California may be under an excessive heat warning, but inside SoFi Stadium on Thursday, September 8 after 5 p.m. Pacific, the only excessive heat that’ll be inside is the fireworks on display by both the Buffalo Bills and the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
Both aspiring Super Bowl 57 contenders will bring more heat on each other than what the thermostat reads out west. But the question is, which team can put the other on ice?
Better yet, what are five matchups that can alter the outcome for the Rams? Here’s a breakdown of some of the most pivotal matchups to watch for after kickoff:
No. 5) Troy Hill Versus Isaiah McKenzie
Noted in this Heavy on Rams story, signs are indicating the fleet-footed 5-foot-8, 174-pound slot wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie will play after nursing a groin injury.
Well, there’s a reason why the champs lured back fan favorite and beloved local star from Ventura, California Troy Hill: To handle these kind of speed matchups.
According to Pro Football Focus, the slot cornerback Hill has only allowed more than 100 yards receiving his side twice since 2018. And in his last appearance as a Ram in 2020, the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder didn’t allow more than 80 yards his alley, as opposing receivers only averaged 9.5 yards a catch versus him.
McKenzie is projected to play a Cole Beasley-type role for the Bills. Hill can help erase underneath targets against him. Plus, the Rams will want these kind of plays from Hill:
No. 4) Bobby Wagner Versus Dawson Knox
Already, Bobby Wagner spoke about the challenges Josh Allen brings at quarterback.
But another reason why Allen is so effective? His growing chemistry with the newly $53.6 million tight end Dawson Knox, who witnessed a career spike last season across all three major receiving categories.
The Bills, even with new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, will likely try to create mismatches like this tight end on cornerback battle with Knox:
But while Wagner gets credited for his stacks of tackles and cerebral side, he’s still one of the fastest linebackers in the league and has 11 career interceptions. In passing situations, look for the Rams to likely get Wagner locked into Knox to shadow Allen’s fast-growing underneath option.
No. 3) Jalen Ramsey Versus Stefon Diggs
For those who love a great receiver versus cornerback battle, this is your first treat.
Already, Diggs has spoken highly of Ramsey — mentioned in this Heavy on Bills story. However, the always vocal Ramsey showed a less praiseful side — telling the L.A. media he would rather talk about the champs than his matchup with Diggs.
The last time these two All-Pros squared off, Ramsey surrendered one catch for four yards. But Ramsey was the closest cover corner on Diggs’ lone touchdown. And the last time Ramsey played a game, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins combined for four catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
If Ramsey gets the better of this battle and prevents Diggs from making explosive plays early, the Bills will be at a major disadvantage. Buffalo clearly wants two things: Allen theatrics or a big play from Diggs to set the tone. Ramsey can erase that idea right away.
No. 2) Aaron Donald Versus the Bills’ Blindside Protection
Here’s why it’s worded that way: There’s no way defensive coordinator Raheem Morris keeps Aaron Donald in one spot.
He will align “A.D” anywhere to create trench disadvantages on the Bills’ side. So two of the more integral pieces to slow down Donald are left tackle Dion Dawkins (81.6 PFF grade in 2021) and former Ram Roger Saffold at left guard.
Dawkins, though, tied for the Bills lead in sacks allowed with four. Donald and Morris are expected to bring their version of a high pressure system in Southern California toward the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder. The 34-year-old Saffold, who played five seasons with Donald, may have to be the extra set of hands for Dawkins.
By the way, Donald delivered two sacks in the last meeting versus the Bills.
No. 1) Joe Noteboom/Rob Havenstein Versus Von Miller
Donald sealed the Rams win with his pressure of Joe Burrow. But Miller helped ignite the Rams with two sacks before that final moment.
Best believe the Bills will turn to Miller early and send him blitzing. And he will likely test the replacement for Andrew Whitworth Noteboom multiple times. Though it shouldn’t be ruled out that Havenstein and Miller will likely cross paths.
Miller knows how the Rams offense operates. Noteboom and Havenstein keeping him in check will allow Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay to crank up the heat on the Bills.