Los Angeles Rams: How Does The 2021 Team Compare to 2018?

by Blaine Grisak
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The Los Angeles Rams last went to the Super Bowl in 2018. During that season, the Rams had a high-flying offense that took the league by storm with a defense that did enough to get the job done. A lot of the same could be said about the 2021 Rams. With Matthew Stafford under center, the Rams have one of the best offenses in the NFL. The defense meanwhile is good enough to hold their own when the offense isn’t.

Through nine weeks, the 2018 Rams were 8-1, with the lone loss coming to the Chicago Bears and a dominant defense. The 2021 Rams are meanwhile 7-2. Let’s take a look at how the 2021 Rams compare to the 2018 version.

Offense

Behind Todd Gurley, the 2018 Los Angeles Rams offense was near unstoppable. In fact, through nine games, they are outpacing the 2021 Rams by almost 500 yards. In 2018, the Rams offense had 4,024 yards of total offense to the Rams’ current 3,594. To break it down further, the 2018 Rams averaged 6.8 yards per offensive play compared to the current Rams 6.3. The 2018 offense also outperforms the 2021 offense in expected points added (EPA) with a positive .210 with a 51.8% success rate compared to .133 with a 48.7% success rate.

The Rams currently lead the NFL with 2,667 total yards passing with 23 passing touchdowns. We’ll dive more into it in a second, but Jared Goff started 2018 hot. Through nine games, the Rams had 2,775 yards passing with 20 touchdowns.

Again, we’ll get to it later, but the Rams dominated on the ground in 2018. Behind Gurley, they had 1,299 yards rushing with 12 touchdown. That would have been good for second in the NFL this season. The Rams currently rank 18th in rushing yards with 927 with seven touchdowns.

From a DVOA standpoint, the 2021 Rams have a 20.7% offensive DVOA compared to the 2018 Rams who had a 25% offense DVOA.

Advantage: 2018 Rams

Quarterback

The talent level between Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff is undeniable. However, recency bias is real when it comes to Jared Goff. Back in 2018, he was a fringe top-10 quarterback, if not inside the top-10. He’s nowhere near that quarterback now, but four years ago, Goff was on a trajectory to take the league by storm.

Goff’s 2,816 yards in 2018 would have been enough to lead the league this season. He’s outpacing Stafford 2,816 yards to 2,771 with a 9.6 yards per attempt to 8.6. The two are very comparable in touchdowns and interceptions as well. Stafford has 23 touchdowns to Goff’s 20 while the current Rams quarterback has one more interception with seven.

The two are also very close in quarterback rating. Even here though, Goff has the slight advantage. Goff’s 112.9 quarterback rating to Stafford’s 111.

In the more in depth analytics, Goff had a .334 EPA added per play with a EPA plus completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) of .186. He also had a success rate of 54.7%. Against Stafford and Goff are very close here with Goff having the slightest advantage. Stafford currently leads the NFL with an EPA per play of .311 and EPA plus CPOE of .167.

We’ll see how this looks at the end of the season. Goff’s second half of 2018 dropped off significantly compared to where he was in the first half. For now, Goff gets the slight advantage.

Advantage: Goff

Running Back

The running back position isn’t even close. While Darrell Henderson has played admirably, he has zero 100-yard games through nine weeks. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley was playing at a historic level in 2018. Through nine games, Gurley had 868 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. He also had 12 rushing touchdowns.

That doesn’t even mention what Gurley had in the passing game. Gurley added 37 receptions for 362 yards and four touchdowns.

Henderson has played well and is on pace for over 1,000 yards. With the said, he’s no Gurley. He has 562 yards on the ground, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. He also has just 144 yards receiving with seven total touchdowns.

Now, Gurley did do that with 60 more carries. With the same amount of carries, Henderson would theoretically have 837 yards to Gurley’s 868. However, Gurley was a huge part of the Rams offense whereas Henderson isn’t utilized the same fashion. McVay’s offense ran through Gurley whereas this year’s offense runs through Kupp, Stafford, and the passing game.

