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Morning (well, Afternoon) Musings with J.B. Long

The Rams finally got some help in their hunt for the one-seed in the NFC, as the Cowboys upset the Saints on Thursday Night Football.

The path to home field advantage throughout has been cleared; the Rams are back from the bye, and five wins will take them to the regular season finish line. But along the way, there's the small matter of the NFC West, which would be settled with a win over the Lions.

Here are 13 Morning Musings for Week 13.

1)   We may never see another defensive player win the NFL's Most Valuable Player award. However, it's time to strongly consider – and trumpet – Aaron Donald's candidacy. He might represent the final hope for that side of the football. Donald's making a case to be the third defensive player to win it, and the first in 30 years. He'll have to continue his torrid pace of game-wreckage to have a chance, and it's worth noting, the only quarterback he's sacked more frequently than Matthew Stafford is Russell Wilson.

2)   As always, we examine if the opposing offensive line can slow him down. The Lions are graded 17th as a unit by Pro Football Focus. Their strength is their center Graham Glasgow, who's yet to allow a sack in 482 pass blocking snaps. Rookie first round pick Frank Ragnow is to his left at guard and is having a strong debut campaign. Journeyman Kenny Wiggins is the right guard and might be who Donald chooses to pick on.

3)   Beware of the moving goal posts when you play the Lions. It's been the story of their 2018 season. Green Bay's Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point at Ford Field. Chicago kicker Cody Parkey sent four missed kicks off the uprights against Detroit. Most recently, Carolina's Graham Gano missed a FG and a PAT in a Panthers loss. Don't mention any of this to Greg Zuerlein.

Check out photos of the of the Los Angeles Rams traveling to Detroit to take on the Lions in Week 13.

4)   A prominent storyline this week has been former Lion Ndamukong Suh, who returns to Ford Field for the first time since 2014 to face the team that drafted him. He looks… ready.

5)   ESPN's NFL Matchup had a telling graphic this week, confirming what's been a nuisance to Rams fans. Los Angeles has allowed opposing offenses to convert the highest percentage of 3rd down & 7+ yards this season. Ouch. The shorthanded Lions figure to be off-schedule plenty in Week 13. It's up to the Rams defense to get off the field – or even create negative plays and takeaways – when they get their opportunities.

6)   Aqib Talib could help in that endeavor, as he returns to the secondary for the first time since his Week 3 ankle injury. And with all due respect to the Lions, this might be the ideal opponent for knocking off rust. Detroit receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones had combined for 1,025 yards and eight receiving touchdowns in 2018. Tate was traded to Philadelphia in October; Jones was placed on injured reserve this week. Kenny Golladay and what's left of the receiving corps have combined for 972 yards and five touchdowns. And within THAT group, Brandon Powell already has been ruled out (calf) and Bruce Ellington is questionable (back).

7)   One final defensive note: According to Football Outsiders, the Lions offense operates at the slowest pace in the NFL in 2018. This approach flies in the face of the fact that Stafford historically operates well with some tempo. The Detroit signal-caller is suffering through the least explosive season of his career.

8)   Conversely, Jared Goff and the Rams are capable of operating at breakneck speed, which doesn't bode well for Detroit's best player, Snacks Harrison. The way Los Angeles runs outside zone with Todd Gurley and cranks up the tempo when they convert first downs could neutralize the All-Pro defensive tackle. Make him chase sideline-to-sideline, string together a few first downs, and the 353-pounder may have to tap out. As a member of the Giants in 2017, Harrison only saw 39 snaps in a losing effort against the Rams.

Check out photos of the Rams taking on the Detroit Lions through the years.

9)   On the debut episode of Rams Revealed, left tackle Andrew Whitworth told me that his offensive line benefitted from the bye week more than any other Rams position group. Makes sense given how late the bye fell on the schedule, the number of snaps those five men have played so far this season, and the fact that three of them are north of 30 years old. Look for a rejuvenated group up front in Detroit.

10)   How about the emergence of the Rams tight end corps in recent weeks? In the first eight games of the season, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett accounted for just 16 receptions for 168 yards and one touchdown. In the last three contests, they've combined for 19 grabs, 240 yards, and four scores. Suddenly, Los Angeles boasts a pair of tight ends each grading in the top 20 at their position (Everett 4th, Higbee 20th, according to Pro Football Focus).

11)   And to build on that point, there may be a matchup advantage against the Lions linebackers. PFF has that group allowing a passer rating of 118, which ranks 28th in the league.

12)   Los Angeles has trailed in the fourth quarter in five of its last seven contests, remarkably finding a way to go 6-1 during that span. As thrilling as the Rams recent wins have been, wouldn't it be nice to have a bit of breathing room in the fourth quarter this week?

13)   Finally, here are some of the potential milestones we'll be tracking today in Detroit:

  • With a sack, Aaron Donald would become the fifth defensive tackle in NFL history with more than 15 sacks in a season.
  • Brandin Cooks is 36 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving. It would be Cooks' fourth straight season with 1,000 yards, and he would be the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons with three different teams.
  • Robert Woods is 96 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving. If he and Cooks both get there, they'd be the first Rams duo with 1,000 apiece since Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt in 2006. (Shout out to Cooper Kupp, who would've been right there with them.)
  • Robert Woods also has an active streak of 10 consecutive games with at least 70 yards receiving. If he hauls in 70-plus today, he'll be just the eighth player in NFL history with at least 70 in 11 consecutive games within a season.
  • Jared Goff has a chance to set new single-season career highs for passing yards (needs 257) and touchdown passes (needs three).