In the not-too-distant NFL past, Sam Darnold would not have had any semblance of an in-season return to his old stomping grounds, since the Jets and no other NFL team visited Los Angeles in the days before a game because LA had no teams once the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season.
But the Rams returned to their SoCal roots in 2016 and the San Diego Chargers migrated to La-La Land for the '17 season. And this is the season the Jets get to play both teams, in the same SoFi Stadium venue, in less than a month.
Thus, Darnold has the chance to do a minimal amount of homecoming not far from his San Clemente, CA, roots and in the Inglewood suburb next door to the Southern Cal campus where he played his home college games.
"Yeah, obviously, I marked this one down, this one and Seattle," Darnold said this past week as he and the Jets prepared for their second West Coast trip in eight days, following up last week's game at the Seahawks with today's game against the Rams. "I was looking forward to going home, seeing some family if possible, but obviously that's not a thing. But we are looking forward to going there and playing a good team and having that opportunity."
The pregame comparisons for Darnold & Co. won't be favorable for the 0-13 Jets. Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, has had his physical, victory and statistical struggles this season. Yet he maintains his positive approach to the season and he should have his three starting wideouts in Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and rookie Denzel Mims working with him as the Jets try to take down Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the '16 draft, and the 9-4 Rams, who have designs on making the NFC's playoff grid.
See Top Photos from Pregame Before the Week 15 Matchup Against the Rams
But even if Darnold and his offense can catch some kind of spark after their fourth touchdown-less outing of the season against the 'Hawks, they'll need help. In particular, two young Jets could either be in the spotlight or on the spot as this game unfolds, all because of the NFL's premier D-lineman, Aaron Donald.
Donald leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks this season, with three of them coming on stripsacks. And two weeks after Darnold lost a pair of strips against Las Vegas, he'll need to be extra mindful in the pocket behind his No. 1 rookie draft pick, LT Mekhi Becton, who will run into Donald for a good part of the afternoon.
The other young front and center Jet is Quinnen Williams, the third pick in last year's draft who's started to come into his own in his NFL sophomore season. He leads the Jets defenders in multiple categories, including tackles for loss/no gain (11.0) and sacks (6.0). His numbers aren't quite up to Donald's level, and this game is surely not a battle between Williams and Donald.
But if the Jets are to be competitive today, they'll need Darnold behind Becton and friends to have their positive moments on offense while Williams and the defense must try to slow the Rams running game (something they didn't do well at Seattle) and turn Goff's offense, especially his screen game with WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, one-dimensional.
The Jets get K Sam Ficken back from his second three-game absence due to a groin injury but have lost DL Folorunso Fatukasi for a game due to COVID close-contact regulations. They have announced the practice squad elevations of DL Tanzel Smart and LB Sharif Finch and the COVID elevation of LB Noah Dawkins for Fatukasi.
Here is the Jets' six-player inactive list today:
- QB James Morgan
- WR Vyncint Smith
- DB Elijah Campbell
- TE Ross Travis
- OL Cameron Clark
- WR Lawrence Cager
And the Rams have a four-man inactives list for this game:
- RB Raymond Calais
- RB Xavier Jones
- LB Terrell Lewis
- WR Trishton Jackson