Despite Jeff Fisher famously saying ‘we’re not going f*****g 7-9 on Hard Knocks, his words did not inspire the Rams in their new home, and they once again failed to make the post-season. In fairness to Fisher, the Rams didn’t go 7-9, but their record went the opposite way he hoped it would, and they were one of the worst teams in terms of entertainment and on-field product.
2016 Season Review:
The Rams took nine games of Case Keenum to realise that starting the QB they gave up a kings ransom to get, was probably a good idea, but Jared Goff actually performed worse than Keenum, which was depressing. Many are crowning Goff as a draft bust and while I understand this, he was playing in an offence that wasn’t fit for purpose in 2007, let alone 2017. The Rams essentially ran the same four or five plays on repeat, and the result was a stale offence that finished dead last in offensive efficiency.
Gregg Williams isn’t popular across the NFL due to his infamous involvement in the bounty programme, but he did a good job for the most part. The Rams blitzed more often than they probably should have, but he coached a defence that could have competed in the playoffs. The Rams were handicapped by an offence that could genuinely go down as one of the worst in NFL history. Kenny Britt played well, but he departed to join the Browns in the off-season, and the Rams will need huge rookie years from the likes of Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett if they are to be relevant this season.
The Rams somehow entered the off-season with very little cap room, but they did manage to make some important additions to the roster. Andrew Whitworth joined the team from the Bengals in what was essentially a money-motivated retirement plan, but he will help them in both the run game and the pass game. In an era including Joe Thomas and Tyron Smith, Whitworth has become somewhat understated, but he is as good as those guys, and the Rams will have one of the most reliable players in NFL history as Jared Goff’s lead pass protector. The Rams made more moves on the line as they signed John Sullivan to be the center, and they switched the right side of their line with Rob Havenstein moving to right guard, and Jamon Brown moving to right tackle.
Defensively, the personnel didn’t undergo drastic changes, although they will not run an aggressive pure 4-3 defence as they did under Gregg Williams. Wade Phillips is considered the best defensive coordinator in the business by many, and his arrival is important as pairing a young Head Coach with an experienced coordinator is a good move to make. Wade Phillips often gets characterised as a 3-4 coordinator which is largely wrong, but the defence will look different under him. Rob Quinn is expected to play as an outside linebacker, and Aaron Donald will be moved around the front seven alongside the likes of Michael Brockers and Dominique Easley. The Rams didn’t make many defensive reinforcements from a playing personnel stand point, as cornerback Kayvon Webster and pass rusher Connor Barwin were the only players who joined that will play for a starting job. An underrated pickup was Nickel Robey Coleman, who has the attributes to be a very reliable corner in a sub-package dominated NFL.
The Rams are the first team in years who are completely reliant on rookies to get the majority of their receiving yards, as there is not a single established veteran in their receiving corps. Tavon Austin isn’t a good player, and Robert Woods is anything but established, so the draft selections of Josh Reynolds, Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett all have the potential to get 800 yards this season. Cooper Kupp is the favourite to lead this team in receptions due to the fact he is a possession receiver, and for the fantasy players out there, he holds great value in PPR formats.
The Rams should have a good run game this year as Todd Gurley will be playing in a more high-powered offence, and they will have to lean on this if they want to make the playoffs. Andrew Whitworth might be the best run blocking tackle in the NFL, so there should be more gaps for Gurley to hit, as he spent too much time running into his own protection last year. If the Rams can establish their run game and control the clock, this will allow them to rest their defence, and also to open up a play-action game which would take pressure off Jared Goff.
The defence was good last year, but it has the potential to be even better this year. One thing the Rams need to do schematically, is trust their four man rush, as blitzing puts too much pressure on the cornerbacks. Phillips could blitz a lot in Denver as he had three elite man corners, and he now only has one, so expect more zone coverage and reliance on a four man rush. The Rams could easily get a potent rush from Robert Quinn, Connor Barwin, Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley, so Phillips will likely figure things out pretty quickly.
Special teams often get undervalued by the average NFL fan, but the Rams should in theory be alright in this department. They have the best punter in the NFL in Johnny Hekker, and Greg Zuerlein is one of the better kickers in the NFL. They also have a variety of punt returners, and this is important as they need to generate points in other ways if they are to win games in 2017.
The Rams run game should be good, but the pass game could be disastrous this year. Jared Goff was inaccurate last year, and he didn’t show the ability to run a quick snap, or a vertical offence. He doesn’t have any experienced receivers to help him out, and the Rams need an all time-great rookie year from someone such as Cooper Kupp if they are going to consistently move the chains.
My projections for Jared Goff this year have him throwing 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and Sean McVay will quickly realise that he is not as polished a thrower as Kirk Cousins was for him in Washington. As of now, the Rams do not have a single difference maker who scares defensive coordinators, and Todd Gurley should become used to running in a stacked box, if he wasn’t already.
Best Case Scenario:
The Rams have no chance of making the playoffs unless Carson Palmer or Russell Wilson goes down, but they could in theory get to around an 8-8 record with a third placing in the NFC West this season. For this to happen, they need huge performances from their rookie skill position players, and they need their defence to be one that ranks in the top five, as opposed to in the top ten.
The chances of this happening are almost non-existent as their rookies came from small schools and are very raw, but if they are as good as Sean McVay thinks they are, then a .500 season is realistic.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Rams are in the running for the number one pick next year, and it would be very interesting to see if they actually selected one of the franchise quarterbacks if this scenario played out. 3-13 with a last place finish in the NFC West is probably the worst case scenario for the Rams, as they should gain a win or two against the 49ers.
I want to think the Rams will be good, but I just can’t see it. Jared Goff deserves another year under a competent offensive mind, but the weapons aren’t there, and the playbook will likely be very basic for the opening weeks. 4-12, third place in the NFC West.