Los Angeles Rams 2019 season preview
By Scott Geelan
A one sided Super Bowl loss is not the way any team wants to start its offseason. A one sided Super Bowl loss where your supposedly high powered offense is held to three points is particularly troubling. Nevertheless, the Rams showed their faith in the project led by Head Coach Sean McVay and GM Les Snead by extending the duo through 2023. The nature of the team’s bounce back year will go a long way to showing whether that was the right move.
Super Bowl winners and runners up tend to experience similar offseasons. A lot of their players end up leaving and signing elsewhere. Nothing raises your value and profile like being on television in January, and teams struggle to retain the talent at inflated prices.
The Rams lost several important pieces this offseason. Roger Saffold, Ndamukong Suh, LaMarcus Joyner and Todd Gurley’s replacement C.J. Anderson all departed for new franchises. Given the team clearly loaded up the roster in almost Super Bowl or bust fashion, this egress of talent is unsurprising. The Rams will be hoping the “or bust” aspect of their plan does not come to fruition.
Given the talent on the roster though, the Rams should be just fine. Eric Weddle arrived to replace Joyner, and he still has another few excellent years left. The signing of Clay Matthews represents another experienced head familiar with how a team maintains long term success. In the Draft meanwhile, the Rams added several intriguing prospects. Taylor Rapp, Darrell Henderson, David Long Jr. and Bobby Evans were all highly regarded prospects.
Seattle started it, the 49ers added to it, Detroit tweaked it, then Bill Belichick perfected it: The book on “How to Stop the Rams’ Offense” was a collaborative effort created over the course of the 2018 season.
The Rams are clearly talented but teams eventually started challenging their receivers and move tight ends to actually block at the point of attack against linebackers and safeties, simultaneously attacking their undermanned interior offensive line one on one. This shrunk the field, setting a hard edge and prevented the Rams getting any movement along the offensive line, crucial in their zone runs and jet sweeps. Losing Roger Saffold and John Sullivan weakens the Rams’ interior offensive line further. The Rams appeared to do little to replace them, instead trusting in house candidates.
Nevertheless, one would expect McVay to be able to adjust. This could be a defining year for his tenure. That adjustment will be made considerably easier if superstar running back Todd Gurley is healthy. Gurley’s game breaking ability and its value to the Rams cannot be ignored. Forcing teams to respect the interior ground game clearly opens them up to jet sweeps and the downfield route combinations that Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett thrive on. The latter is a massive breakout candidate, especially if Gurley is healthy and drawing the attention of the oppositions’ linebackers and safeties.
Meanwhile, the Rams will be hoping that their numerous draft picks spent along the offensive line in the past two seasons bear fruits. Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen have been tabbed to replace the aforementioned Saffold and Sullivan. Whilst McVay’s ability to adjust will go a long way towards dictating whether his extension was the right move, the success of the likes of Noteboom and Allen stepping into the breach will dictate the success of Les Snead’s extension.
Whilst the offense left the Super Bowl with their tails between their legs, the defense left Atlanta in credit. Led by indomitable superstar Aaron Donald and the ever-wily Wade Phillips, the Rams’ defense promises to continue to be strong. Donald ensures they will still have a pass rush all by himself, though he has talented bookends in Dante Fowler, Samson Ekuban and Clay Matthews. Perhaps second year player Ogbonnia Okoronkwo takes a step forward as well.
Cory Littleton is a Pro Bowler at linebacker. Weddle meanwhile, has the smarts at safety to disguise his intentions until after the snap of the ball and the talent to execute. Alongside John Johnson, the Rams have an immense safety duo and the team is similarly gifted at cornerback. Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Nickell Robey-Coleman are as good a starting trio as any around the league, provided Peters is locked in. When your defense is this good, you’ll be in with a chance of winning every week.
Sean McVay’s best decision as Rams HC may well have been hiring Wade Phillips to come with him. Whilst his offense may never return to the incredible levels we saw in 2017 and 2018, or at least, is unlikely to be quite so hot early in the 2019 season, his defense will ensure the Rams are in every game. McVay will surely adjust and get his offense back into the NFL’s upper echelons and the Rams, if their offensive line holds up, will return to the playoffs once again.
Record Prediction: 11-5