Rams Haven’t Fallen on Their Sword Yet, Determined to Right the Ship

by Jake Ellenbogen
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The football season is almost over, and with that, a nice bucket of long-term playoff bets that are always fun to wager on, but with the LA Rams picking the wrong time to start trending backwards, they will definitely be an exciting pick, but only because their recent poor play makes the team an uncertain bet.  After the Saints lost to Dallas in Week 13, the Rams had a golden opportunity to secure the #1 seed in the NFC, ensuring the road to the Super Bowl didn’t travel through the Superdome. Instead, they’ve dropped two straight in concerning fashion. Jared Goff has looked shaky behind a regressing offensive line, getting pressured into six interceptions in the last two games, and the defense hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. While the D generated three INTs of its own against Chicago, they also surrendered 194 rushing yards and have just one sack in the last two games combined. The unit has fallen from 6th in defensive DVOA last year to 12th this season. If the offense doesn’t figure out sustain drives without Cooper Kupp, especially on 3rd down, there’s a good chance this team gets upended in the Divisional Playoffs again and there’s little value on their current +425 Super Bowl odds.

However, it’s not over, the Rams luckily have two games left and a simple win this Sunday versus the division rival Arizona Cardinals plus a Bears loss to the resilient San Francisco 49ers would clinch the Rams a top-two seed in the playoffs, thus clinching Home-field advantage in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. Of course, winning will be a lot easier said than done which came to fruition this past Sunday when the Rams blew an opportunity to beat the defending Super Bowl champions at home. As mentioned previously, Goff has looked shaky but the offensive line definitely can take some of the blame in that. While many would look to the loss of Cooper Kupp as the reason for the team’s recent struggles, there is much more than meets the eye. 

First off, the Rams simply do not have the rhythm on offense that they had the beginning of the year. For starters, Goff has had a tough time in the pocket since the Kansas City Chiefs game in which he threw for four touchdowns and ran for an additional touchdown. Goff, suffered a hit in the game versus the Chiefs, a hit that seemed different than any of his prior, a hit that looked like it may have legitimately injured him. Since that game, Goff has spiraled out of control: 72/130, 55% Completion Percentage, 2 TDs, 6 INTs and only 726 passing yards to his credit. That is not also including his recent five fumbles he’s put on the ground. It hasn’t been all just Goff though, 

The play-calling and game-planning has been off as well. Sean McVay went from a more balanced attack in the NFL to having his young QB set his career high in pass attempts. Todd Gurley is the straw that stirs the drink for the Rams offense, his ability in the run game opens up the play-action passing attack which also allows for the screen game to open up in which Gurley also excels at. Some could say since the Chiefs game, Gurley has battled some knee issues, not quite an injury that would sideline him for a game or long-term but enough to bother him and have McVay go to an alternative plan. Whether it was just poor game-management or injury, Gurley simply was not used to the extent he should be for this Rams offense and that’s a lot of the reason for the Rams offensive struggles. When you have an offense as complex as the Rams it really takes everything or rather all hands on deck to make it work like a charm. You can also factor in the absence of backup RB Malcolm Brown, who when called upon as looked the part of a top 20 starting running back in the league. 

The defense is rather underrated at this point in time. They give up big plays but in reality how much different are they than Gregg Williams’ “Bend don’t break” defense? They don’t blitz as much or as aggressively (probably because they have more success in a four-man rush) and they play their corners off-man almost all of the time. The defense may give up 194 yards on the ground in one game but they only gave up 15 in that game and forced three collective turnovers. Sometimes, it doesn’t always work out the way you would expect. This team is capable of beating anyone by any point margin if the offense and defense play at their best. The issue is, it hasn’t really happened. 

With the Rams having two teams left on their schedule that care more about the first-overall pick than making the playoffs, it’s a good opportunity to get back in the win column and potentially put a beatdown on both of them. The fact of the matter is that while the team has looked off the last two weeks they have also rallied back in games at the end. This Rams team always shows fight, always has a QB with the ability to make something happen even in a down game, has a RB that can break the game open on one run, has a coach that has won 22 games in his first 30 games, has a defense full of players that can get that turnover, has the greatest punter of all time, a kicker with the strongest leg in the sport, reliable receivers that can do it all and an offensive line that is capable of playing elite football. The Rams are never out of it, perhaps these past weeks have been more of a blessing than a curse. We will find out in the coming weeks, but this could be exactly the breakdown the Rams needed right before the playoffs to make sure they do not lose another game in the 2018-2019 season. 

Sure, the Rams may not end up with an MVP as that will surely go to Chiefs phenom QB Patrick Mahomes, but the Rams could just be holding up the Lombardi trophy in February and that will be all that matters. As for McVay, he’s continuously gotten better at every job, he’s shown the ability to improve in areas he struggles or lacks in and this season should be no different. The Rams during their “collapse” have scored more points than the Saints and have played the Lions, Bears and Eagles. One team was fighting desperately for the playoffs, one team is fighting for a first-round bye and the other team was fighting desperately to steal the division title. The Rams have also held the largest strength of schedule margin of any playoff team or fringe playoff team out there. It’s all going to come down to January football, but if the Rams can get the job done over the course of the next two weeks, they would finish 13-3 for the first time since the year they last won the Super Bowl and would set themselves up nicely with a first-round bye and only needing two straight wins to get to the big game. We have seen the “sky is falling” narrative cloud people’s judgment before but if you believe in that for a second this young Rams team coached and led by Sean McVay will sneak up on you just like they did when they announced their return back to football’s elite teams last season with a debut 11-5 record.

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