Our trek through the NFC West continues with a stop in the City of Angels, where the Los Angeles Rams look to regroup after coming up short in Super Bowl LIIII. In just his second season with the franchise, Sean McVay continued to write his own legend, as the young mastermind further cultivated the talent on hand, molding them into a bonafide powerhouse, rolling through the NFC with relative ease, up until they were narrowly defeated by the New England Patriots on the final Sunday of the Playoffs. However, with success comes greater expectations, and at this juncture anything short of the club’s first Lombardi Trophy since 1999 will be deemed as a failure. So heading into 2019, will McVay continue to set the new standard for Head Coaches? Will Jared Goff overcome his nightmare performance in the Super Bowl, and take the next step in his development? Will Todd Gurley return healthy from the bizarre knee injury that robbed him of his explosiveness in the Playoffs? Did the Rams in fact peak in 2018? Read on and find out…
The Next Step
2019 is a shaping up to be a crucial season for Jared Goff (64.9%, 4,668 YDS, 7.52 NY/A, 32 TD, 12 INT, 65.4 QBR) for a variety of reasons, as the fourth-year Quarterback is rapidly approaching what should be a lucrative contract extension for the former No. One Overall Pick. While there is little question that the Rams will ultimately keep him in house for the foreseeable future, the real issue here is whether or not he’s actually going to be worth the hefty price tag it will take to keep him. Since Sean McVay arrived in Los Angeles two years ago, Goff has been selected to a pair of Pro Bowls, completing 63.6% of his Attempts for an average of 273.9 Yards on 7.80 Net Yards per Attempt, with Sixty Touchdowns in comparison to Nineteen Interceptions, posting a Passer Rating of 100.8. While those numbers would place him in the upper echelon of Quarterbacks, he’s performed rather poorly in the Playoffs, completing just 55.0% of his Passes for an average of 242.8 Yards per Game on 5.78 Net Yards per Attempt, with as many Touchdowns as Interceptions (2) in four career starts. The problem here is that this guy may simply be a product of McVay’s system, particularly the prolific Rushing Attack revolving around Todd Gurley (who we’ll get into in a bit). Much of McVay’s Passing Attack is built on the premise of Play-Action, which Goff has greatly benefitted from. However, with Gurley rendered all but inert due to a knee injury late last season, Goff’s effectiveness in the Pocket diminished considerably, no more so than in the biggest game of his life: Super Bowl LIII. Granted, it wouldn’t have been the first time that Bill Belichick devised a gameplan to vex a Quarterback, but the 24-Year Old often looked like a deer in the headlights when he was forced to carry the Offense after New England took away the Running Game, and by extension the luxury of Play-Action. In the 3-13 defensive slugfest, Goff completed just 19-of-38 Passes for 229 Yards and an Interception, while taking Four Sacks for a loss of Thirty-One Yards. Furthermore, the Offense as a whole was downright dreadful, totaling just Fourteen First Downs, and 260 Total Yards (62 Yards via the Run), while converting a scant 3-of-13 Third Downs (23.1%). As he moves towards the next phase of his career, Goff is going to have evolve into a more effective Quarterback in the Pocket, one who is capable of beating defenses by simply dropping back and reading the coverages, because right now he’s making it too easy for his opponents to rattle him. That will be the difference between him being simply a Pro Bowl Signal-Caller, and an elite one.
