2017 Preview – Los Angeles Rams

There’s a great quote about the now-defunct Scarborough FC, as recounted in Phil Shaw’s The Book of Football Quotations, where a fan laments “if only our motto ‘No Battle, No Victory’ wasn’t taken so literally”. This sprung to mind when it transpired the 2016 Los Angeles Rams were to feature on Amazon’s “All Or Nothing”. Rarely have cheap shot jokes written themselves so easily.

Now, with Jeff Fisher and his increasingly sinister moustache getting the boot, the Rams have embraced their move to Los Angeles, hiring someone trendy, who looks like they are more suited to Silicon Valley than the LA Coliseum. The LA Rams are in the early stages of a complete rebuild which started last offseason as they moved up to acquire talented QB Jared Goff. The Rams are currently trying to assemble a young core and reliable team to enable sophomore quarterback Jared Goff to become a franchise QB. The Rams are also trying to mould an offense and defense around young stars Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald.

 

Offense

Ideally, a team coming into the sophomore season of their #1 overall-picked quarterback would be full of excitement! Alas, Jared Goff had one of the all-time worst rookie seasons. Goff managed a 54% completion rate at a Gabbert-esque 5.3 yards/attempt. He threw 5 TDs and 7 INTs in 7 starts, for a heroically awful 63.6 passer rating. And the stats seemingly flatter him. As a coordinator, new HC Sean McVay valued quick reads to tight ends, something relatively simple for a struggling QB to pull off you’d think? And given QB ‘gurus’ Matt LaFleur and Greg Olson are on staff, everything’s in place for Goff to turn it round. But Goff’s rookie season places him in uncomfortable company.

(Photo Source: USA TODAY Sports)

The Los Angeles Rams tried to counter incompetent quarterbacking by leaning on the run last year. Any fool could’ve seen this coming, and most Defensive Coordinators snuffed out the Rams’ offensive game plan early. Designated superstar Todd Gurley was anything but, his yards/carry dropping from 4.8 in 2015 to 3.2. Gurley played how he looked, too. He was supposed to be a generational talent, an offensive-line-transcending talent. Instead we got someone lacking their rookie explosion and vision. The vision thing is pretty hard to swallow – when the Rams actually got a hole, Gurley missed it! We’re all hoping he’s not becoming the second coming of Trent Richardson, but he looked like it last year.

Tavon Austin turned a $10.5m/year deal into 500 receiving yards. Coaches have been trying (and failing) to find use for Austin-style ‘athletes’ for years. Elsewhere, the roster was full of veteran and rookie #3 or #4 options, right up until the trade for Sammy Watkins. Watkins is an obvious #1 receiver when he can stay healthy, but has missed 11 games over 2 years. When he’s fit he’ll be vital for Goff. Rookie-wise, Cooper Kupp was a star at FCS level but looks to lack the speed or shiftiness to get separation at NFL level. Tight end might be a blessing – Tyler Higbee looked decent in limited action last year and rookie Gerald Everett at least has the measurables of a stud.

Lest you thought Goff held the book on “high draft pick Ram busts”, the O-Line benefitted from another – former #2 overall pick Greg Robinson – being booted off to Detroit. In come the good but old Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan. The line is a strange mix of disappointing younger players (Rob Havenstein, anyone?) and aging imported veterans. But hey, it may be slightly improved at least?

 

Defense

Aaron Donald is the best player in the NFL, if considering all positions as created equal. I will not shift from that view. Trouble is, Donald isn’t at camp. He’s holding out expecting the better contract he deserves. How he adapts to Wade Philips shift to a 3-4 scheme will be interesting to see, but a player as good as he shouldn’t have issues. Across from Donald, Dominique Easley tore his ACL and Ethan Westbrooks got arrested (but not charged) for domestic violence.

(Photo Source: Jonathan Ferrey/ Getty Images)

The switch to 3-4 means we get Robert Quinn in the linebacker section. He’ll form a great pass-rushing tandem with Connor Barwin, but neither are noted run defenders. Mark Barron and Alec Ogeltree are good linebackers, and this is a good unit. Wade Philips worked wonders with Broncos linebackers in 2015, making stars out of Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan. He should have fun here.

The secondary, I’m not so sure about. I don’t know what the Rams are doing with Trumaine Johnson but he is being monumentally overpaid for a fairly good corner. Elsewhere depth looks thin, so there’ll be more on Wade Phillips to manufacture coverage out of Nickell Robey-Coleman, Troy Hill and co.

The same could be said of the secondary, where Lamarcus Joyner is the only recognised name. Joyner has moved from corner to free safety, which should suit him more. The only obvious strong safety on the roster is former stadium janitor(!) Maurice Alexander. Johnson is a decent player, but don’t be surprised if more often Barron drops back from linebacker into a hybrid moneybacker role in coverage.

 

Players To Watch

The Los Angeles Rams have not been the most rewarding watch for years, and it’s hard to see that changing this year. With no first round pick, second-round rookie tight end Gerald Everett looks like a freakish athlete and potentially exciting. He’s a former basketball player (of course he is) with receiving and route-running chops, and is a willing blocker.

(Photo Source: Kirby Lee/ USA TODAY Sports)

Jared Goff, I guess. If only in a slowing-down-to-look-at-a-car-wreck kind of way. Ok, that’s unfair, but watching a much-hyped rookie struggle to execute NFL concepts is a neat introduction to the difference between college and professional.

I was going to put Aaron Donald for the third choice, but if you need telling to watch Aaron Donald, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, why not keep an eye on punter Johnny Hekker. Yes, it’s come to that. But Hekker is really that good – even Bill Belichick’s a fan. Also, he might do something as funny as when he body-slammed Cliff Avril then cowered to avoid retribution.

 

Schedule

W1 vs Colts // W2 vs Washington // W3 @ 49ers // W4 @ Cowboys // W5 vs Seahawks // W6 @ Jaguars // W7 vs Cardinals // W8 BYE

W9 @Giants // W10 vs Texans // W11 @ Vikings // W12 vs Saints // W13 @ Cardinals // W14 vs Eagles // W15 @ Seahawks // W16 @ Titans // W17 vs 49ers

 

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