Game Preview: Rams head back East to take on Tua and the Dolphins for Week 8

After the bye, Los Angeles will play five division games and six conference tilts.

Those games – more than any of the nine remaining overall – will determine the Rams postseason fate.

But it's not difficult to envision how Week 8 at Miami will shape the narrative for the second half of 2020.

At the end of Sunday's action, the Rams could very well be 6-2 and even in the loss column atop the NFC West. Alternatively, they could be 5-3, smarting as they fly home cross-country once again, and in last place in the division.

A win frames the possibility of competing for home field advantage and maybe even the top seed in the NFC. A loss puts the Rams right on the wild card bubble.

Either way, there will be plenty of opportunity left. But if Sean McVay can improve to 4-0 in games heading into the bye week, the stakes amplify significantly as they prepare to go to work against the West.

And… Not Or

The benching of Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of Tua Tagovailoa was seen as a choice between contending now or building for the future.

In a wide-open AFC East, FitzMagic might have been enough to guide Miami back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

But if the fifth overall selection is who the Dolphins believe he can be, and the rookie launches his career with an upset of the Rams, maybe this isn't an either-or proposition.

The Dolphins come off their open week as the eight-seed in the AFC, and just a game-and-a-half back of Buffalo, as the division-leading Bills host the reeling Patriots.

Tua Time

There are dueling narratives in Miami regarding the performance of the offensive line charged with protecting the franchise's most heralded quarterback prospect since Dan Marino.

On the one side of the ledger, this could be the worst offensive line the Rams face all season. The Dolphins rank in the cellar of ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate (30th) and Run Block Win Rate (29th). Pro Football Focus has the unit 25th in pass-blocking heading into Week 8. So there's a real possibility that Fitzpatrick was plugging leaks behind porous protection thanks to his Ivy League processor. He owned the third-shortest time to throw in the NFL.

But Dolphins center Ted Karras rejected those metrics this week, defending his unit's performance just days before Aaron Donald arrives with a pass rush that produced 21 pressures against the Bears on Monday night.

Tight Windows

After setting NCAA records for efficiency, Tagovailoa will have to be on point in his first NFL start against a Rams secondary that seems to be shrinking throwing lanes.

As it is, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Miami's wide receivers average just 2.3 yards of separation on targets, the worst mark in the league. Now that group will be asked to win against Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams, both top 26 in PFF's position rankings, as well as Troy Hill, who has played the most coverage snaps in the league without allowing a touchdown.

Don't be surprised if tight ends (and tailbacks) get a healthy number of targets for the Dolphins on Sunday.

Your Fantasy Team Might Needham

Conversely, separation shouldn't be an issue for Cooper Kupp against nickel Nik Needham. PFF listed that matchup as its second most favorable for a wide receiver this week.

Terrell's Take

No Ram knows Tua better than rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, who flashed first-round talent in his most impressive performance to date against the Bears.

The spring after those two won a national championship together at Alabama, the Crimson Tide coaching staff hinted to scouts that Lewis was the most talented player on the roster. Mind you, that group included Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Hurts, Trevon Diggs, and Tua – among others.

"I always keep that with me," Lewis told us about that story on this week's Rams Revealed podcast, noting that Alabama's confidence helped him through subsequent injury and rehabilitation, a process he endured again in 2020 with the Rams.

As for his upcoming showdown with his college teammate and good friend, Lewis is aiming for his first career sack as Tua makes his first NFL start.

"It's going to feel weird going against Tua and he's actually live," Lewis said, laughing about all the times he had to stay off the quarterback in practice. "I hope I see him. I've got something for him."

A'Plus Impact

With Lewis getting up to speed and Leonard Floyd coming off the best performance of his career, now the Rams complete the puzzle up front with A'Shawn Robinson set to make his L.A. debut.

"(Robinson) is the key to stopping the run," my broadcast partner Maurice Jones-Drew said on Rams All-Access. "He's not just playing over the center where it's one-on-one. He's going to be taking double teams. If you don't double-team him? You're going to get immediate pressure up the A-gap."

"If you do decide to go Bear (front), and you cover up both guards and the center… I don't think (the Dolphins) will be able to get push," D'Marco Farr added. "That lets Micah Kiser roam and make plays. So I think that's perfect for what you're about to face in Miami."

Rest Is Overrated

According to NFL Research, in the last eight meetings between a team coming off a short week (as the Rams are after Monday Night Football) and an opponent coming off a bye (like the Dolphins), the team coming off a short week is undefeated (8-0).

Tell that to 38-year-old Andrew Whitworth's aching body, though.

"This has definitely been one of the most brutal starts I've ever been a part of," the Rams left tackle said in anticipation of another 4,000 travel miles round-trip. It's the team's fourth matchup on the east coast in the early window.

"Whoever we made really mad in the scheduling process; we need to send them some flowers."

Dolphin Drought

These franchises don't meet often, but when they have, the Rams don't score well.

In fact, the last time the Rams broke 14 points against the Dolphins was in 2001 when the Greatest Show on Turf trounced Miami 42-10. The last four games since have gone against the Rams, who have been limited to 14 or fewer in each.

The Los Angeles Rams were back on the practice field on Thursday as they prepare to take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 8. Check out some of the top photos from Thursday's practice!

A Play Away

And it feels like the 2020 Rams are due on offense, doesn't it?

Last week, a wide-open check down to Malcolm Brown could've led to points on the opening drive.

The week prior in San Francisco, multiple missed connections with Kupp went begging.

Even in a blowout of Washington, the Rams could've put the Football Team out of reach sooner with that fourth down drop in a downpour by Robert Woods.

Against a well-regarded secondary, Goff has his work cut out for him Sunday. But I expect him to collect his 100th career touchdown toss (and a couple more for good measure) against the same Dolphins who held him without a scoring play in his NFL debut four years ago.

Out of Pocket

Against the Bears, Goff collected a season-high 92 yards from outside the pocket, completing 7-of-8 attempts. That was great to see after the keeper game was absent from the Rams approach against the 49ers.

According to ESPN, Goff has now completed 81% of his passes from outside the pocket this season, highest in the NFL. Compare that rate to 65% inside the pocket, 24th in the league.

Apropos of nothing, Tim Tebow sees fellow lefty Tagovailoa as the most pure pocket passer he's ever seen.

Get Back Game?

The "Super Bowl Rematch" against Bill Belichick and the Patriots awaits in December. But consider this weekend the undercard for McVay and his Rams against former New England defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

While the Dolphins head coach has delegated play-calling duties to Josh Boyer, one would have to think he'll be heavily involved in the defensive game-planning.

How'd you like to be a fly on the wall of McVay's film room?

Monthly Special

Sunday's game features the AFC and NFC players of the month on special teams.

Jason Sanders claimed the honor for the Dolphins after going 11-for-11 from three-point range in October. He's been perfect on all his attempts – field goals and extra points – this season.

Johnny Hekker brought home the hardware for the Rams, all while dedicating one of his award-winning punts to Hill's new child.

And as we turn the calendar to November, L.A. turns over its place-kicking duties to local product Kai Forbath.

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