Advantage: Gurley

Wide Receivers

Wide receiver is where this debate gets interesting. The 2018 version of the Los Angeles Rams had a solid four of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Josh Reynolds. Behind them Pharaoh Cooper and KhaDarel Hodge were wide receivers five and six.

Meanwhile, the current Rams have Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Van Jefferson as the primary trio with Ben Skowronek and JJ Koski as depth.

Woods led the Rams in 2018 with 51 receptions for 743 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cooper Kupp is on a current historic pace and leads the team with 74 receptions for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns. The top receiver isn’t even close. Cooper Kupp beats Woods as the No. 1 wide receiver.

However, behind Kupp is where things get interesting and where the 2018 Rams certainly show their depth. The top-three Rams receivers in 2018 all had over 500 yards. In fact, Cooks came in second with 757 yards on 41 receptions compared to Woods’ 556 yards on 45 receptions. The Rams simply got more big plays out of their No. 2 wide receiver in 2018.

While Van Jefferson has been a pleasant surprise, Kupp, who was also in just his second year had 527 yards on 35 receptions. Jefferson meanwhile has 433 yards on 27 receptions and only three touchdowns to Kupp’s six.

The 2021 Los Angeles Rams are much better at the very top, but overall, the 2018 team got production out of everybody. If DeSean Jackson were still on the team, he’d get the advantage over Josh Reynolds, but that’s not the case with Jackson now with the Raiders. Outside of the Rams’ top three this year, Skowronek is the only other wide receiver with a catch and he has three.

Advantage: 2018 Rams (Woods, Cooks, Kupp)

Tight End

The Rams are very thin at tight end this season with Tyler Higbee as the only true option. In 2018, the Rams had better depth with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. With that said, the two only combined for 21 receptions for 256 yards.

So far in 2021, Tyler Higbee has outproduced that himself. The Rams tight end has 35 receptions for 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 2021 Rams have a better version of Tyler Higbee.

It depends on what you want here. Do you prefer the production out of Higbee or the depth of the 2018 Rams with Higbee and Everett?

As it stands, the 2018 depth might get the slight edge from me.

Advantage: 2018 Rams (Higbee, Everett)

Offensive Line

Offensive line is tough to measure, but the Rams offensive line in 2018 was on another level. The 2018 team had Andrew Whitworth, Rodger Saffold, John Sullivan, Austin Blythe, and Rob Havenstein. Meanwhile, the 2021 version has an older Whitworth, David Edwards, Brian Allen, Austin Corbett, and Havenstein.

According to Pro Football Focus, the 2021 Rams have a pass-blocking grade of 80.4 and a run-blocking grade of 72.1. Contrarily, the 2018 Rams had a pass-blocking grade of 82.3 and a run-blocking grade of 82.1.

This isn’t to say that the 2021 Rams offensive line is bad. It’s certainly a top-5 unit in the NFL currently. However, the 2018 version of the Rams offensive line was simply unmatched. Through nine weeks, the offensive line allowed just five sacks total through nine weeks in 2018. Currently, Pro Football Focus has credited the offensive line with 12 despite giving up four less pressures.

Advantage: 2018 Rams

Defense

Both of these defenses are very similar. They are both star oriented and while they may not be dominant, they both get the job done when they need to. From a yards perspective, the two defenses are almost identical. The 2018 Rams have allowed just four more total yards with 3,138 than the 2021 team that’s allowed 3,134.

Breaking down that yardage into passing and rushing, the 2018 Rams allowed just 48 less passing yards and allowed 52 more rushing yards. However, while the 2018 Rams gave up less passing yards, the 2021 Rams have allowed a passer rating of just 82.9 compared to 2018’s 96.8.  Like I said, these two units are eerily similar and it’ doesn’t stop there. As a team, the 2021 Los Angeles Rams lead the 2018 team in sacks with 28 to 22 and both teams have forced 14 turnovers.

This season, the Rams have allowed 20 touchdowns total compared to 23 in 2018. The 2021 team has given up 10 rushing touchdowns and 10 passing touchdowns compared to 16 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns in 2018.

