Rams get look at the chal­lenges they will face

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY GARY KLEIN

LOS AN­GE­LES

The Los An­ge­les Rams’ road to the Su­per Bowl last sea­son was not easy. It in­cluded a stretch of three con­sec­u­tive road games, a last-minute lo­ca­tion change for an In­ter­na­tional Se­ries game in Mex­ico and con­sec­u­tive De­cem­ber road trips to the cold Mid­west.

The travel might be tougher this sea­son.

Af­ter avoid­ing it com­pletely dur­ing 2018, the Rams will play four games in the East­ern time zone and a “home” game in Lon­don.

One thing is clear: The Su­per Bowl loss to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots did not di­min­ish their star power.

Quar­ter­back Jared Goff, run­ning back Todd Gur­ley, defensive tackle Aaron Don­ald, coach Sean McVay and com­pany once again are sched­uled for five prime-time games.

They will play on the road against the Cleve­land Browns on Sept. 22 on “Sun­day Night Foot­ball,” on the road against the Seat­tle Sea­hawks on Oct. 3 on “Thurs­day Night Foot­ball,” at home Nov. 17 against the Chicago Bears on “Sun­day Night Foot­ball,” at home Nov. 25 against the Bal­ti­more Ravens on “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” and at home Dec. 8 against the Sea­hawks on “Sun­day Night Foot­ball.”

The Rams fin­ished 13-3 last sea­son, and ad­vanced to the Su­per Bowl with play­off vic­to­ries over the Dal­las Cow­boys and New Orleans Saints. They will play both dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

McVay said this week that his play­ers would avoid the, “OK, you’ll be right back,’” to the Su­per Bowl line of think­ing.

“Our play­ers and our coaches are all smart enough to know that this league is too com­pet­i­tive,” McVay said. “Too many good play­ers and coaches for us not to con­tinue to fo­cus on get­ting bet­ter – look at the things that we can clean up from last year and then con­tinue to try to do the things that we did at a high level and do them even bet­ter this year.”

Here is a game-by-game look at the reg­u­lar-sea­son sched­ule:

Sept. 8: at Carolina, 10 a.m. – The Rams go across the coun­try to open against quar­ter­back Cam New­ton and run­ning back Chris­tian McCaf­frey. Sept. 15: New Orleans, 1:25 p.m. – Coach Sean Pay­ton and quar­ter­back Drew Brees are com­ing to the Col­i­seum, and we can only hope the new rule al­low­ing coaches to chal­lenge non­calls by of­fi­cials on pos­si­ble pass-in­ter­fer­ence in­frac­tions comes into play.

Sept. 22: at Cleve­land, 5:20 p.m. – Two years ago, no one would have pre­dicted a “Sun­day Night Foot­ball” matchup be­tween these teams. Now both are star-stud­ded – hello Odell Beckham Jr.! – and wor­thy of prime-time ex­po­sure.

Sept. 29: Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m. – New Buc­ca­neers coach Bruce Ari­ans knows the Rams well from his years with the Ari­zona Car­di­nals. The ques­tion: Can Ari­ans con­sis­tently bring out the best in quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston? Oct. 3: at Seat­tle, 5:20 p.m. – With a new $140 mil­lion con­tract in hand, quar­ter­back Rus­sell Wil­son will try to do some­thing he has not been able to ac­com­plish the past two sea­sons – finish ahead of the Rams. Oct. 13: San Fran­cisco, 1:05 p.m. – Quar­ter­back Jimmy Garop­polo is com­ing off a knee injury that side­lined him for the 49ers’ fi­nal 13 games last sea­son. The last time the Rams saw him, he beat Los An­ge­les’ re­serves in the 2017 fi­nale.

Oct. 20: at At­lanta, 10 a.m. – The Rams re­turn to Mer­cedes-Benz Sta­dium, where the of­fense stalled in their Su­per Bowl de­feat. The Fal­cons have not been the same since their Su­per Bowl melt­down against the Pa­tri­ots to end the 2016 sea­son.

Oct. 27: vs. Cincinnati at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium, Lon­don, 10 a.m. – Zac Tay­lor was a Rams assistant re­ceivers coach in 2017 and quar­ter­backs coach last sea­son. Now he’s the coach of the Ben­gals and ready to match wits with men­tor McVay.

Nov. 10: at Pitts­burgh, 1:25 p.m. – What might be the Rams’ only cold­weather game dou­bles as a home­com­ing for star defensive tackle Aaron Don­ald, who will get to play in front of fam­ily and friends.

Nov. 17: Chicago, 5:20 p.m. – It might not be as in­tense as when the Pack­ers came to town last sea­son, but Bears fans and Mid­west­ern trans­plants are ex­pected to turn out en masse to see their beloved team.

Nov. 25: Bal­ti­more, 5:15 p.m. – New Rams safety Eric Wed­dle will go against his for­mer team, which in­cludes new star safety Earl Thomas. Ravens quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son makes this a wor­thy “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” matchup.

Dec. 1: at Ari­zona, 1:05 p.m. – McVay of­fered Kliff Kings­bury a chance to join the Rams af­ter he was fired by Texas Tech. But Kings­bury opted for a very short stint at South­ern Cal­i­for­nia be­fore the Car­di­nals hired him to beat McVay.

Dec. 8: Seat­tle, 5:20 p.m. – The Sea­hawks rushed the ball ef­fec­tively late in 2018 and ad­vanced to the play­offs in what was re­garded as one of Pete Car­roll’s best coach­ing ef­forts. Can they do it again?

Dec. 15: at Dal­las, 1:25 p.m. – The Rams’ only game in the Cen­tral time zone comes against the de­fend­ing NFC East champions. Quar­ter­back Dak Prescott, run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott and newly rich defensive line­man De­mar­cus Lawrence seek to avenge last sea­son’s play­off de­feat.

Dec. 21 or 22: at San Fran­cisco, TBD – Coach Kyle Shana­han and gen­eral man­ager John Lynch went into their third sea­son at the helm of the 49ers with a 10-22 record. But if the 49ers truly turn around, this game might fig­ure promi­nently in the NFC West race.

Dec. 29: Ari­zona, 1:25 p.m. – The Rams will play the Car­di­nals for the sec­ond time dur­ing the fi­nal five weeks. Will they be able to rest their starters, as they did in the 2017 fi­nale at the Col­i­seum? Or will this game de­cide the di­vi­sion?

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