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Week 2 Game Preview: Rams and QB Matthew Stafford bring high-powered offense to Indy for first road test vs. Colts

In a couple of meaningful ways, the 2017 opener against the Colts was where this all started.

It was Sean McVay’s first game as head coach, as well as the first of his now five consecutive Week One victories.

It was also the dawn of Aaron Donald's well-deserved contract extension, a game he actually missed having held out during training camp while the details were ironed out. (Indianapolis is therefore the only franchise he's yet to face.)

Since that explosive September day at the Coliseum, hardly anything's been the same. McVay has restored the Rams as a model, winning franchise. Donald has claimed NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times. L.A.'s been to a Super Bowl, stacked four consecutive winning seasons, and made three playoff trips.

Here are the Rams and Colts again, four years later.

This time, Donald gets to play.

Soon, perhaps in a matter of days, the Rams official sack record will be re-written (though of all franchises, the Rams appreciate that's a modern mark – Deacon Jones and Jack Youngblood were ahead of their time).

Wouldn't it be something if he were to ascend to that top spot in the record books by defeating the block of the NFL's best offensive guard, Quenton Nelson?

Five for Fighting

Nelson and the other four members of the Colts offensive line will be looking for a bounce-back performance after they took the brunt of the blame for a lackluster effort versus Seattle.

Quarterback Carson Wentz was fine in the opener, but took 10 shots last week, including three sacks.

Both offensive tackles are question marks for the Colts. Eric Fisher is still coming off an Achilles injury sustained in the AFC Championship Game while playing for Kansas City; Braden Smith is dealing with a foot problem.

It's been noted that this is the richest front-five in football, and one of the highest graded groups in the league, as well.

Even if short-handed, the Colts should make for an excellent test for the Rams defensive front – particularly after the Chicago offensive line was regarded as that team's weak link.

There's Only One 99

As highly as we think of the No. 99 in Horns, the next best thing to Aaron Donald might be Indianapolis defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Not only does he wear the same number, he wreaks similar havoc. Buckner has been All-Pro in back-to-back seasons (his last in San Francisco and his first with the Colts). He opened up his sixth NFL season with a sack of Russell Wilson and a tackle for loss.

Off the Ball, On the Job

The Colts have another well-compensated defensive star in Darius Leonard. Last month's contract extension made him the wealthiest off-ball linebacker in the game. On Monday, McVay compared Leonard's impact to that of 49ers standout Fred Warner.

However, the reason I mention Leonard here is because his name percolated around the Rams in April, when they selected Ernest Jones with the 103rd overall pick. In the best-case scenario, that's the type of three-down linebacker the Rams hope Jones can become.

Lofty expectations, to be certain. It will be fun to observe Leonard in person, with that comp in the back of our minds.

Forever Young

Then again, the Rams are quite pleased with the player currently occupying that role in the middle of their defense.

Kenny Young tipped a pass on the Bears opening drive that David Long Jr. intercepted in the end zone. He also recovered a strip sack authored by Justin Hollins.

Earlier this week, McVay touted Young – who was wrongly cast as a throw-away piece of the Marcus Peters trade in 2019 – as one of the great individual contributors who's acclimated in his return to Southern California and benefitted from the developmental time with Chris Shula and the Rams defensive coaches.

"He has been an awesome story," McVay said. "And I thought he was one of the bright spots (against the Bears)."

Take the Long Way Home

It's so cliché I'm cringing as I write it… but enough Rams have said it that I feel obligated to call it out.

New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris prioritizes takeaways.

Ugh. I know.

Which defensive coach from Pop Warner forward doesn't preach takeaways?!

This week on Rams Revealed, David Long Jr. said as much following his first career interception.

"A lot of coaches would be satisfied with eliminating passes, breaking up passes," Long told us. "But he's always trying to push that bill and get us to the next level – and that's intercepting and taking the ball away. And even more so, taking the ball away and scoring."

Wild, Wild West

Transitioning to some offense, how good were the NFC West quarterbacks last weekend?

NFC Offensive Player of the Week Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Trey Lance combined for 14 touchdowns, 1 interception, and just 25 incompletions.

The lowest rating of the bunch: 121.

No wonder the division went 4-0.

Cooper Coverage

We're all still a bit incredulous about how Stafford's new favorite target could have been that wide open against the Bears.

Rest assured, he won't be against the Colts.

Not that the nickel corner is always going to be assigned to Cooper Kupp, but whereas Chicago was searching for answers at that position last Sunday, Indianapolis has one of the better slot corners in the league three years running in Kenny Moore.

It's on the outside where the Colts might be hurting a bit. Rock Ya-Sin has had a hard go of it since being drafted 34th overall in 2019, while veteran corner Xavier Rhodes was inactive last week with a calf injury and his 2021 debut remains uncertain.

Henderson's Hands

Here's another glimpse of the future from a one-game sample size: Not only did running back Darrell Henderson Jr. take the lion's share of snaps in Week One, he also ran routes at a higher rate than all but one NFL back.

That's notable considering the Rams ranked 30th in the percentage of targets thrown to running backs last season.

Henderson has soft hands and the ability to make defenders miss – as evidenced by his 17-yard catch and run in the second quarter. While that would prove to be the lead back's only target, we know Stafford has the wherewithal to protect himself with his lineman and get to his checkdown quickly and accurately. The restoration of the Rams lethal screen game feels imminent.

I count this nugget as one of the most encouraging indicators from last weekend.

(As an aside, another great receiving back, Cam Akers is going to feast in 2022.)

Hoosier State Homecoming

Are we cool calling this road trip the Matt Gay Revenge Game? He spent two months in Indiana last fall, after all.

And since he was signed off the Indianapolis practice squad, Gay's been just what the doctor ordered for the Rams ailing kicking game. Thank goodness the Colts had a stable rookie in Rodrigo Blankenship, who finished fifth in the NFL in field goals made (32) and total points (139) last year. That freed up Gay to become L.A.'s latest weapon in the kicking game.

This feels like the type of contest that could come down to the laces of Gay and/or Blankenship.

Desperate House Guys

And that's in part because, if there was ever a time to expect Indy's best, it's Week Two.

Having dropped their home opener – and without another game at Lucas Oil Stadium until October 17 – if the Colts don't get this one… 0-5 is a real possibility.

AFC journeys to Tennessee, Miami, and Baltimore are in the forecast.

Under head coach Frank Reich, the Colts have dropped their season opener, then rebounded to win Week Two, in three straight seasons.

Here's hoping history doesn't repeat itself again on Sunday.

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