Remember the Los Angeles Rams? That Super Bowl team from less than two years ago? No? They’ve vanished into oblivion, apparently.
That’s the overwhelming feeling that comes with the territory of Sean McVay’s side in 2020. The ‘has-beens’.
“They had their chance”. “Back to the drawing board”. “McVay has been found out”.
These, are among just a few of the unusual and over the top recent takes surrounding the Rams.
They are the forgotten about team in the NFC West with some even believing that the Arizona Cardinals have a stronger chance of taking the divisional crown next season.
Listen, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I’m not here to tell you otherwise, however, if you are among the many that hold this opinion, you’re wrong.
“The Rams were bad in 2019”. That was the general consensus, right?
It certainly didn’t go as planned in LA, nobody is disputing that. Despite finishing with a positive record for the third straight season under Sean McVay, 9-7 proved one win too short for a play-off appearance this time around.
An inconsistent campaign coming off of the back of a touchdown-less Super Bowl was always going to send alarm bells ringing for fans of the Rams. Add to that the hugely noticeable improvement of their rivals and you can sympathise, to an extent, with the growing frustration.
However, nobody seems to be taking last year and spinning it as a positive – which ultimately it was, for so many reasons.
Accepting Mistakes & Moving Forward
One of the biggest flaws of the Rams as a franchise in recent years is their willingness to throw huge contracts about like they are going out of fashion.
In short, yes, I’m talking about Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks.
In 2017, the Rams made Gurley the highest paid running-back in NFL history when they awarded him a four year $60m extension that included $45m in guarantees.
Just one year later, they then did the exact same for journeyman wide-receiver Cooks despite him having never (at that point) having played a snap for the team. They awarded the former first round draft pick with an $80m five-year contract extension.
Neither player can be blamed for the contracts they were given but from a back-room perspective, they were both unforgivable.
Fast-forward to the 2019 season and Gurley had developed a never ending knee problem and Cooks spent more time concussed than on the field. Upon conclusion of the campaign, Gurley was cut and Cooks was traded to the Houston Texans.
That’s a lot of wasted money.
So why is this a positive? Well, hopefully lessons should have been learned and both the back-room staff members and McVay will be more knowledgeable for it moving forward.
As above, both were pretty much ineffective throughout the 2019 season. Both proved injury prone and their wages were ultimately hindering the team rather than helping.
Following their exit, Rams’ cap space now looks a lot more promising in 2021 with it actually nearing the $50m mark.
Replacements have been brought in in the 2020 draft. Cam Akers has been touted as a star and could well take up the position of RB1 instantaneously and rookie receiver Van Jefferson will learn enormous amounts from the likes of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
The exit of Cooks and in particular Gurley are sad ones from a heart rather than head perspective, however, the team now looks in a much more stable position without them than with.
Debunking the “Terrible O-Line” Myth
Did you know, according to *extensive research, there are a high volume of children belonging to Rams fans, football journalists and NFL analysts that are saying ‘Rams’ O Line Sucks’ as their first words?
*absolutely no research at all, this is complete nonsense
Nevertheless, this has become one of the most tedious arguments of all time and it has become fashionable to agree with it – even I was a victim of this in the early stages.
I have some breaking news for you, though, Rams’ O-Line does not suck.
The truth is, McVay must have felt like he had made a deal with the devil in exchange for making a Super Bowl at the end of the 2018 season because the injury luck across his roster was among the worst in the NFL.
Between the Super Bowl and the start of the 2019 campaign, no real changes had been made to the Rams’ roster other than to the O-Line with two out and two in. That was always going to take some gelling time on the field.
However, that time was never allowed.
Due to injuries, by week 11 of the regular season only one starter remained in his natural position, Andrew Whitworth.
Austin Blythe moved over to center in place of Brian Allen, Bobby Evans stepped in at right tackle for Rob Havenstein and Austin Corbett got the start at left guard. David Edwards lined up at right guard and Whitworth assumed his place at left tackle.
The Rams were essentially playing with an O-Line that were either out of position, completely new to the team or made up of mostly rookies for more than half a season, yet staggeringly, the stats still weren’t that bad.
In 2019, which offensive line allowed the fewest sacks (22) in the entirety of the NFL? Not Pittsburgh Steelers, not the New England Patriots – that’s right, that shoddy Rams’ line.
Yes, the run blocking wasn’t nearly as impressive but it still wasn’t the worst and opposition teams ‘stuffing’ the run was hardly helped by an ineffective/injured running-back.
Despite a sporadic line, once a bit of consistency was formed at the back end of the season, the Rams’ actually graded as one of the best in the league.
