5 Things To Look For When Los Angeles Plays Monday Night
It's been a long wait, but the regular season is finally upon us.
The wait seemed even longer after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the Jan. 12 announcement the Rams would move back to Los Angeles after 21 years. The excitement and hype was so high for the Rams return, football could have started on Jan. 13 and the L.A. Coliseum would have sold out.
After a month's worth of exhibition games and training camp practices, the realization has set in that, despite a glamorous return, the Rams are anything but. The team is still trying to reach beyond their own horizon in hopes of making the playoffs, or at the very least, achieve a winning season.
Now that the dust has settled and the team begins it's first step into the new season. That first step comes against their division foe, the San Francisco 49ers and it will be up to the Rams to get this new era of Los Angeles football started on the right foot.
Is Case Keenum the real deal?
Keenum's importance to the team has been felt in more ways than one. When the Rams drafted Jared Goff in the first round, it was all but certain Nick Foles would be leaving the team, one way or another. The Rams relied on Keenum to be their veteran presence to help the rookie grow into the starting role.
Then, Goff's progress was pedestrian at-best this preseason, leaving Keenum to solidify his role as the starter for the rest of the season.
Keenum played in six games for the Rams in 2015 and completed 76 of his 125 attempts. That's good enough for a 60.8 completion percentage.
More importantly, he led the Rams to a 3-1 record over the final quarter of the regular season. The only team to beat the Rams over the stretch? The San Francisco 49ers.
Granted he won't be playing the same team, but if Keenum could do that in each quarter of the 2016 regular season, the Rams will stand a good chance to end their 11-year drought without a winning record.
It's a tall order for a quarterback who has never been the starter throughout the course of a regular season. Keenum has flashed at moments throughout his career, but the Rams need a more consistent player for 16 games.
Year II of Todd Gurley
It's hard to believe Todd Gurley only played in 13 games for the Rams in 2015.
In those 13 games, Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards on 229 carries with five runs of more than 40 yards. He finished with 10 touchdowns to go with those totals.
Gurley was hardly used in the preseason and for good reason. He's the heart and soul of the Rams' offense. If he goes down, it could be a long season. The season could arguably be just as difficult, even with Gurley in the lineup. But it's a fact the run-first offense goes through Gurley.
Monday will be the first time we get to see Gurley without the reins of precaution.
The Rams will probably get the game going by feeding the Gurley the ball early instead of going to the air on the first drive. Will Gurley have any rust?
The defensive line has looked great all through the preseason.
Robert Quinn looks like he's back to 100 percent health. Aaron Donald has been his usual dominant self, and William Hayes has yet to find a mermaid in Southern California. So getting to the quarterback should not be a problem for the front four.
The problem, however, will be getting in front of the quarterback's passes.
Trumaine Johnson is a stud. He proved last year he's able to create turnovers and shut down No. 1 receivers. This year looks to be no different. Behind Johnson is where things start to get dicey.
EJ Gaines has shown an ability to pair with Johnson, but has also struggled to stay healthy. There is no guarantee we will see the same EJ Gaines that we saw in 2014. But Gaines is ruled out for Week One. So Johnson's help will have to come from Coty Sensabaugh and LaMarcus Joyner, the next two depth players capable of starting in place of Gaines.
But being capable is not the same as being reliable.
Believe it or not, the Rams and 49ers have one of the oldest rivalries in professional football.
The two teams started playing in the 1950s and became one of the biggest west coast rivalries as they represented the two California teams to share a division. When the Rams played in St. Louis, the rivalry continued. Some of the best games came during the early 2000's.
Sports Illustrated recently voted it the eighth best rivalry of all time in the NFL.
The Rams won the first meeting on October 1, 1950 by a score of 35-14. The 49ers won the last meeting, the final game of 2015 for both franchises, 19-16.
Through division realignment and the Rams relocating multiple times the rivalry has prevailed. The 49ers currently hold the series lead with a record of 66-64-3.
Regardless of who quarterbacks the Rams, it will be up to the receivers to make an impact in this game.
We know what Gurley can do. We know what to expect from Keenum. As for the receivers, the expectations are quite lower.
For Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt, it's about proving they can be more than middle of the road players. Austin, especially after his new contract, will be expected to be a favorite target for the quarterback and a valuable contributor on the offense. Last season, Austin recorded nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
From a gadget standpoint, Austin has been everything the Rams could have wanted. From a pure receiver standpoint, Austin has left a lot to be desired.
Britt has been the No. 1 receiver by default because he is the biggest and best pure receiver the Rams have. The expectations may not be the highest for him right now, but the Rams would benefit greatly if he turns in performances similar to his early years in Tennessee.
The Rams will also be without Nelson Spruce for Week One. Which means outside of Austin and Britt, the Rams will be left with Brian Quick, Lance Kendricks, and Bradley Marquez. All but Marquez have been less-than-reliable receivers.
The offense hopes to see Pharoh Cooper open often Monday night.
Brett Crossley is a Los Angeles Rams writer for Pro Football Spot. For comments or questions, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org