The Los Angeles Rams are the worst team in the NFC West. Or at least, that’s all I’ve heard this offseason. After a “disappointing” 9-7 season and multiple losses on the offensive and defensive side (Todd Gurley II, Brandin Cooks, Dante Fowler Jr., Corey Littleton, to name a few), things look rough. Now, with the additions of All-Pro WR Deandre Hopkins to the Cardinals and All-Pro safety Jamaal Adams to the Seahawks, plus the defending NFC champion 49ers looking to carry over their success, the Rams have their work cut out for them.
But is it really all that bad?
The 2020 Rams are coming off three straight seasons with a winning record. They have arguably the best cover CB in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey, one of only five WR corps with two 1,000 yard receivers, and more continuity on the offensive line than all of last season. HC Sean McVay had his worst season as a head coach last year and he STILL finished 9-7 in the toughest division in football. This team was a field goal away from taking Seattle’s place in the NFC wild-card game (Rams’ fans remember that horrific missed kick by Greg Zuerlein in Week 5). Am I missing something here?
Yes, the defense has taken a step back with all of the departures (both players and coaches). The LB corp is the biggest weakness, and it’s going to need some work — although, I do have a lot of faith that Leonard Floyd can be Fowler-lite on the outside. We already know the D-line is going to be just fine, with long-time DE/DT Michael Brockers coming back next to All-World Aaron Donald. New DC Brandon Staley is already impressing observers with his keen intellect and McVay-esque qualities. Throw in Ramsey, plus a now-healthy John Johnson III, and there should be zero doubts this defense can piece together a legit season.
So, with what should be a super-solid offense and a decent defense, why are the Rams predicted to finish last in the NFC West?
All Roads Lead to the QB
Jared Goff. That’s the argument. But why? He played behind one of the worst offensive lines last year, mostly due to injuries. My god, Austin Corbett was traded for and then started in the same week. Times were tough, people! Here’s the evidence:
Per @PFF in 2019:
Rams' OL sacks allowed: 25 (ranked 1st)
Rams' OL hurries allowed: 240 (ranked 31st)
I guess that's why they say sacks don't tell the whole story!
— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) September 2, 2020
Goff was tied for first in the NFL in pass attempts, yet he had only 22 touchdowns. That’s a 3.5% TD rate, which is well below the league average. His 2017 and 2018 TD rates were 5.9% and 5.7%, respectively, so you tell me which one is the anomaly. Barring injury, the Rams’ O-line can’t be worst than it was last year. And if it’s better than it was last year, consider a top-5 pass-catching corps of WR Robert Woods, WR Cooper Kupp, potential breakout WR Van Jefferson, solid WR3 Josh Reynolds, emerging TE Tyler Higbee, and the explosive Gerald Everett; why couldn’t Goff get back to his 2017-18 form?
Once McVay made the switch from 11 personnel to 12 personnel, the Rams won three of their last five games and the offense had a complete turnaround. Goff threw for 300-plus yards in three of those five games, one of which was in San Francisco — only the second time all year the 49ers defense gave up a 300-yard passing game.
Sure, Goff was bad at times. But when you realize just how bad the offensive line was (ranked 31st by PFF!), how can all of the blame be put on him? Put Jimmy Garoppolo behind that O-line and the 49ers are not going to be 13-3.
If those final five games last season are any indication of what’s to come with this Rams offense, the critics aren’t the only ones in for a big surprise.