Football is back.
The regular season is finally upon us, as the Rams will host the Colts at the Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. When the two teams last met in 2013, the Rams executed well in all three phases to down Indianapolis, 38-8.
This week head coach Sean McVay is looking for his team to do this same, beginning his tenure in Los Angeles with a successful home opener.
"It certainly has a different feeling this week. I know I'm excited about it [and] I certainly feel it from our players and our coaching staff," McVay said. "Our guys have done a great job of utilizing the offseason program and training camp to put ourselves in a position to be ready to go. But, we know that we're still focused on taking it one day at a time and hopefully that will lead to us peaking at one o'clock on Sunday."
The Rams' "one day at a time" approach has allowed them to come into Sunday's game injury free. The Colts, however, have not been as fortunate. Indianapolis will be without three of its primary players for the season opener: quarterback Andrew Luck, center Ryan Kelly, and cornerback Vontae Davis.
Without Luck, veteran backup Scott Tolzien will be the Colts' signal-caller. Undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond is expected to get the start at center. During the preseason, Tolzien started in all four games, completing 23 of 34 passes, for 241 yards and one interception. And although McVay acknowledged the benefit in taking on an offense without its starting quarterback, he recognizes the challenges Tolzien can present.
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"Well, I've got a lot of respect for Andrew Luck. To say that I'm disappointed not to see him, I probably wouldn't say that," McVay said with a laugh. "But, what I would say is that, [I have] a lot of respect for them as a team, for Scott Tolzien. And we know that it's going to be a great challenge. I think they've got great players on that offense."
The Rams' defense will face off against two very talented Colts' stars on Sunday — wide receiver T.Y Hilton, who led the NFL in receiving yards last season, and running back Frank Gore, who has accumulated over 13,000 yards in his career, including 1,025 yards last year.
"The Colts have a really good offense, they've got a premiere receiver in the league and [offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski] 'Chud' does a great job," Rams' defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said on Thursday.
Philips plans to utilize his secondary to contain Hilton and shut down the Colts' primary receiving target. Expect cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Kayvon Webster to match up with Hilton throughout the game.
"'Chud' is a really good coordinator and he's got a great player there and he utilizes him," Phillips said. "That's what you do, you put him in situations where you can get him one-on-one and you can get him running option routes where he can go any way he sees, which he's great at. So, you have to double him every play, so we will."
Although many defensive starters will see their first game action of the year this weekend — including Webster, outside linebacker Robert Quinn, and linebacker Mark Barron — the defense as a whole did not express any major concerns about playing together for the first time.
"Not at all because we've been working together throughout this whole camp and OTA's so as far as that, no, not at all," Johnson said.
"I don't know that I'm concerned, I'm just waiting to kind of see how we do," Phillips said. "I think there's going to be good things. I've been impressed with our practices and we have all our guys healthy and all of them are practicing now, so you've got to carry that to the game, but I thought we've practiced really well."
Though defensive takcle Aaron Doanld reported to the Rams on Saturday morning, he will not play in Sunday's game.
On offense, quarterback Jared Goff will take the field on Sunday for his first season opener. Last season, Goff was inactive for Week 1 against the 49ers. This year, however, the former No. 1 pick is ready to show off the team's development on offense and make a strong statement in front of the Rams' home crowd.
"I think as a whole we've really improved everywhere — not only offensively, but defensively, special teams, everywhere we've improved," Goff said. "I think I speak for a lot of people when I say we feel really good where we're at."
"I think we've done a good job so far up to this point game planning and getting a good sense of what they do defensively," he added. "They do a lot of things well and they do have a lot of good players there, so we're excited to get a chance to see them this Sunday and get a chance to show off what we've worked on the last six to nine months."
The Rams receiving corps has been strengthened this season through the addition of playmakers like Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and Cooper Kupp. Wide receiver Tavon Austin is also expected to contribute in Sunday's game, after missing the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. And because the Colts will be without their primary cornerback, expect the Rams to look to exploit downfield matchups.
"Absolutely, every time one of their star players is not playing, you have to take advantage of that," wide receiver Pharoh Cooper said. "I know the coaches have alerted us and told us that because they have seen it on film. So we're just going to try and attack, try our best to get open. And without their best corner playing, it should open up a lot of passes."
Running back Todd Gurley II also saw increased playing time throughout the preseason and is expected to be a major contributor for the offense this season. And after being named a captain for the second-straight year, the running back also said he feels added responsibility coming into Sunday's game.
"For that to be my second year in a row to be a captain it means a lot. So, I appreciate that – just trying to work hard and try to be the best leader, the best teammate I can be," he said. "When you have that 'C' that gives you just a little bit more edge to do a little bit more, say a little bit more, because they voted for you for a reason," he said.
Gurley also expressed confidence at his team's ability to produce on offense.
"You know it's just a new offense. It felt like things have been clicking," Gurley said. "We feel a lot more comfortable with the offensive schemes that we've been running the last four, five months...Just going out there and practicing, executing – not looking sloppy, catching the ball, running the ball, not turning the ball over. The more things you do…the more comfortable you get. So that's just kind of how we feel right now."
For McVay, Sunday will represent his first true test as an NFL head coach. And while he is prepared for the jitters that come along with a season opener, he is also ready to take on the many challenges that lie ahead, beginning with the Colts this weekend.
"Once the game kicks off you're getting right into your normal flow and hopefully that's how it feels, but there's certainly a level of excitement and I'm very fortunate to be in this role and to have the opportunity to be a part of this team," he said.
"It's an exciting thing, it's not a nervous thing," McVay continued. "It's confidence to watch our guys go compete, confident that hopefully our preparation will allow our coaches to make good decisions and put our players in good spots and confident that it's going to be a great opportunity to go compete against a great opponent."
Kickoff for the Rams season opener is set for 1:05 P.M. To find out where you can watch the season opener, click here.