L.A. Rams (5-3; 6-2 ATS) at Pittsburgh (4-4; 5-3 ATS)
Early line: Rams (minus-4 points). Total: (45)
LAR 10TH OFF; PIT 11TH DEF
LAR 20TH RUN; PIT 16TH vs. RUN
LAR 5TH PASS; PIT T9TH vs. PASS
LAR 8TH PTS; PIT 13TH PTS ALLOWED
PIT 28TH OFF; LAR 12TH DEF
PIT 26TH RUN; LAR 11TH vs. RUN
PIT 27TH PASS; LAR 19TH vs. PASS
PIT 18TH PTS; LAR 15TH PTS ALLOWED
LAR T16TH TO/TA; PIT 2ND TO-TA
Rams lead all-time series 15-9-2, but Steelers have won last 3 games in series (4 of last 5), most recently defeating Rams 12-6 at St. Louis Sept. 27, 2015.
The defending NFC champion RAMS, who entered bye with convincing back-to-back victories away from LA over the Bengals and Falcons, are hoping to continue their road magic against Steelers Sunday after head coach Sean McVay gave his players a full week off last week.
RAMS are 18-4 in the regular season outside Los Angeles during McVay's tenure, easily the NFL's best away mark in that span.
Two wins over opponents with one victory combined this season won't answer every question that arose during RAMS' 3-game losing streak, but they showed signs of progress on both sides of the ball. "It feels good to be going into the bye and building momentum," RB Todd Gurley said.
RAMS’ passing offense entered Week 9 action ranked 4th in the league (287.2 ypg) led by QB Jared Goff, who was ranked first in league in passing yards with 2,367 (295.9 ypg), and WR Cooper Kupp, who ranked 2nd in league receiving yards with 792 (99.0 ypg).
Kupp had another dominant game in RAMS’ Week 8 win, racking up a career-high 220 yards on just 7 catches. With five 100-yard games already this season, there's no doubt Kupp came back stronger and more elusive from the knee injury that ended his 2018 season near the midway point.
Kupp has reached 160 career catches in just 31 games, the quickest by a RAMS receiver in the Super Bowl era.
Goff and his receivers are having enough success to make up for the RAMS' up-and-down running game and inconsistent contributions from Gurley. McVay's offense isn't close to its peak, but it's getting the job done in tough circumstances.
Gurley has now gone 9 straight games without a 100-yard rushing game, the longest stretch of his career since early 2017. His only 100-yard game since Dec. 2, 2018, came in the playoffs vs. Dallas last January. Despite its recent passing success, RAMS’ offense has a ceiling on how good it can be if Gurley and his backups aren't running the ball well.
RB Malcolm Brown’s unfortunately timed ankle injury might have ruined his last, best chance to get significant action with the RAMS. Brown was unavailable for most of the past 3 games, and rookie Darrell Henderson has stepped into the increased role for a backup RB in an offense dominated by Gurley for the past two seasons.
Henderson led the RAMS with 49 yards rushing against Cincinnati, and Brown might find himself the third option when he returns.
RAMS defense has held their past three opponents to 40 combined points while playing in three different cities and enduring a 10-day, trans-Atlantic road trip heading into their bye week.
DE Dante Fowler registered 4 ½ sacks during RAMS’ two-game road trip before bye. After playing five straight games without a sack, the veteran pass rusher on a one-year contract seized his chances to disrupt two opposing offenses right when the Rams needed a contribution from somebody other than elite DT Aaron Donald.
RAMS also have now had two games with new CB Jalen Ramsey, whose presence alters the back end of LA’s defense. The Rams have no remaining healthy first-stringers from last season's Super Bowl secondary except NB Nickell Robey-Coleman, and the new group needs playing time together.
New RAMS S Eric Weddle has played well and provided invaluable tutoring help to even greener teammates in secondary. LB Cory Littleton remains a ferocious all-around defender and the Rams' leading tackler, while rookie S Taylor Rapp is getting additional responsibilities each week as he grows in confidence.
