Can the Los Angeles Rams Handle the Pressure of High Expectations?

by CJ Barber
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The Los Angeles Rams have gotten used to carrying a rather large target on their back due to the success of the organization in the Sean McVay era. However, the target has never been as large as it is right now following the acquisition of quarterback Mathew Stafford.

The question everyone is asking this offseason is can the Rams, and Mathew Stafford, live up to the expectations? Nobody will truly know until the season gets underway. What we don’t need to speculate on is what this Rams team will take with them from the past.

Since McVay was hired, expectations for himself, his players, and his staff have been at levels the organization wasn’t accustomed to in prior years. This was a team that went over 10 years without a playoff appearance or winning record. Those expectations now come handed to you when a players put on the horns.

It’s safe to assume everyone in the building knows what they are getting into this year. The national media may even be paying a bit more attention to the Rams this offseason.

Crumbling to pressure in 2019

High expectations can bring great joy, but it can also bring great frustration, which is what the Los Angeles Rams experienced in the 2019 Super Bowl, and the year following.

The Rams started off 3-0 in 2019 beating Carolina, New Orleans and Cleveland, sharing the division lead with San Francisco. Despite being just three weeks into the season, expectations were still particularly high for the organization even in the face of a potentially dwindling Todd Gurley.

In Week 4, the Rams lost 55-40 to the Buccaneers that took the train off the rails. The Rams lost the next two games to division rivals Seattle and San Francisco. At 3-3 it was clear the Rams weren’t invincible, but the season was still young.

Two bounce back wins against Atlanta and Cincinnati were necessary for those expectations to potentially pop up again but another loss to Pittsburg in Week 10 following a bye week simmered them back down. The Los Angeles Rams likely needed to win 5 of their last 7 games in order to take a wild card spot. They won just four to finish 9-7. Had that been good enough to make the playoffs, maybe it would be seen as a success. They did not and so it is seen by most as a failure.

There was a lot that went into the struggles of the 2019 season for the Rams. This isn’t to imply that the Rams will fold under this year’s pressure, but rather explain why these failures in 2019 led to successes in 2020 and will lead to even more success in 2021.

Learning from the 2019 season

To begin, the ‘Todd Gurley problem’ was a big factor in both the Super Bowl run and the following season. It wasn’t necessarily because of Gurley himself, but a lingering knee injury that the organization was extremely quiet on. It’s fair to assume that because McVay has another talented young running back in Cam Akers, he is hesitant to overwork Akers early in his career, despite early success.

Next is the ‘Jared Goff problem’ which was more of a player/personal problem than in injury. We all know what happened next. Goff got injured which led to John Wolford starting in Week 17 and the Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks. Goff finished the game against the Seahawks, but was traded before the Super Bowl for Matthew Stafford.

Finally in 2021, there is the ‘Brandon Staley problem.’ Staley was debatably the league’s most underrated defensive mind in 2020. He entered the league with reputation, but made a huge name for himself hoisting the Rams to be the NFL’s number one defense.

Even without Staley, the Los Angeles Rams defense will be tough to face with players like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey on their side. However there’s a great deal of credit that should go to Staley for the achievements of the 2020 season. Raheem Morris has big shoes to fill.

Moving forward in 2021

Coaches like to minimize pressure and expectations by saying, “we are just worrying about us,” and “you can only control what you can control.” However, the players in the locker room feel that pressure. The new faces in the building feel the pressure.

It’s important that any coach or leader knows what to say to people in the face of that pressure. McVay owns a wealth of knowledge, and now more experience than he had in 2019. The Los Angeles Rams will have to face pressure this season, but because of their past experience, they are more apt to handle that pressure in 2021.

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