Rams prepare to face Broncos’ stout defense, Russell Wilson on Christmas Day

INGLEWOOD — Jalen Ramsey knew he had Christmas gifts waiting for him in his father’s closet while growing up in Tennessee. He just didn’t know when he would get to open them because Lamont Ramsey, a firefighter, often worked on Christmas Day.

Sometimes Christmas was on Dec. 26 and other years Christmas fell on Dec. 24. But Jalen Ramsey wasn’t antsy to open the poorly hidden gifts in the closet nor was he a believer in leaving cookies out for Santa Claus.

The future Rams star cornerback just wanted all his loved ones to attend family time.

“If everybody was available, we’re getting together, we going to eat, but it didn’t matter which day it fell on,” Ramsey said. “It wasn’t anything set because my family still had responsibilities to get done. Grandma still had to go preach, Pops had to go to work on some Christmases, so it was whatever. We didn’t have like one thing set in stone.”

Similar to his father, Ramsey has to work on Christmas Day this year with the Rams hosting the Denver Broncos on Sunday at SoFi Stadium. Family time is scheduled for Dec. 26 at the Ramsey household with his three daughters eagerly waiting for daddy to finish with work.

“If I told them that Christmas was tomorrow, then they’ll think Christmas was tomorrow,” Ramsey said. “They (are) too young to know. … I’m going to just tell them Christmas is on the 26th, then we’re just going just do it that way.”

Before Ramsey unveils the gifts from his hiding spot, he’ll be aiming to get a win against a few familiar faces. Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett was the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator when Ramsey played in Jacksonville between 2016 to 2018. Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero coached Ramsey when he was a defensive backs coach for the Rams (2017-2021).

It will be a Christmas homecoming for Hackett and Evero, two Southern California natives. Evero grew up in Rancho Cucamonga and attended Alta Loma High School, and Hackett was born in Fullerton and is the son of Paul Hackett, the former USC football head coach.

The Broncos and Rams entered the season as Super Bowl contenders, but both have been eliminated from postseason contention with 4-10 records and broken offenses.

But the Broncos have one of the best defenses, a unit that’s only allowing 18.1 points per game, which ranked third best in the NFL entering Week 16. Ramsey gave Evero plenty of credit for the Broncos’ defensive success and vouched for him to get a head coaching job in the offseason.

“He wasn’t scared of confrontation,” Ramsey said about why he thinks Evero would do well as a head coach. “I’m laughing while saying that and that might sound different, but that’s a great quality to have as a leader. You can’t be scared to have sometimes difficult conversations and confrontations and maybe an argument or two because you’re trying to make sure that everybody’s goal is aligned the same. The same purpose going in week in and week out, the same goal and purpose for the season. He was definitely that guy for sure.

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“He wanted to make sure we were all on the same page and did anything and everything to make sure that was going to happen, whether it was easy conversations or tough conversations. I respected that a lot about him. Then obviously I think he’s brilliant, just his mind for the game and how he saw some things. … He was able to articulate that and explained that to the whole group really well and then we could kind of find terms to get on the same page.”

This Christmas Day matchup won’t have playoff implications, but it will feature two of the best cornerbacks in the NFL with Ramsey, a five-time Pro Bowler, and Denver’s Patrick Surtain, who was named to his first Pro Bowl this week.

Hackett sees many similarities between Ramsey and Surtain, the ninth overall pick in the 2021 draft.

“Both guys are very large human beings,” Hackett said. “Have great length, so just the physical traits. Their speed is very impressive, their ability to play all positions, left corner, right corner, boundary corner, field corner, in the nickel, in the dime, you see that, and then you see their intelligence and understanding of the game.

“Both Pat and Jalen do a great job of understanding route combinations, splits. They’re smart football players. They don’t panic. They have so many common things. I think that’s why both are such elite cornerbacks.”

Ramsey is a fan of Surtain’s game and advised his Rams’ offense to avoid his side of the field.

“I think he’s really good,” Ramsey said. “I’ve talked to him throughout the year a couple times. Obviously, Coach E (Evero) was our defensive backs coach last year and he went over there and he’s their defensive coordinator. I’ve talked to him a few times this year just about the game and about what’s going on with each other. (He’s) very good, I like his game. I think he’s a lockdown, shutdown corner. The future’s bright obviously at the position in my opinion. (He) got his first Pro Bowl nod so congrats to him.

“He’s asked to do some of the similar things that I’m asked to do here in this defense just at the corner spot. I know how tough that is in this defense, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I think he’s good. I hope he doesn’t do too much to hurt us on Sunday. Me personally, I wouldn’t go at him much. He’s a really, really good player in my opinion.”

Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield and a young receiving trio of Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell and Brandon Powell will be tasked with making plays against Surtain and the Broncos’ standout defense.

It’s been a struggle for the Rams to generate impact plays this season, with four different starting quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford, Mayfield, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins) and several injuries to key players. Stafford and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson are on injured reserve and defensive lineman Aaron Donald will be out Sunday for the Rams’ defense.

The Broncos might be the only team in the NFL that can relate to the Rams’ offensive issues this season. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson hasn’t established an offensive identity during his first season in Denver after spending the past 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and playing twice a year against the Rams as NFC West rivals.

“He’s a guy that you know too well to know what he’s capable of,” Rams coach Sean McVay said about Wilson. “He’s always been a guy that’s motivated to play at a really high level.”

Ramsey is also expecting to see the same elusive Wilson who’s capable of generating downfield plays.

“He’s the same player,” Ramsey said. “Obviously, they’ve been going through struggles this year offensively a little bit, but he’s still able to make plays, still able to extend plays, still able to get outside of the pocket.”

Ramsey will be aiming to get a few presents from Wilson in the form of turnovers before spending quality time with his loved ones on Christmas.

“It ain’t nobody coming through no chimney,” Ramsey said. “That’s daddy (who brought the gifts), for sure. But, nah, it was always just enjoyable.”

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