While these two units are very similar in the yardage numbers, it’s in the deeper analytics that the the 2021 Rams have the advantage. In DVOA, the 2021 Rams have a -9.4% rating compared to a positive 1.0% in 2018. In terms of EPA, the 2021 defense has an EPA of -.014 compared to just a -.001 in 2018. With that said, the 2018 team was slightly better allowing a 43.3% overall success rate to 2021’s 46.4%

These two units are very similar, but overall, the 2021 Rams defense might be slightly better.

Advantage: 2021 Rams

The Secondary

While the units are very close in terms of overall numbers, the personnel is where things get interesting. In the secondary, the Rams had Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Troy Hill at cornerback. At safety, John Johnson III and Lamarcus Joyner led the charge.

This season, the Rams are better at the top with Jalen Ramsey, but behind him the team has Darious Williams, Robert Rochell, Dont’e Deayon, and David Long. Then at safety it’s Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp.

It’s pretty easy to make the argument that the 2018 team is better at safety. John Johnson III at 119 tackles and four interceptions in 2018. Joyner also earned himself a big contract at the end of the year.

The effect of Jalen Ramsey is unmatched and he’s unquestionably better than Marcus Peters. However, behind him is where it gets debatable. Talib is better than Williams and Robey-Coleman has the advantage over Robert Rochell and Dont’e Deayon.

Schematically speaking is where the 2021 Rams might have the advantage. As mentioned before, the 2021 Rams have given up just 10 passing touchdowns and a passer rating of just 82.9. Meanwhile, the 2018 team gave up 16 passing touchdowns with a 96.8 passer rating.

The effect of the trades that the Rams have made with the combination of being strapped by the salary cap is clear between the two rosters. The 2018 team is just much deeper and that’s where they get the advantage. The question here is, do you want Jalen Ramsey or do you want depth? I might lean Ramsey.

Advantage: 2021 Rams

Linebackers

The 2018 season might have been the last time that the Los Angeles Rams cared about linebackers. Cory Littleton had an incredible season with 125 tackles and three interceptions. Meanwhile Mark Barron played next to him as a safety converted linebacker.

Currently, the Rams traded away Kenny Young and are starting Troy Reeder and a rookie in Ernest Jones. The linebacker position is without question a weakness on the Rams roster. Jones give 2021 some potential at the position, but Littleton alone give 2018 the advantage.

Advantage: 2018 Rams

Edge Rushers

The Rams edge rushers might be one of the biggest strengths of the current defense whereas it was a relative weakness in 2018. There’s a reason that the Rams traded for Dante Fowler. Throughout the entire season, the 2018 Rams edge rushers combined for six sacks. Leonard Floyd has surpassed that alone.

Combine that with Justin Hollins when he comes back healthy, Terrell Lewis, Okoronkwo, and Von Miller? This isn’t even a competition. Without Aaron Donald playing at a Super Man level, the 2018 pass rush is non-existent. Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre simply didn’t get the job done.

Advantage: 2021 Rams

Defensive Line

This is where things get interesting, but 2018 might get the slight advantage. Aaron Donald alone but up 20.5 sacks. Combine that with Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers and you have a very good group.

The 2021 ground isn’t bad. Aaron Donald is still a threat next to A’Shawn Robinson, Sebastian-Joseph Day, and Greg Gaines. However, that 2018 defensive line was just on another level with Donald earning his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award.

Advantage: 2018 Rams

Special Teams

There’s really not a lot of analysis needed for this one. To put it simply, the 2018 Los Angeles Rams special teams was very good and the 2021 Rams special teams is very bad. John Fassell was one of the best special teams coordinators in the NFL with Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker. Zuerlein sent the Rams to the Super Bowl and Hekker was one of the best punters in the NFL.

In the return game, it’s not really close either. Blake Countess averaged 24 yards per kick return and JoJo Natson averaged 10.6 yards per punt return. The Rams currently aren’t getting close to that.

Advantage: 2018 Rams

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