INGLEWOOD — Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said he was excited to play in a game, but it was apparent he wasn’t in the mood to exchange pleasantries to start his news conference Tuesday.
Ramsey was brief and spoke in a low tone until he was asked about Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. That’s when Ramsey truly confirmed that he’s excited for football.
“I ain’t going to lie to y’all,” Ramsey said after speaking up. “I’m not about to sit up here and boost him up like y’all might want. Maybe other people are doing (that). I ain’t doing that. I ain’t going to be extra.”
Ramsey refusing to give Allen and the Bills more preseason hype was his way of saying that he’s locked in mentally for this Thursday night showdown between two Super Bowl contenders to kick off the 2022 NFL regular season at SoFi Stadium.
“They’re good, but we’re good too over here,” Ramsey added. “We’ll see him (Allen) on Thursday.”
They are both good teams, but only one is the reigning champion, and perhaps Ramsey is a bit annoyed about the outsiders being quick to crown the Buffalo as this season’s projected champion. The Bills, the team from New York flying across the country, are favored by 2 ½ points at most sportsbooks in Las Vegas.
There’s also a backstory between Ramsey and Allen, the preseason favorite to win MVP. Ramsey called Allen “trash” in an infamous 2018 interview with GQ and said the Bills made a “stupid” decision by drafting Allen seventh overall that year.
Ramsey, obviously, was wrong about Allen and he has changed his tune on him, but he’s a fiery competitor and being overlooked might be the motivation for a team seeking to repeat as champion for the first time since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots.
“Got respect for (Allen),” Ramsey said, “but I got more respect for the game and in the way that I prepare, and the way my teammates (have) been preparing and our trust and belief in each other. I’ll boost us up. I’ll talk about us and our preparation.”
Now that mutual respect has been established, how do you contain Allen? He probably has the strongest arm in the NFL, can create off-script plays downfield, and oh, he’s 6-foot-5 with mobility that rivals Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
When presented the grand question this week, many members of the Rams responded by saying stick to the “plaster” rules.
“If you don’t know what it is,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said about the plaster rules, “once a play breaks down, you get to that second play. I call it the second play. But when that second play starts within that play, you better be sure enough that you’re on your guy or close enough sitting where you’re supposed to be because if you’re not, (Allen will) find him.
“We’ve seen it a bunch of times. He did it on the fourth play of the preseason game versus Denver. He stepped up in the pocket, retreated, came back, looked, got his face squared away and launched the ball down the field when a whole player or middle field player fell asleep. Those are things that can’t happen.”
Rams safety Nick Scott said it’s especially important to trust their plaster rules when Allen goes on the move to create plays with his talented receivers trio of Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie.
“Find the nearest guy to you,” Scott said. “Make sure he’s not making plays on the run. He’s probably one of the best in the league at doing that.”
The Bills have said they’ll reduce Allen’s designed runs this season to keep him safe, but middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who’ll make his Rams debut Thursday, isn’t buying it because Allen’s mobility is what makes the offense a nightmare to defend. Wagner compared Allen to Cam Newton in his prime years with the Carolina Panthers.
“I think the biggest thing is the run game,” Wagner said. “It’s one thing when the quarterback runs, but it’s another thing when they design the runs for him because he’s that good at it. That’s the thing that you gotta be conscious of is they have a lot of misdirection stuff. When you think it’s going to the running back or you think it’s going to the receiver, but really it’s for him.”
That’s where Wagner comes in and why the Rams will likely remain one of the best defenses in the NFL, despite the departure of star pass rusher Von Miller, who left the Rams to sign with the Bills in free agency. Wagner will be tasked with sniffing out the misdirections and being the commander of the plaster rules as the second line of defense whenever Allen scrambles away from the pocket.
Wagner and second-year linebacker Ernest Jones will probably rush Allen often to assist outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Justin Hollins and to take advantage of the double teams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald will surely command.
In the secondary, eyes will be on Ramsey versus Diggs, a two-time Pro Bowler. This will be Ramsey’s first live action since undergoing shoulder surgery in June.
“Good enough,” Ramsey said when asked how the shoulder is feeling.
But this potential Super Bowl LVII preview isn’t all about Allen versus the Rams’ stout defense. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and his Rams’ offense is just as talented with wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, the team’s offensive prize of free agency. The Rams, however, won’t have third starting receiver Van Jefferson, who was ruled out with a knee injury. That will present an opportunity for Tutu Atwell, the team’s 2021 second-round pick.
“It was tough, man,” Atwell said about his rocky rookie season. “But everything happens for a reason. God put me in that position and it happened. Now look, it’s my time to shine and I’m gonna go shine.”
The spotlight has mostly been on the Bills in the lead-up to this Thursday night showdown. But the Bills’ preseason hype and the Rams’ championship banner that will hang from the SoFi Stadium roof will mean nothing come kickoff.
“It’s easy when you have great ambition to be legendary and elite,” Ramsey said. “It’s easier to turn that page and go strive for the next big thing.”