Aside from the outlier games against the Baltimore Ravens in week 11 and Dallas Cowboys in week 15, turfshowtimes didn’t have the Rams’ O-Line graded below a B once after week 10.
The younger members of the line now have vital NFL experience under their belt and with slightly better luck on the injury front, this could prove to be a very strong line once again going forward.
Without going into too much detail on the draft, why do you think McVay and co only drafted one offensive line-man and only did so in round seven, pick 250?
Because they aren’t worried about it.
Who are you going to trust – American football professionals at the very top of their game or little Jimmy who keeps tweeting @RamsNFL telling them to fix it? I’ll leave that one to you.
Arguably the best division in football and it is one of the more viable arguments for Rams not doing so well in 2020, however, it’s not just a difficult division for Los Angeles, it’s difficult for everyone involved.
Also, is it really as strong as it was in 2019? Arizona have improved no doubt, but perhaps it could be said that Seattle and San Francisco have worsened.
The Seahawks were good not great over the course of last season and a lot of their wins simply came down to the brilliance of Russell Wilson rather than the excellence of the team as a whole.
McVay’s side dominated Pete Carroll’s when the teams last met and yet it’s the latter that are talked about when it comes to challenging the Niners for top spot?
The Rams already hold a very strong record against Seattle in recent years and nothing convinces me that that will change in 2020.
There’s no doubt on the other hand that the Red and Gold provide a completely different challenge but the Rams proved that they were more than a match for them when they met in week 16.
The Niners won that game by a field-goal but should have never got the chance had it not been for a silly defensive penalty from LA with seconds to go.
Kyle Shanahan did an outstanding job last season and his team will once again prove to be one of the strongest in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively, though, they have lost big names.
Emmanuel Sanders was a key cog that finished off their wheel last year but instead of re-signing, has decided to take up a new venture in New Orleans.
The running game which is so vital in San Francisco will be dealt a blow with Matt Breida’s move to Miami and despite them trading for Trent Williams you can not replace the mix of talent and leadership that the retirement of legendary Offensive Tackle Joe Staley leaves.
Arizona will be a much stronger competitor in 2020 but are still probably a year or two away from being one of the top dogs so the division looks a lot more flexible than most are suggesting.
Is the West tough? Of course it is. Should the Rams be fearing anyone within it? Absolutely not.
Star Studded Squad
It seems to have slipped the minds of many that this squad is still full of some huge name stars so I’m here to help.
The Rams have the best player in the NFL in Aaron Donald, it’s more of a fact than an opinion at this point, even PFF said so. Any team with Donald on their side is going to bring fear to its opponents.
Jalen Ramsey will be entering his first full season in Los Angeles and will be eager to show his worth.
Jared Goff has shown glimpses of the first round player the Rams thought they had drafted in 2016 and 2020 will prove a huge year for him.
Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are one of the best wide receiver duos in the league. Woods is consistently great and Kupp finished second in the entire NFL for touchdowns scored in 2019.
Add to that the rising stars that are John Johnson III, Samson Ebukam and the ever improving Tyler Higbee, things don’t look all too bleak.
Maybe the most important point of them all, the Rams finished 9-7. They didn’t finish 7-9, they didn’t even finish 8-8, they finished 9-7 but with the negative reaction surrounding them, you’d be forgiven for thinking we had teleported back in time to the Jeff Fisher days.
It wasn’t what anyone expected but it was hardly disastrous.
They had a bad season, below expectations and yet still finished positive and now you have experts predicting McVay’s side to struggle to get five/six wins? Nonsensical.
I mentioned earlier the silly penalty that cost them the game against the Niners, well, it wasn’t the only “nearly” game.
The usually ever-reliable Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field-goal to win the game against the Hawks in week 5 but hooked it just right of the post.
If those two things go in the Rams’ favour, the record suddenly sits at 11-5 and they comfortably seal a play-off place with none of this ever being spoken about.
There are fine margins in football and this only proves it. Two plays were the difference between a play-off campaign and an early off-season.
On another year, those two plays could have been the difference between staff members keeping their job or being sacked.
But it’s these fine margins that need to be taken into account when making these big decisions.
It’s these fine margins that need to be thought about before you start throwing strong takes about because you heard someone say it on a podcast.
It’s on a podcast so it must be true, right?
You’re welcome to carry on overlooking and under-appreciating the Rams and maybe you’re even more likely to do so after listening to me rabbit on for an unholy amount of words.
Carry on sleeping on this LA team if you wish, maybe just do so with one eye open. You might be surprised.