For the last five seasons, the Los Angeles (formerly St. Louis) Rams have been downright mediocre. Under recently fired head coach, Jeff Fisher, the Rams have gone 31-45 for a win percentage of .409.
The Rams mediocrity became so infamous that even Fisher alluded to his team’s “7-9 bull@#$t” during the team’s appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last season. For a team that features some top-flight talent on its roster, the Rams have the capability to make a splash this upcoming season.
After relieving Fisher of his duties in the middle of the 2016 season, the Rams brought in new Head Coach Sean McVay, formerly of the Washington Redskins. During his last season as Offensive Coordinator in Washington, the team became a top 5 offense in terms of Offensive Efficiency according to Football Outsiders.
Under McVay, Washington Quarterback, Kirk Cousins had a stellar 2016 season which saw him finish in the top 3 for passing yards, yards per game, and QB value as well as being named to his first Pro Bowl.
Along with McVay is Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur who served as QB Coach in Washington where he saw Robert Griffin III win Rookie of the Year, as well as last season in Atlanta where Matt Ryan won MVP. The belief is that McVay and LeFleur’s handling of Cousins and Ryan will translate to success for the Rams’ young QB, Jared Goff.
Goff was the number 1 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft out of Cal. The Rams traded a slew of draft picks including their 1st rounders in 2016 as well as 2017 to acquire Goff. Goff came to the Rams with a target on his back and his slow development didn’t allow him to see his first NFL start until the final seven games of the 2016 season where he went 0-7.
During his three seasons at Cal, Goff put up great passing stats. Goff’s resume of 12,195 passing yards and 96 touchdowns was good enough to make the new coaching staff excited for the potential that lies within.
“This is a guy we believe in,” McVay said during his introductory press conference. “We’re encouraged and excited about developing him.”
Not only does the Rams’ offense have the potential of Goff to work with, they have a proven star in Running Back Todd Gurley. Taken as the 10th pick in the 2015 Draft, Gurley was a force right out of the gate. During his rookie campaign, Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 TD’s in only 13 games. Gurley would go on to be voted to the Pro Bowl as well as win the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award. 2016 saw a bit of a sophomore slump for Gurley who rushed for only 885 yards and 6 TD’s while being the focal point for opposing defenses. Gurley also had to run behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the league, averaging less than 1 yard/carry into the 2nd level of the defense.
What the Rams do have to be optimistic about is the impact of new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. Phillips most recently was the DC for the Denver Broncos who won Super Bowl 50. The Denver defense finished at the top of the NFL in Defensive Efficiency in both 2015 and 2016, the only years that Phillips was the team’s DC. On paper, Phillips scheme should have a major impact on the Rams already solid defensive line, led by superstar Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald.
Donald has been an absolute beast in the middle for the Rams. In three seasons out of Pitt, Donald has totaled 116 tackles and 28 sacks while being elected to the Pro Bowl three times as well as being named to the All-Pro Team twice. Some have even called Donald “the best player in all of football”.
In 2016, the Rams defensive line ranked #1 against the run as well as #1 in Stuff Percentage which means “Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage” (FO).
Where the Rams defense struggled was rushing the passer. They plummet to 29th in 2016 with only 31 sacks and 30th in Open Field Yards which means “Yards earned by opposing running backs against this team more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries” (FO). Phillips’ Denver defense ranked 1st in 2nd Level Yards, 2nd in pass rushing with 42 sacks as well as 7th in Open Field Yards. On paper, the addition of Phillips’ scheme alone should boost the Rams’ pass rushing production. The goal will be to find an edge rusher on the team (possibly Defensive End Robert Quinn) or look elsewhere for someone who can play the role that DeMarcus Ware did so well for Phillips and the Broncos.
Aside from bringing in a new coaching staff, the Rams made some quality signings this offseason with a pair of former USC Trojans (who share a field with the Rams until the new stadium is built).
Robert Woods has been a productive Wide Receiver for the Buffalo Bills during his career. Last season, Woods caught 51 passes for 613 yards. Those numbers would have made him the second most productive WR for the Rams in 2016, behind only Kenny Britt whom the team let go this offseason. The Rams also added Defensive Back Nickell Robey-Coleman who should help the Rams’ secondary which finished 20th in Defensive Efficiency in 2016.
The upcoming draft will be a big step in the direction of this franchise. After trading their 2017 1st round pick for Goff, the Rams do not select until the 2nd round (37th overall). These later picks will have to be used to plug gaping holes in the offensive line to provide more security for Goff as well as running lanes for Gurley. Pass rushing will also be a concern for this team if Phillips’ defense is going to be able to operate as we know it can.
With all of the pieces in place, will this team be ready to take the next step, or will it long for the days of 7-9? This Rams team has all of the tools to be able to succeed this upcoming season. McVay and his offensive staff have the capability to mold Goff into an efficient QB. Gurley has the skills to return to his rookie form provided that this O-line can block for him. The defensive line is as formidable as they come with Aaron Donald playing under Phillips. With the rest of the NFC West on the decline, there is no reason why the Rams cannot make their mark on the league.