The Rams 2018-19 Season Falls Short of Immortality but the Ride Has Just Begun

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The Rams just suffered a loss on the biggest stage of them all, to arguably the greatest sports dynasty of all-time. The craziest thing is, they might have been the better team all year, they had the youngest coach to ever coach in a Super Bowl, they had the youngest NFC Champion QB and they became the first team to not score a touchdown in the Super Bowl since the 1971 Miami Dolphins. Many will look at this as a bad thing but the fact is, this organization two years ago was 4-12 and here they were defying the odds and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. The team they lost to? The New England Patriots. Does it sting for the same organization that saw their short-lived dynasty washed away in a blink of an eye by the same team that beat them 17 years later to the day? Absolutely. The fact is that sometimes, just because you think everything happens for a reason, you think that it’s all going to end happily ever after and when you believe the script is all written, you are in fact wrong. The obvious storybook way for Super Bowl LIII to go would have been for the Los Angeles Rams to dethrone the Patriots 17 years after they did just that to the St. Louis Rams. However, that’s not how Super Bowl Sunday went down, in fact, the Patriots ended up winning a game in which they outplayed the Rams 13-3 in what was a bizarre game, to say the least. 


How did it happen?


Faulty offensive play-calling and execution but you could make it as simple as Bill Belichick got the best of a young HC and a young QB that had their first taste of a Super Bowl game. Belichick put together a textbook game plan to stop young Jared Goff and the high-powered Rams offense. He employed double team assignments on Robert Woods, who was by in large the most reliable receiver on the squad and then he pressured the 24-year old QB into one of the worst games of his career. For Goff, it’s been worse before but with the magnitude of the game, you could see it was simply too much for him. Goff missed open receivers near the sideline, down the seam and in the flat. However, it wasn’t all Goff’s fault. Ironically, the offensive line that won the Ford Tough Series Offensive Line of the Year award decided to have their worst game of the year when it mattered the most. Whether that’s on the Rams offensive line or you want to credit the Patriots defense, the bottom line is Goff didn’t have much time to throw. Goff ended up making a big-time throw right in the bread basket of Brandin Cooks but the issue was Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots had his arm being held back and to make matters worse safety Duron Harmon was coming in for the big hit on Cooks which ultimately led to a game-clinching drop. It was only second down but it didn’t matter, because the next play Goff received pressure from every which way and decided to heave an ill-advised throw to the right side of the end zone which was an easy pick for Gilmore and what ultimately clinched the game for the Patriots. Besides Goff and the offensive line, the Rams running game was non-existent. The same rushing duo that ran all over the Cowboys impressive defense could not do anything against the Patriots. Of course, the Rams only ran Todd Gurley ten times and C.J. Anderson seven times. That was one of the questionable aspects of this game, a team that is predicated off of the play-action passing attack refused to establish the run to benefit and make things a little easier on Goff. What was even more surprising was the lack of usage of Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Todd Gurley and Josh Reynolds in the passing game. Goff went 19/38 and only threw the ball to five different targets which were beyond puzzling. Very seldom do you see teams move away from what got them to the Super Bowl in the first place and ultimately hang on to win, this was another example of not playing the game that got you there in the first place and losing. 

What about the other side of the ball?


It was one of the best performances Wade Phillips’ Rams defensive unit has displayed in a long time. The Rams offense stalled so badly that it led to nine Johnny Hekker punts. The thing that isn’t talked about here is how the Rams held onto a 3-3 game late into the third quarter when their offense continuously kept putting the defense back onto the field. It’s incredibly difficult to play up to your best level when you are constantly on the field and can’t get a breather. What was even more impressive is what the Rams defense did to Tom Brady who ended up having one legitimate throw that altered the game. Tip of the cap should go to guys like Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Nickell Robey-Coleman and John Johnson III in the secondary. That shouldn’t exclude players like Cory Littleton, Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Dante Fowler and John Franklin-Myers. Littleton gave the Rams the opportunity to grab the game by the horns and the offense failed to make much out of it, which at least led to the turnover taking a potential field goal off of the board. Franklin-Myers’ forced a fumble of Brady and gave the Rams an opportunity for another turnover. Suh and Donald penetrated the offensive line while Fowler used his speed and overall bend to put perimeter pressure on Brady. Littleton’s coverage and open-field tackling ability may have stolen the show on defense for the Rams. The team gave up 141 yards to Julian Edelman but that is exactly what Phillips was content with doing. Edelman’s stat-sheet awarded him with Super Bowl MVP and in a game that broke a record for the lowest scoring affair in NFL Super Bowl history, Edelman made his 10 catches look like 30 throughout the game. The Rams were fine letting him take those crossing routes and short dig routes because they ultimately had a plan to keep Brady and the Patriots out of the end zone which was something the Chargers failed to do on the first three possessions and obviously Kansas City failed to do in route to a home loss in overtime. Phillips’ defensive game plan was perfect for this game, the Rams defense just about always kept everything in front of them but the issue was simply, when you are playing not to give up the big play, you need the offense to put up points and they just simply did not answer the call in this game. 


