The Los Angeles Rams were the hardest team to get a grasp on in 2019. They got off to a hot 3-0 start, then dropped their next three games to go 3-3. One week, they got hammered by the Baltimore Ravens 45-6. The next week, they went on to smash the Arizona Cardinals 34-7. They would swing back in forth between looking like the team that made the Super Bowl only a year earlier and a team that would be competing for a top-five draft pick.
In the end, they were just about average. Jared Goff is an average quarterback. They had the 16th ranked NFL offense last year by DVOA (their defense came in at ninth), and they finished with a fairly average 9-7 record. Not a bad year, but not the year you would expect to see from a defending NFC Champions.
A majority of the key figures from last season are returning for 2020, so it is hard to see how they get out of the mediocre mud they are stuck in.
The NFL season is almost upon us! Over the next few weeks I will be previewing each of the 32 NFL teams, and ranking them 1-32 as to how likely I believe they are to win Super Bowl LV. This week we continue the list with teams on the fringe of the playoff conversation.
20. Los Angeles Rams
The key duo for the Rams is that of Goff and head coach Sean McVay. McVay seems to be beaming directions into Goff’s mind pre-snap, and Goff operates within a strict, rigid structure as he drives the offense down field. This mostly works, but it also inherently limits the offense’s ceiling.
Getting Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks out the door may be a relief, as it allows the usage of running backs and receivers to be spread across the offense. But as we saw last season, this offense struggles to remain explosive without some sort of elite offensive weapon. It was Gurley in 2018, then in 2019 Gurley fell off and no one filled that gap. As Cooks struggled to stay healthy, no one emerged to really be a big play threat for the team.
Wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have both been great for the Rams, but just like Goff, both are great at functioning within a rigid system. Neither are a true down-to-down explosive threat. Neither are as great in open space as Gurley, and neither have the explosiveness and speed of Cooks.
Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson—who the team selected in the second round of the 2020 draft—does not seem to be that guy either. Jefferson primarily made a name for himself working underneath the defense, and used his quickness and great feet to get open. While this fits into the McVay offense very well, it does not give the team something they were already lacking.
The defense has some real star power. Aaron Donald is still just as good as you think he is. The defensive tackle can wreck literally any play and force offenses to adjust their entire gameplan around him. Jalen Ramsey—the corner who arrived mid-way through last season—is still great as well.
Two elite players and a group largely made up of average players around them is fine for a defense. Having the elite players on the defensive line and as a pass rusher only make them even more valuable. It is hard to imagine how this defense makes up for the flaws of the offense, though. The offense lacks playmakers, and the defense is entirely dependent on two guys to make all the plays. Where is the production supposed to really come from?
Los Angeles is stuck in the same spot Detroit was in the mid-2010s. They have just enough to win some games, beat up on the bad teams, and ruin their draft pick. They also probably cannot compete in the NFC West, the best division in football at the moment. The Rams might be a few offensive pieces away from competing, but those offensive pieces are not coming this year.