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Three keys to Washington beating the Rams in Week 15


The Washington Commanders are coming out of the bye week to take on the Los Angeles Rams, who are fighting for a playoff spot with four games left. Here are three keys to getting a win, presented by KIA.

1. Contain Aaron Donald.

Almost every player reporters spoke to this week was asked about Aaron Donald, and all of them had a similar answer.

"I see a Hall of Famer," Terry McLaurin said. "I see a guy who plays all the downs as hard as he can. He's an impact player."

The Rams have a middling pass rush this season with a win rate of 40% (17th) and just 29 sacks, but Donald is still an imposing presence because of his quickness and versatility. On 452 pass-rushing snaps, he's put pressure on opposing quarterbacks 15% of the time.

The Commanders' offense knows that it must find a way to limit him if it hopes to have any success on Sunday.

"He does everything so well," **Sam Howell** said on Wednesday. "Just how fast he's able to get off the ball, how strong he is getting off the football, and you got to have a plan for him. You got to know where he is every single snap. He's one of the very, very special players in the league."

Donald might not be in his prime anymore, but he's still one of the top players in the league, regardless of position. Allowing interior pressure has been a problem for the Commanders all season, so the matchup doesn't bode well for them.

Still, Washington has found some success with moving Howell outside the pocket and getting the ball out of his hands quicker. Washington will likely try to get Howell on the move this weekend as well. Although Donald is good enough to overcome teams scheming against him, running away from a Hall of Famer like him usually leads to better results.

2. Beware of the ground game.

The Rams have put themselves back in the playoff discussion after starting the year 3-6, and they have an increased dependence on the ground game to thank for that.

It's not so much that the Rams haven't leaned on their ground game at points earlier in the season. Prior to their three-game win streak, they ran the ball at least 25 times in five games. The difference is that they're more effective at getting production from their backs. Over the last three games, the Rams are third in rushing yards, averaging 115.5 per contest.

Much of that comes from 2022 fifth-round pick Kyren Williams hitting his stride. Over his last four games -- he was inactive in Weeks 7-11 -- Williams has averaged 125.8 yards on 82 carries, pushing him to seventh in total rushing yards for the season (801). It's a stark contrast to Weeks 1-5, when he averaged 59.6 yards per game. 

"I think he's got the ability to play on all downs," Rams head coach Sean McVay said Sept. 22. "He's really put the work in. He's earned a lot of trust from his coaches, from his teammates, and he's a guy that just continues to take steps in the right direction."

For all the Commanders' defense struggles with, stopping the run is something they're at least average at. In fact, they only average a little over half a yard more than the Rams do on the ground. The Rams would rather win with Matt Stafford's arm, but if they are given lanes to run through, they are going to take advantage of them.

It's in Washington's best interest that the Rams don't take this approach. Los Angeles is 4-2 when it runs the ball at least 28 times.

3. Bottle up Puka Nacua.

It seems that the Rams have found a weapon to place opposite Cooper Kupp in the passing game.

Not much was expected out of fifth-round pick Puka Nacua in the offseason. He was a solid receiver during his two seasons with the BYU Cougars, but with just 1,430 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2021 and 2022 combined, he was hardly considered one of the top prospects in the draft.

Now, Nacua is playing like one of the best receivers in the NFL with 1,113 yards and four touchdowns. 

"He's made a lot of great plays that have really positively affected the outcome of games for our offense, but he's doing a lot of things in the run game," McVay said. "There's a physical nature at which he plays this game … that enables you to do a lot more than what you would otherwise. So, there's a toughness both with and without the ball, there's a football IQ and acumen that he possesses, and there's a humility."

Nacua is not one of the fastest wideouts in the NFL, but he does run crisp routes and knows how to create separation downfield before making a catch with physicality against defensive backs. His route running helps him excel against zone coverage, giving him a win rate of 55% in such situations.

His win rate against man coverage, however, is far lower at 37.7%. He had one of his best performances against the Cleveland Brown, who run more man coverage than any team in the league, but just two of his four catches were against that type of coverage, according Pro Football Focus.

The Commanders, per PFF, are also a team that relies on man coverage more than most, using it on 28.2% of their snaps. Considering Nacua's lack of success in man-to-man situations, it's reasonable to expect Washington will try to lock the rookie down with bigger options like Benjamin St-Juste or **Kendall Fuller.**

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