The Los Angeles Rams cruised into the NFC playoffs this season, faltering just at the end in attempt to grab the No. 2 seed. The Rams won the NFC West and as the fourth seed, they’ll have home field for the opening game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Here are three reasons to believe that the Rams can win the Super Bowl this season and two reasons to think they might not.
Why They Can
The Pass Rush
The Los Angeles Rams pass rush has been smothering at times this season. Even in the loss against the 49ers, the Rams sacked Jimmy Garoppolo three times. Von Miller has come on as of late and had a big sack in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the offense just couldn’t put the nail in the 49ers’ coffin.
The Rams lead the NFC playoff teams in sacks this season with 50 with the next closest being the 49ers at 48. They also lead the NFL in pass rush win rate at 53%. Again, the next closest NFC playoff team is the Philadelphia Eagles at 49%. This is a team that gets after the quarterback.
Since Week 13, the Rams have won five of six games, and were close to finishing the season on a six-game win streak. During that run, Aaron Donald leads the NFL with 39 pressures and Von Miller is eighth with 24. The Rams are one of three teams with multiple players inside the top-10.
As mentioned, the Rams traded for Von Miller to boost their pass rush, and he’s done exactly that. Miller has settled in as of late and it’s starting to show up on the stat sheet. Miller has at least one sack in each of the last four games. As someone who won Super MVP in 2015 with the Denver Broncos, Miller will show up in crunch time during the playoffs.
The Rams are also 9-1 this season when Aaron Donald records at least half a sack. Since Week 13, Donald has 6.5 sacks. A good pass rush is crucial to stopping quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The Rams have that.
Matthew Stafford started the season throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns for the Los Angeles Rams against the Chicago Bears, finishing with a 156.1 passer rating. Stafford’s next best game came on Monday Night Football against the red hot Arizona Cardinals. Stafford threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 139.2.
This season, Stafford ranks third in adjusted EPA/play. Since 2015, every quarterback that has won the Super Bowl outside of Peyton Manning with the Broncos in 2015 and Tom Brady in 2018 ranked inside the top-3 of adjusted EPA/play.
Stafford has also played very good football this season. The Rams quarterback threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the season. He avenged an early season loss to the Cardinals but having his best game of the season on the road on Monday Night Football.
This is a quarterback that has three fourth quarterback comebacks and four game-winning drives. He plays his best football with the game on the line. The Rams are never out of a game with Stafford at the helm.
Stafford’s worst game of the season against playoff teams came against the 49ers in the first meeting and against the Tennessee Titans. Without his two turnovers against the Packers, that game might be a lot closer as well.
If the Los Angeles Rams as a team can overcome or avoid his one or two bad throws/mistakes per game, they’ll win the Super Bowl. The thing is, Stafford makes enough positive plays to make up for the occasional negative play. Again, that is an upgrade over needing to overcome a bad game by Jared Goff and a quarterback who can’t overcome his own errors.
The Los Angeles Rams have been here before and they have players who have been here before. This is unlike the Arizona Cardinals, a team they play this week, who lacks playoff experience. Playoff football is a different breed, and the Rams have players who havre experience going on deep playoff runs.
Of course, the exception is at quarterback with Matthew Stafford. However, Cooper Kupp was on the 2018 team and helped the Rams win in Seattle last season on the road. At running back, Sony Michel averaged 112 yards per game when the New England Patriots went on their run in 2018 and beat the Rams. Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein also know how physical playoff games get up front.
On defense, Aaron Donald has been looking forward to the playoffs ever since he got hurt at the end of the game against Seattle and couldn’t play at 100% against Green Bay. Von Miller has experience making a deep playoff run, winning Super Bowl MVP in 2015. Leonard Floyd, Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, and others got a taste of the postseason last year as well.
The 2021 season has built to this moment. This team has overcome so much adversity and that doesn’t happen without a good leadership group. The Rams are experienced and for the players that haven’t been there before, they’ll be ready.
Why They Might Not
The Offensive Line
This isn’t to say that the offensive line hasn’t been good this season because it has. The Los Angeles Rams offensive line might be a top-three group in the NFL this season. However, in a few of the losses, it’s been the offensive line, specifically the interior that has been the Achilles heel for the Rams offense.
Last week alone David Edwards has a 41 pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus. Edwards allowed eight pressures and two sacks. At center, Brian Allen only had a 39.3 pass blocking grade. Lastly, Austin Corbett had his worst game with a 13.1 pass blocking grade, allowing seven pressures.
Allen only had a 38.4 pass-blocking grade against the Tennessee Titans when Jeffery Simmons dominated up front on Monday Night Football.
The Rams need to be able to win the battle up front. There aren’t many teams who will be able to do what the 49ers did last week. However, the Buccaneers have the talent to do it and the Packers are getting healthier on the defensive side as well. This is a group that needs to hold up to open lanes in the run game and hold a pocket for Stafford.
Lack of Depth
This has always been the concern for the Los Angeles Rams this season. After trading away top picks and eating money on players like Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, a team’s depth is really affected. Yes, the Rams have hit on late picks, but a lot of the Rams’ depth has become undrafted free agents that have needed to step up. It also makes draft misses stand out that much more.
The Rams will experience that as soon as this week against the Arizona Cardinals. Jordan Fuller will be out for the rest of the season. Losing Fuller was fine last year when the Rams had John Johnson III. However, the team will now be left with Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp on the backend of the defense at safety. Terrell Burgess might get some long-awaited action as well.
Ernest Jones isn’t ready to return. This leaves Troy Reeder at starting linebacker in the middle of the Rams defense. This is another matchup that teams will be able to exploit. The Rams defense will only go with how well Troy Reeder plays. That’s not a good thing. Reeder leads Rams linebackers with 13 missed tackles this season.
Darious Williams could be out as well this week, leaving David Long in a high-snap role.
The Rams defense took a hit in the offseason, and that’s not on Raheem Morris. Fuller will be significantly missed on the backend of the defense, especially in his leadership and communication role.