What’s next?


While the Patriots prepare for their sixth Super Bowl celebration parade in Boston, Massachusetts, the Rams fly back home to Los Angeles greeted by die-hard fans that are truly appreciative of their work. Could that have been the Rams preparing for their second Super Bowl celebration and a parade in Los Angeles? Absolutely. The problem is that most Super Bowl’s are close games and any time New England is involved it’s always a close game. In those close games, two-to-three plays will win and lose you the game. The Patriots made three key plays, Tom Brady’s throw to Rob Gronkowski to set up a one-yard TD run for Sony Michel, Kyle Van Noy’s sack on third-down forcing the Rams to punt the football and likely take them out of field-goal range and of course the game-clinching interception by Stephon Gilmore after a desperation heave by Goff to the end zone. As for the Rams, the three plays they didn’t make were: Goff’s end zone throw in which he waited way too long to throw to a wide open Brandin Cooks in what should have been a TD, the Rams solid coverage but not solid enough on Gronkowski at the goal line and lastly, the big one, the tough drop by Cooks after Goff threw seemingly the same exact perfect throw that Brady made to Gronk one drive earlier. That was all she wrote, in reality, while the scoreboard shows 13-3, you could argue this could have been a larger lead for the Patriots if not for a missed field goal but you could also argue this game in actuality was really a one-score game up until the final seconds. Bottom line is that the Patriots made more plays than the Rams and regardless if it was one, two, three or even four plays, that’s sometimes all it comes down to. 

You have to imagine this will be used as more fuel to complete the mission next season for the Rams. Sean McVay likely will never let this go and the same goes for players like Jared Goff. When you have the youngest HC and a 24-year old QB going up against a mastermind in Bill Belichick and a future Hall of Fame QB in Tom Brady, it’s hard to win even playing at your best but you absolutely can have as many miscues as they had this game. McVay will only get better because of this game, just like Goff will only improve moving forward as he learns from these mistakes. The questionable thing is how does Todd Gurley even take this game because he’s by far the weirdest headline of the year. What is wrong with Gurley? It’s strange because he’s arguably the best offensive non-QB player in the game and was barely utilized in the Super Bowl of all games. The young players and coaches on this team and staff all had a taste of the Super Bowl, just think about Franklin-Myers who legitimately played less than 20 snaps on defense and was able to force a fumble on Brady. His first year and all he knows in the NFL is what it’s like to play in a Super Bowl. This can be used for vital experience. 


Off-season approaches


Any time you make a Super Bowl, you are going to get plucked via free agency or just in your coaching staff. The Rams saw that first-hand in their coaching staff after they lost Zac Taylor today to the Cincinnati Bengals officially to become their brand new Head coach. The Rams did also acquire the services of Wade Phillips’ kid Wes Phillips and will likely be a hotspot for free agents to sign to try and win a Championship. Suh came close after signing a one-year rental deal with the Rams to go after a Super Bowl ring. We already saw DeSean Jackson confess his feelings about wanting to team up with Sean McVay and reunite in Los Angeles during the Simms and Lefkoe Podcast. It goes to show you, the young coach in McVay, the rapid success and the overall talent are going to lure players the Rams likely would not have even gotten a free agency meeting with or a call back from.


