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Four things to know about the Los Angeles Rams


The Washington Commanders are traveling west to take on the Los Angeles Rams for their first game following the bye week. Here are four things to know about their next opponent.

1. They've got uphill aspirations after the Baltimore battle.

Every team hopes to emerge victorious on Sunday, but the Rams will likely be even hungrier to get back on track after falling 37-31 in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens.

Washington's slightly north neighbor had a striking definitive play on a punt return that changed the whole game in the matter of one play. The Rams who swapped coasts for this matchup, played a stellar game for four quarters but just fell short.

The Rams, who went into the matchup as a 7.5-point underdog to the leaders in AFC North, defied expectations and even held the lead five times. Matt Stafford and his even went on a seven-play, 57-yard drive to get in range for the game-tying field goal with seven seconds left. However, their 3-game winning streak, which sparked excitement after a tumultuous opening half of the season, was snapped when Baltimore's Tylan Wallace ran a punt back 76 yards for a touchdown.

Four weeks ago, it looked like Washington's matchup with the Rams would feature two struggling teams trying to finish the season on a strong note. Now, the Rams have put themselves back in the playoff discussion and getting into a groove, so much so that they were a play away from taking down on the AFC's premier teams.

2. Puka Nacua is in the wind.

Expectations weren't high when Los Angeles drafted Puka Nacua in the fifth-round pick out of Brigham Young University. Sure, the wideout had potential, but his speed was questionable. Fifth-round picks rarely make an immediate impact in their rookie seasons, but Nacua has been racking up yards and closing in on franchise records.

Ironically enough, Nacua has spent his rookie season channeling Lightning McQueen- the rookie race far from Disney Pixar's Cars films, according to an article by The Ringer. His speed being doubted during the draft is completely in the rearview, and five 100-yard games this season, he's become one of the Rams' best weapons opposite Cooper Kupp.

Nacua has an impeccable ability to find soft spots in coverage to be a reliable target for Stafford. He's also shown a knack for creating separation from defenses with 438 yards -- ninth most in the league -- coming after the catch.

Nacua set out to prove that he belongs in the NFL, and so far, he's accomplished that with 1,113 receiving yards in his first 13 career games. He currently ranks fifth among all wideouts, falling only behind Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown, CeeDee Lamb and Keenan Allen.

Nacua has been a consistent target for Stafford, and as they enter a game against the Commanders, who struggle to cover similarly speedy receivers, it could be another big day for the rookie.

3. Aaron Donald, a defensive staple.

Washington's offensive lineman have faced several talented pass-rushers this season, and going against Aaron Donald, widely recognized as the best defensive tackle in recent memory, is an even more daunting task.

Donald's legacy is an immediate presence on any field he steps on, and it's easy to see why that is the case. He can break through the most skilled offensive lines and put pressure on a quarterback. It's what led him to be selected to the Pro Bowl in all nine of his seasons and got him seven First Team All-Pro honors.

Donald's sack numbers (6) might not be as high as some he put up in the prime of his career, but his pressure numbers indicate that he remains a potent threat for offenses. He has 70 total pressures through 13 games -- 30 more than last season -- including 14 quarterback hits and 49 hurries.

Protecting Sam Howell, who is the most sacked quarterback in the league, has been a consistent problem for the Commanders' offense. Donald's skill set will push this challenge even further, and the team is aware of the talent he brings to the other side of the ball.

"He does everything so well," Howell said. "It's just how fast he's able to get off the ball and how strong he is getting on the football. You gotta have a plan for him, you have to know where he is on every snap. He's one of the very very special players in the league, obviously a future Hall of Famer. It's a good challenge and it's a good opportunity for us on Sunday."

Donald will pose a major problem for Washington's offense, and there's no doubt that if the offensive line can't contain him to an extent, plays will be short lived for Howell.

4. Matthew Stafford's game is on the rise.

Stafford has been on absolute fire the last three weeks, and without his recent surge, things wouldn't be shaking out so positively for the Rams.

Last week, Stafford played well against a Ravens defense that allows the second fewest yards in the NFL and leads the league in sacks. He managed to escape Baltimore's consistent pressure and threw for three touchdowns while completing 23-of-41 passes for 294 yards.

Sure, Stafford had some missed opportunities. In the first offensive drive for the Rams, his three incomplete passes at the 9-yard line didn't do Los Angeles any favors. But for the rest of the game, he managed to make throw in tight windows. His performance against the Ravens was the best he's had since Week 4, when he threw for 319 yards against the Indianapolis Colts. He now has 3,062 yards for the season, making it the 11th he's eclipsed the mark in his career.

"They have a super bowl winning quarterback, it's definitely gonna be a challenge," Jonathan Allen said. "As the defensive line, we just really gotta make Matthew Stafford uncomfortable and limit the running game as much as possible."

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