The Missing Piece
For the Rams, their 2018 campaign could be divided into two separate halves: before and after Todd Gurley (256 CAR, 1,251 YDS, 4.9 Y/C, 17 TD) became hampered by a bulky knee. The 2017 Offensive Player of the Year served as the foundation of Los Angeles’ Offense, with their potent Play-Action attack being completely predicated on his exploits on the ground. Through the first twelve games of the season, Gurley averaged 97.9 Rushing Yards on a healthy 5.04 Yards per Carry, scoring Fifteen Touchdowns, while also reeling in Forty-Six Receptions for another 39.5 Yards and four more scores. During that span, his club went 11-1, averaging 34.9 Points per Game on a whopping 439.9 Total Yards. From there things slowed considerably for both the Tailback and the team, with Gurley missing the final two outings of the Regular Season and churning out just 47.2 Rushing Yards on 4.5 Yards per Carry with Four Touchdowns, while the Rams went 4-3 over the final seven games, including the Playoffs, averaging 23.9 Points per Game. Like Goff, Gurley struggled mightily in the Super Bowl, rushing for a mere Thirty-Five Yards on Ten Carries with One Reception for a loss of a yard. Indeed, the contrast was stark to say the least, for this guy’s activity fell off a cliff during that span; Gurley averaged 23.3 Touches during those first twelve games in comparison to only 14.0 in the five games he participated in over the final seven contests, and to be honest those numbers are bit inflated due to the 115 Yards on Sixteen Carries that he hung on the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Division Round of the Playoffs. Needless to say, if the Rams are going to take advantage of this championship window that they’re in, then they’re going to need the workhorse to be running optimally; Gurley led the league in Total Yards from Scrimmage in 2017 (2,093), and has topped the NFL in Total Touchdowns from Scrimmage over the past two years (40). Of course, maintaining that production is of all the more importance now that he signed a lucrative four-year, $57 Million Contract Extension, with $45 Million in Total Guarantees. Here’s to hoping he can stay healthy…
As poorly as their Offense performed in Super Bowl LIII, the only reason that the Rams remained within striking distance until the very end was due to the exploits of their Defense, which was outstanding given the circumstances. Now we’re completely aware that when it was all said and done, the Patriots compiled 407 Total Yards, including 154 via the Run, but that simple stat line really doesn’t do the job that Los Angeles did justice. First and foremost, they had to deal with the fact that their teammates on Offense couldn’t sustain a drive to save themselves, converting on a dismal 3-of-13 Third Downs, and possessing the football for a mere 26:50. This means that Wade Phillips’ charges were on the field for quite a while, folks, and for the majority of the game, they didn’t let that bother them one bit; New England wasn’t much better on Third Down, converting on 3-of-12 opportunities (25.0%), with the Rams forcing them to Punt on half of their first Ten Drives of the night, with three others ending in a Turnover or missed Field Goal. Eventually, they fell to attrition, but that performance served as a reminder as to what this unit is capable of when they play to their potential, which admittedly was rarely the case during the Regular Season in which they ranked Twentieth in Points Allowed (24.0) and Nineteenth in Total Defense (358.6). A big reason for that is the presence of one Aaron Donald (59 TKL, 25 TFL, 41 QBH, 20.5 SK, 4 FF, 2 FR, 1 PD), who became just the third player in NFL History to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. The explosive Defensive Tackle is a nightmare in the middle of the Defensive Line, bringing pressure right up the middle and preventing opposing Quarterbacks from comfortably stepping up in the Pocket. At 28-Years Old, there is little to reason that believe that he won’t make it three years in a row, with the four-time All-Pro leading the NFL in both Sacks (20.5) and Quarterback Hits (41) in 2018. It will be interesting to see whom the Rams line up next to him to occupy Blockers and keep him clean, for that used to be Ndamukong Suh (59 TKL, 4 TFL, 19 QBH, 4.5 SK, 2 FR, 4 PD), who in his lone season with club provided Donald with the luxury of relentlessly menacing Quarterbacks. However, Suh was allowed to leave via Free Agency due to financial concerns, with the 32-Year Old former Defensive Player eventually signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
2019 Forecast: 11-5
After coming oh, so close to earning their first Super Bowl Championship since the days of the “The Greatest Show on Turf”, the Los Angeles Rams should be considered one of the favorites to escape the NFC. The clear-cut favorites of the NFC West, this team remains talented enough on both sides of the ball to put together a run comparable to the one they produced in 2018. However, we doubt that things are going to be as easy for them this time around, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the Division won’t be a cakewalk, with both the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals looking improved after earning doormat status a year ago. Gurley’s health is also a major concern, for after last year’s campaign basically ended due to his balky knee, confidence in his ability to sustain a high volume of touches once more can’t be very high. And then there’s Goff, who given the relative health of his fellow Pro-Bowl teammate, must make the leap from being simply a really good Quarterback to the realm of the elite, for relying on Play-Action to get things done will only take him so far. With that said, McVay has proven to be one of the most strategically impressive offensive minds in the league, and given this team’s progress under him over the past two years, we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt that this group is still a ways away from being a finished product. While we don’t think they’ll win thirteen games again, they should be vying for home field in the NFC, which means they should be good enough to get back to Super Sunday in the proverbial cards fall correctly.