Now, it’s the McVay era and the Rams established themselves as a team that is here to stay among the best. You watched as 2016 was the year the Rams were moving from St.Louis to Los Angeles and they were going to have everything documented on All or Nothing and for Hard Knocks. That team took a wrong turn after going 3-1 they lost every game besides the Jets pitiful matchup. The next season McVay comes to town and the Rams go 11-5 and the question then becomes “are the Rams for real?” and the interesting thing is they are but no one wants to believe in them yet until year two the team goes 13-3 and ends up in the Super Bowl. You can doubt McVay’s Rams all you want but they aren’t going away any time soon. There are deals to be made and work to be done in regards to re-signing or rather deciding whether to re-sign RB C.J. Anderson, LG Rodger Saffold, DT Ndamukong Suh, OLB Dante Fowler & FS LaMarcus Joyner and of course whether or not to make DT Michael Brockers, LB Mark Barron & Aqib Talib cap casualties. Then you have to look at adding players via free agency. As long as Wade comes back that will be year three installing his scheme and that’s really when you should expect to see his defense really take the next step. The Rams do not have a ton of cap space but they have many opportunities to free up cap space for this off-season. 


Once those are taken care of, you have to put together your draft board and start planning to draft players like the players you drafted last year. This year, the Rams have their first-round pick again but we will see if the Rams keep the 31st-overall pick or not. As you know, from seeing Everett, Kupp and Johnson III, the NFL Draft is kind of a huge deal. The Rams will find their players whether they keep their 1st-round pick or not.


2019 and beyond…


Let’s just skip ahead here. You do realize the Rams have one more season of Goff on a rookie (not including 5th-year option) deal. That rookie deal is going to add flexibility for the Rams to make a splash if they want to like they did in acquiring players like Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh. Most importantly, the Rams already “paid the man” Aaron Donald in the off-season so they don’t have to worry about losing the best defensive player in the NFL. Los Angeles also paid RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, RT Rob Havenstein and CB Nickell Robey-Coleman long-term. Should the Rams decide to add cap flexibility they could cut Brockers, Sullivan, and Barron and end up with cap space available total of $53M which would be enough to likely bring back Fowler, Suh and sign a FS or another defensive position player. In the next year later in 2020, the Rams would be looking at nearly $90M in available cap space with a roster cut of Mark Barron. However, in that case, Goff will be on the verge of either taking the fifth-year option or getting paid a large contract. You can likely take $16-$32M off that number and that’s really what you are looking at the Rams having available. That’s plenty of cap space and the Rams despite spending on quite a lot of players and paying their own guys, they still manipulate the cap well. 


The future is beyond bright for the Rams and quite honestly even if the Rams do lose their rentals, they will just add more. The key component here is not Goff, it may not even be Gurley or Cooks or Woods or Kupp or even Donald. They are all awesome but the bottom line is that if Sean McVay is on your team’s sideline as the Head coach, you are in good shape. Like previously mentioned, this was not the result the Rams wanted but it will help them in the long run. The Rams are far ahead of schedule for many and that’s thanks to the 33-year old boy wonder Sean McVay. Regardless who walks out of the building, McVay is going to give the Rams organization a chance for winning football and a playoff berth. McVay in 20 years might be the next Bill Belichick and could be in a lot more Super Bowls then before. 


Bottom line is this, the Super Bowl hurt many to see the Rams lose again to the Patriots of all teams, but the fact of the matter is that they aren’t going anywhere. They will not collapse like the others, this is a fixable core and even if the Rams do not bring everyone back, they could pull a Belichick and find best value players left available. McVay hasn’t coached in his last Super Bowl, he did coach in his first and that will help him grow even more. Expect greatness, expect excellence but most importantly expect this ride to continue as the Rams prepare to become the next dynasty following the Patriots reign of terror which is coming. We don’t know if the Rams will indeed become just that but they are going to try their damndest under Head coach Sean McVay. Sometimes football is about more than what goes on the field and McVay’s culture that he established is a catalyst for the wonderful and exotic things the Rams have already achieved. McVay’s ability to change the culture for the better and be the most intelligent offensive play-caller the Rams have had since Mike Martz puts the Rams in the driver’s seat to maintain this level of play which ultimately would prove them to survive the dreaded Super Bowl loss curse. 


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