Monday Morning Rambling: Los Angeles Rams Get Production From Rookies

by Blaine Grisak
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With no first-round pick and limited cap space, the 2020 NFL Draft could not have been more crucial for general manager Les Snead and the Los Angeles Rams. The team lost big contributors in Dante Fowler, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, and Cory Littleton with little means to replace them.

Enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Arguably the second-most important draft class under Snead right behind 2016. The Rams started the draft by taking Cam Akers out of Florida State. Behind a porous offensive line, Akers still managed to find production with the Seminoles. On Sunday night, Akers carried the ball 14 times for 39 yards. His 14 carries ranked third among rookie running backs

Five picks later, the Rams replaced Cooks with Florida wide receiver, Van Jefferson. Jefferson proved that he can in fact be a deep threat for the offense. His first receptions was a 31-yard grab down the left sideline on 3rd-and-5 that led to a Sam Sloman field goal.

Fast forward to the sixth round, and it’s where Snead possibly made his best pick. Against the Cowboys, it wasn’t third-round safety Terrell Burgess, but sixth-rounder, Jordan Fuller, flying all over the field. Fuller led the Rams defense with eight tackles, including the most important of the game.

On 4th-and-3 with the Cowboys driving into Rams territory and trailing by three, Dak Prescott hit the rookie wide receiver, Cee Dee Lamb on an underneath crossing route right before the sticks. On the other side of the field Cowboys tight end, Dalton Schwartz, ran a short hitch route meant to essentially be a “pick” in the middle of the field and cause traffic. That was no match for Fuller. Schwartz executed perfectly, but Fuller’s play recognition allowed him to run around traffic and make the open field tackle on Lamb.

Despite the team spending a third-round pick on Burgess and already having Taylor Rapp as someone the team drafted last year, Fuller apparently outplayed both players in camp and could have a large role moving forward.

Lastly, after a shaky start in which he missed his first field goal attempt, rookie kicker Samuel Sloman went 2/3 on the night. His mental toughness coming back from the early miss from 29-yards out, can not be understated.

Terrell Lewis and Brycen Hopkins were inactive and Terrell Burgess played on special teams, but to get production from five rookies and win against a prime NFC contender shows good drafting.

I know it’s no longer Monday, but with a late-game and classes starting, this one comes a day late. Welcome to the Los Angeles Rams version of the Monday Morning Quarterback.  If you have any recommendations, feel free to tweet me @bgrisakDTR. Let’s begin!

New Extensions

Prior to the game, the Los Angeles Rams made two massive moves for the future. The team first signed Jalen Ramsey to the largest cornerback deal in NFL history before signing Cooper Kupp to a three-year extension. These are clearly two players that the Rams want to build around.

Let’s start with the Ramsey deal. This was a deal that the Rams absolutely had to get done. After trading two first-round picks for a player, you expect them to be with the team long-term. It was a big risk not to do it at the time of the trade, but it seemed like both sides were pretty confident that a deal would eventually get done.

Earlier this summer, the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins all upped one another as they signed Darius Slay, Xavien Howard, and Tre White to extensions. Jalen Ramsey blew those deals out of the water. The Rams reset the market for cornerbacks and made Ramsey the first-ever $20M cornerback. The previous high was White at $17.5M.

Almost immediately after the deal was done, there was already talk about how much the Rams would have saved had they done a deal when they traded for him last season. The answer to that question is not a lot. Ramsey shattered the cornerback market. This wasn’t a situation in which the Rams beat the previous deal by $1M.

The deals for Slay, White, and Howard did not have much of an effect if at all. None of them cracked the $20M mark. That seemed to always be the line for Ramsey. The Rams are paying Ramsey $3.5M more than the next highest-paid cornerback.

If anything, if anything, the Eagles, Bills, and Dolphins all saved money by getting their deals done when they did. Ramsey was always going to shatter the market. With the Bills extending White when they did, it probably saved them $3M-$5M.

With the Ramsey deal alongside Donald, the Rams now have:

        • The 4th and 6th highest-paid defensive players based on avg/yr.
        • The 2nd and 6th highest-paid defensive players based on total value.
        • The 2nd and 4th highest-paid defensive players based on guaranteed money.

