THOUSAND OAKS — Rams middle linebacker Bobby Wagner doesn’t care how cold it’s going to be in Green Bay for the Monday night matchup against the Packers, it’s always no sleeves for him.
“I have a little warm shirt on, though,” Wagner said. “But outside of that, no sleeves.”
The weather forecast for Monday’s kickoff time at Lambeau Field is expected to be minus-20 degrees. If Wagner decides to run onto the field with sleeves, no one will question the All-Pro’s toughness.
Wagner, however, won’t be that one player who goes viral on social media for being shirtless in freezing conditions during warm-up drills.
“I am not,” Wagner said. “I’m not that dumb. There are limits, you can’t push it.”
Wagner and the Rams’ defense can’t afford to push it with a tough matchup against Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Rams don’t care about the Packers’ 5-8 record and Rodgers’ statistical decline this season. They’re still expecting Rodgers’ best with an inexperienced yet improving receiving corps.
“He looks like the amazing player that he’s always been,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I don’t think you can truly appreciate how special he is. … When you see him in person, the command, the comfort that he has of everything that’s going on relative to the 22 moving parts in between snaps, during snaps.”
Wagner compared his past battles with Rodgers to a mental game.
“It’s like chess,” Wagner said. “They’re watching you just like you’re watching them, so if you give something away, he’ll change it to a play that puts you in a tough position. Whenever you play a quarterback like him, it’s just fun to play against because it’s really like chess. You’re trying to figure out what he sees, what he checks to, get a feel for what their game plan is for this particular game. It’s fun.”
It’s been an adjustment for Rodgers this season to play without star receiver Davante Adams, who was traded from Green Bay to the Las Vegas Raiders this past offseason. Rookie Christian Watson has found his footing and the Packers will have a healthy receiving unit for the first time in weeks with the returns of veteran Randall Cobb and rookie Romeo Doubs.
“They can do a few things,” Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said about the Packers’ young receivers. “They are still kinda working through it and growing and finding that identity, but yeah, they can make plays.”
McVay had high praise for Watson, the second-round pick from North Dakota State.
“Explosive,” McVay said. “A guy who’s getting more and more comfortable. You can really see from that Dallas game on, this guy is a dangerous player. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. … He’s going to be a really good player. I know that they feel good about him and you see it on the tape.”
The Packers are going through growing pains, but the Rams still have plenty to worry about besides the cold weather in Green Bay.
“My mindset is the faster you make the play, the faster you get to the heaters,” Wagner said. “If you’re cold, then make a play, so we can get to the heaters.”
GAINES’ LIFE WITHOUT DONALD
Rams star defensive lineman Aaron Donald was ruled out for Monday’s game against the Packers and will miss his third consecutive game because of an ankle injury.
The interior of the Rams’ defensive line has been thin with Donald sidelined, A’Shawn Robinson out for the season with a torn meniscus, and now Marquise Copeland dealing with an ankle injury and out as well Monday.
Defensive lineman Greg Gaines has been tasked with picking up the slack on the field as a playmaker and leader of an inexperienced unit. Gaines has plenty to do, but he mentioned that there are a few positives from not having Donald on the field.
“It’s kinda interesting, though, because I’ve always rushed with Aaron, so we can kinda plan like a normal team now, like figure out where the protection is going to be, all that stuff, so new challenges,” Gaines said. “Everything we used to do was, ‘We’re running this to get Aaron free,’ so now we can just kinda run like normal defense stuff. We don’t have to do all that stuff, just to get one guy free.”
Gaines, a La Habra native, would rather have Donald on the field commanding the attention of multiple players, but he’s enjoyed his extra opportunities to rush the passer, which are rare when Donald is on the field because opposing teams focus on releasing the ball quicker when the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is around.
“I have to step into that leadership role being the oldest guy left,” Gaines said. “I wasn’t really ready for that yet, but it’s kinda how it goes, but obviously, I miss those dudes. They’re great players.”
Gaines has made the most of his opportunities and Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has taken notice.
“Greg was outstanding last week,” Morris said. “He got a game ball in our team meeting from Sean (McVay). I think his leadership, I think his sarcastic way of being his best version of himself for us is great for me. I love Greg, man. It’s like everything about him. He’s tough, he’s oftentimes looked past, but a lot of times he’s the meat and potatoes of what we do.
“He’s the thinker in that front line right now, with Aaron (Donald) being out particularly, even though when Aaron is in, he can still be that guy. The push that he provides for Aaron (Donald) and the push that they provide for each other I think is absolutely healthy.”
Center Brian Allen (knee) was listed as questionable on the final injury report for Week 15. Linebacker Travin Howard (hip), cornerback David Long (groin) and backup quarterback John Wolford (neck) were ruled out for Monday against the Packers.