More help is on the way: OLB Clay Matthews has the wiring out of his broken jaw, and he will return to action soon (check status). He began his first season with the RAMS by making six sacks in five games, along with seven total tackles for loss.
Also check status of RAMS WR Brandin Cooks, who is in the concussion protocol for the second time this season after being suspected of incurring a head injury for the 4th time in less than two years. The Rams didn't immediately announce Cooks' prognosis, but losing their big-play threat for a significant length of time would be a setback.
STEELERS reached the midpoint of what has been a chaotic season very much alive following a 26-24 Week 9 home win over the Colts for their third straight win.
STEELERS’ resurgence has been led by a defense that's regained its swagger behind the kind of "splash" plays it missed so desperately in 2018. The Steelers managed just 15 takeaways last season, next-to-last in the NFL.
STEELERS have already produced 22 takeaways in 2018, including S Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 96-yard pick six in the second quarter against the Colts, his fourth interception since arriving in a trade with Miami in mid-September.
Fitzpatrick's arrival in a trade with Miami gave STEELERS 8 first-round picks on the starting defense. The group is playing up to its pedigree. It's not just the turnovers. Pittsburgh has already collected 29 sacks, including five in Week 9 against an Indianapolis line that had allowed 11 all season coming into game.
Even with DE Stephon Tuitt lost for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle against the Chargers on Oct. 13, the STEELERS have been able to consistently generate pressure, particularly the OLB tandem of Bud Dupree and T.J.Watt, who have combined for 13 ½ sacks (3 ½ sacks and 6 hurries in Week 9 win).
Dupree already has matched his career high in sacks (6) and has become more effective vs. run. He shed two blockers to tackle Colts RB Marlon Mack for a 3-yard loss on third down with less than 2 minutes to go in Week 9, a stop that pushed Indy back and assured the STEELERS they would get the ball back if Colts PK Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard FG attempt with 1:14 remaining had split the uprights.
STEELERS’ remaining schedule is decidedly user-friendly. Only two of their remaining opponents currently have a winning record.
But the margin for error is slim. Five of STEELERS’ eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and if Vianatieri hadn't snap-hooked his go-ahead 43-yard attempt in the final minute in Week 9, the Steelers could be two games under .500 and fading.
STEELERS QB Mason Rudolph (26-35-191-1 TD-1 INT-84.3 QB rating in Week 9) has been steady if not spectacular since replacing the injured Ben Roethlisberger, completing 66% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Rudolph hasn't been much of a difference maker in the red zone. The STEELERS converted just 1-of- 4 red-zone possessions into TDs against Colts. Pittsburgh is in the bottom quarter of the league in red-zone TD percentage (38%), a number that needs to change if Steelers want to take some of the pressure off the defense.
STEELERS had only 25-90 rushing (3.6 ypc) in Week 9 win. A consistent running game would take some of the pressure off Rudolph. Steelers are averaging just 3.8 ypc and have done little in short-yardage situations, including near the goal line. The seriousness of RB James Conner’s shoulder injury is uncertain, and rookie Benny Snell is also out with a knee injury (check statuses).
RB Trey Edmunds led STEELERS’ Week 9 rushing attack with 12-73 (6.1 ypc) and a long of 45.
WR Jaylen Samuels led STEELERS’ Week 9 receiving corps with 13-73 receiving on 13 targets and a long of 17. WR1 JuJu Smith-Schuster had only 3-16 receiving and has 33 catches a year after he had 111 catches and emerged as a star. Defenses are keying on him with Antonio Brown gone, and team needs to find ways to create more 1-on-1 matchups.
While Vinatieri struggled in Week 9 for the Colts, STEELERS PK Chris Boswell connected on 4-of-4 FGs (21, 51, 33, 26).
In addition to Conner and Snell, check status of STEELERS OG Ramon Foster (concussion; DNP in Week 9).
For more information, go to BetIndiananews.com