It’s hard to say both players aren’t worth it. Donald was the highest-graded Rams player according to PFF on Sunday Night as he recorded one sack and continued to be disruptive. Ramsey meanwhile had a big pass-breakup on third down that was initially ruled a fumble and overturned and then forced an offensive pass interference on Dallas’ final drive to essentially end the game. The penalty, by the way, was the correct call.

As for the Cooper Kupp deal, it was initially worrisome that the Rams might overpay for Kupp. The NFL’s top slot wide receiver, Keenan Allen, is earning $20M per year, while Jarvis Landry is near $15M and Adam Thielen at $16.2M.

It would have been very easy for the Rams to pay Kupp upwards of $18M per year, but instead signed him to a three-year extension for $48M, averaging $16M per year. That’s not a bad deal at all.

The only repercussions of this will be what the Rams do with Robert Woods. According to Fox’s Jay Glazer, the Rams are looking to extend Woods. The issue with that is, it’s going to be very difficult to pay Kupp $16M and Woods $14-16M which is his value.

The Rams can cut Woods this offseason and pick up nearly $9M in cap space. After drafting Van Jefferson, it seems likely that he becomes Wood’s replacement. Like Woods, he’s a player that can play in the slot or outside, he has great hands, he’s fast, and he’s a great route-runner.

That’s not to say that’ what will happen. However, if Woods continues to take less than he’s worth and plays on a team-friendly deal of $10-12M, which is still higher than his current $6.8M, then a Woods long-term tenure in Los Angeles is more likely.

Staley’s Defense Shows Up

This is the group that some, including myself, may have been the wrongest about. The Los Angeles Rams defense encountered a lot of turnover over the offseason. The Los Angeles Rams made a risky move by letting defensive coordinator Wade Phillips go and bringing in a first-time coordinator in Brandon Staley.

On top of that, losing Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler Jr., Nickell Robey-Coleman, Eric Weddle, and Clay Matthews means that a lot of new faces would be on the field.

However, after the first half, this is a group that showed up and won the game for the Rams.

The Cowboys moved the ball with relative ease in the first half. After punting on the opening drive, Dallas went on three consecutive scoring drives that included two touchdowns and a missed field goal. In the first half, the Rams defense had given up 216 total yards of offense.

Fast forward to the second half, and the defense gave up nearly 100 yards less, 134, and the lone scoring drive came on a Jared Goff interception deep in Rams territory. The Cowboys had one drive in the second half go for more than 25 yards and it ended in no points after Fuller forced a turnover on downs.

The Rams defense didn’t force a turnover all night and did not get a ton of pressure from the outside linebackers. On Zeke Elliott’s first touchdown, he made the Rams linebackers look silly as Kiser missed a tackle, and Kenny Young overpursued.

However, the unit came into the second half as a whole and did a lot better. The Cowboys offense might be the most talented group that the Rams face all season, so holding them to 17 points in the opener was not an easy task.

Planning Around the Offensive Line

There aren’t many who would disagree that the Los Angeles Rams offensive line was the team’s kryptonite last season. However, after one game, it didn’t look much better as we get into 2020. It was pretty obvious that Sean McVay had an offensive gameplan to counter the Cowboys pass rush and hide the interior offensive line.

Early on, the Rams called screen after screen and used a ton of play-action to slow down the Cowboys pass rush. Eventually, however, that was no longer an option. When it was no longer an option, Goff missed Higbee in the seam as he was getting pressured, and then on the next play, after getting struck in the head, Goff threw an interception.

Noteboom was the main cause for the interception as the second-year guard did not have a good night returning from injury. This will be a situation to watch because the Rams have a guard in David Edwards that showed promise last season. Do the Rams continue with this current group to keep continuity or if Noteboom struggles, do they eventually make a change?

It’s a fair question as continuity is important and it will be a situation to monitor.

The Rams are eventually going to need Jared Goff to be able to drop back and throw the football. That’s going to require the five guys on the offensive line to provide protection. Unfortunately, they were not able to do that often on Sunday.

