminates that aspect of Ramsey’s game.
The second most interesting battle here is Packers head coach and play-caller Matt LaFleur against Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. The Rams play more two-high safety looks pre-snap than any team in the league, and they almost always use a light box. Why? Because Staley believes the primary object of his defense should be to take away deep passes, and he’s just fine inviting opponents to run the ball. The Rams finished the season ranked third in the NFL in rushing defense DVOA despite lining up with six or fewer players in the box on 67.6 percent of their snaps — a rate far higher than the 45.7 percent league average, per Pro Football Focus and Tru Media.
Will LaFleur take Staley up on his dare and try to run the ball more often than is advantageous? The Packers of last year surely would have done so. (It’s worth noting that both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams ran into a heavy box featuring eight-plus defenders only 19 percent of their carries this season, per Next Gen Stats.) This season’s team was a bit more pass-oriented than it was a year ago, though, thanks to Rodgers growing more comfortable in the offense. The Packers will need to find ways to involve the backs and tight end Robert Tonyan in the passing game as well, to try to take advantage of LA’s linebackers in coverage.
Of course, not much of this matters if they can’t deal with Aaron Donald. The superstar defensive lineman is dealing with a painful rib injury sustained in last week’s victory over Seattle, but he says he’s going to play. And if he plays, he will be trouble to deal with. That’s just what he does. Green Bay has a good offensive line, but its most dependable member (David Bakhtiari) was lost for the season to a torn ACL last month. The interior of the O-line remains intact, though, which is arguably more important against a player like Donald, who lines up inside. Of course, Donald is not the only terror to deal with. Michael Brockers is a force in his own right, Morgan Fox had his best season yet, and Leonard Floyd and Samson Ebukam can fly around the edge. Not to mention Sebastian Joseph-Day, who is a dominant player in the run game.