Rams Mailbag

Every week, I will answer a mailbag. Be sure to send your questions to @bgrisakDTR on Twitter. Our first comes from Greg.

A believe a lot of this comes with inconsistencies of just being a rookie. According to reports, the Los Angeles Rams liked Sloman better than their other two kickers because he really picked it up in the final week of camp and they liked his distance on kickoffs.

Of the five kickoffs on Sunday, three went for touchbacks. In college, Sloman’s touchback percentage was around 69%. As he continues to work his way into the NFL, we’ll see how he improves from Sunday.

As for his range? The Rams did a nice job of getting the ball deep into Cowboys territory. Unfortunately, they were unable to capitalize as much as we would like. Still, Sloman bounced back from the early miss to make his next two.

We’ll find out more about his range as the NFL season goes on, but from what was reported, apparently in the scrimmage on the long-field goals, the long kicks that Sloman was missing were wide, while Lirim’s were short.  Sloman was 4/5 on 50-yard field goals in college. Unfortunately, fans might be holding their breath all season when he trots onto the field.

This is an interesting question because there are so many layers to it. Here’s where I’ll start. It comes down to what the Rams ask of Goff and what the Cowboys ask of Prescott. There are two stats that I’ll throw out there. The first is OSM. The second will be depth of target.

Pro Football Network’s OSM measures how much of a player’s statistical production they were actually responsible for. A good OSM score is somewhere in the 30-40 range. Goff finished Week 1 with a 13 OSM score. That ranked third-worst among quarterbacks in the NFL’s opening weekend, ahead of only Jimmy Garoppolo and Drew Brees.

What this means is that Goff threw a lot of short passes and it was his receivers making a lot of the plays. The Rams didn’t ask a lot of their star quarterback. To prove this, Woods recorded a 39.28 OSM score which ranked eighth among wide receivers. Essentially, OSM doesn’t give Goff credit for a two-yard pass that Woods takes 25-yards.

The Rams trailed the Cowboys 14-13 at the end of the first half, but the offense had four straight scoring drives and would have led with a Sloman make. Despite four straight scoring drives, Goff’s average depth of target was 2.2 yards. In the entire game, Goff attempted just six throws more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Goff’s average intended air yards was 4.3 yards for the game. That mark was the shortest in the NFL.

With all of that being said, yes, Goff had more yards than Prescott and yes, it was Goff that got the win. However, at the end of the day, the Rams didn’t ask a whole lot of Jared Goff. The game plan was quick passes to counter the Cowboys pass rush. The Rams are going to need Goff to do a lot more if they want to keep winning. Eventually, defenses will stack the box to take away the short passes and the run game and make Goff beat them with his arm.

Looking at the Week Ahead

  • Sean McVay has never beaten Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. McVay is 0-2 against the Eagles head coach. Both games have been in Los Angeles.
  • This will be the second time in their careers that Carson Wentz and Jared Goff will go head to head and the first time since 2017. Wentz missed the 2018 game with an injury and left the 2017 meeting in the fourth quarter.
  • The Rams are -1`favorites on the road after defeating the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles blew a 17-point lead to Washington.
  • While all eyes will be on Jared Goff vs. Carson Wentz, the real matchups to watch will be the Rams defensive line vs. the Eagles offensive line. Philadelphia is without 3/5 of their starting offensive line and gave up eight sacks against Washington. Andre Dillard and Brandon Brooks are out long-term and Lane Johnson will enter Week 2 as questionable. Aaron Donald will have an opportunity to feast.
  • The Rams linebackers held their own against the Cowboys. However, this will they’ll go up against the best tight end duo in the NFL. This may be a game where you get Ramsey lined up against a tight end like Zach Ertz.

Prediction: Rams 24, Eagles 23

I could not have been more wrong with my prediction in the Cowboys game. Dallas was not able to run the ball as they did in last year’s meeting. I do think this is another low-scoring game with both teams struggling to get on the scoreboard early. The Eagles have already endured a slew of injuries. Meanwhile, the Los angeles Rams are basically completely healthy. The slight edge should go to the Rams.

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