The Super Bowl
Cast your minds back to February 3rd 2019. The LA Rams have made it to the Super Bowl, with a high scoring offence, formidable defence and strong special teams unit.
They have a coach in Sean McVay who many teams in the league would trade multiple first round picks for, a defensive mastermind co-ordinator and incredible players. They showed incredible fortitude (alongside some controversial ref calls) to comeback and beat the Saints in the NFC Championship.
Now there is an expectation for a well-rested Todd Gurley to run the Patriots into the ground, Jared Goff to show wisdom beyond his years and to spread the ball out and Aaron Donald to make Tom Brady rethink about extending his career.
Not long after Gladys Knight had completed the Super Bowl the Rams had even forced a turnover from the future Hall of Fame QB. Everything appeared to have started in the Rams favour. However, it did not go to plan. The expected high scoring offence did not turn up, turning the game into a defensive battle which did not excite onlookers. Gurley remained anonymous expect from a few minor runs, and Goff completed 50% of his pass attempts without registering a TD. The three points gained by the LA Rams came from a 53-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein and the game had little re-watchability.
However, the discourse from the Rams since then is that game is in the rear-view mirror.
Sean McVay recently told the media that Gurley is ready to go, causing this writer sleepless nights in whether to draft him in the first round in the upcoming fantasy drafts. Aaron Donald is by far the most dominant defensive player in the game. Jared Goff believes that the Super Bowl was an anomaly, and he is ready to show that he can prove himself as an elite QB. Strengths are evident throughout the team and their roster is envied by many. Alas, talk can be cheap, therefore in this preview of the Rams season, I will analyse some variables that will determine whether the Rams have it in them to return to the big game.
The fortitude to comeback
It is remarkably tough to comeback from a loss in the Super Bowl. Since the 90-94 Buffalo squad, only one team has returned to the Super Bowl a year later since losing the big game, last year’s Patriots outfit.
The Four Falls of Buffalo documentary (essential viewing for NFL fans) show that the teams desire to return to the big game was reliant on an exceptional mental toughness led by their head coach Marv Levy and QB Jim Kelly. They picked themselves up time and time again to chase the title. What else is there to say about the resilience of Brady and Bill Belichick to win at all costs and return after heartbreak. Therefore, using these examples as a barometer for the Rams chances, much heart, grit and determination must be shown for the Rams to return.
Critics of the Rams have stated that they can be a fair-weather outfit (ironic considering their location), so it will be interesting to see whether they can show a greater toughness this season. For that McVay may need to lean on his experienced staff. Wade Phillips always has a blueprint for success in defensive matchups, and the addition of veteran Eric Weddle may assist in creating a substantial defensive squad. John ‘Bones’ Fassell is an exceptional special teams coach, which may give an added edge to close games. These coaches are seen as three of the strongest in the league and will give an edge on each fixture. Whether this transforms into a Super Bowl waits to be seen.
Jared Goff enters a season in which his abilities have been questioned.
He was mediocre in the Super Bowl and struggled moving the ball. While he clearly missed Gurley in the backfield to intimidate defences, he missed his safety value receiver Cooper Kupp just as much.
Kupp tore his ACL in the week 10 matchup against the Seahawks in a non-contact injury, but will return before preseason. The return of Kupp improves the Rams play-action techniques and will give added impetus to a potentially exceptional offence.
Goff’s laid-back nature seems to add to the thought that he is not much more than a game manager, a criticism which I believe is unfair.
While Goff clearly benefits from McVay’s system, which allows the fluent ability for quick receivers to get open, he has also shown the ability to adjust and transition when plays break down. It is also key to remember that Goff was able to keep up with the high-scoring Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes in the wonderful week 11 Monday night game, without Kupp.
Goff has a great deal to prove, not only for his critics, but for his future bank balance. Carson Wentz, Goff’s fellow 1st round 2016 draft class partner just got an incredible contract from the Philadelphia Eagles, Goff will be looking for a similar deal should his play warrant it.
The curious disappearance of 2019 All-Pro Todd Gurley was intriguing in multiple ways.
On course to set records, his numbers dried out after week 14. Before the injury, he totalled 21 touchdowns and 1,831 total yards.
Apart from a good performance in the playoff win against Dallas, he played second fiddle to CJ Anderson and often stood a lonely figure on the side-line.
The Rams have been secretive with the severity of his condition, leading to rumours regarding the nature of his injury. If Gurley is back to his best, the Rams are sure to be amongst the contenders for the West. If he is not available, then further concerns will be evident.
To their credit, the Rams have addressed the possibility of Gurley not being his All-Pro self, by drafting Darrell Henderson in the third round, and matching the Lions offer to keep Malcolm Brown.
Alas, it is unlikely that these combinations can match the world-class Gurley. It has been suggested that Gurley will be active in a reduced role, to ensure his durability throughout the season. While this can be effective, it would be disappointing to not see Gurley at his most dominant. However, if this reduced role leads to more wins and success for the Rams, the LA natives will not be complaining.
A new contender arises in the NFC West
As I previously mentioned in my 49ers piece, I believe they have real potential to win the NFC West. Led by another offensive guru in Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers will be stronger competitors to the West’s throne. The return of Jimmy Garoppolo should excite Niners fans, and they have added assets on both sides of the ball to ensure quality play.
NBC Sports recently mentioned Jimmy G as a potential MVP contender, while that might be ambitious, you can understand the recent optimism.
George Kittle was a revelation in the TE position last year, and the multiple options in the 49ers backfield gives amazing flexibility for the offensive mastermind Shanahan.
Therefore, it is clear that the Rams will see a stronger added challenge alongside Russell Wilson and his Seahawks. The NFC West is known for its divisional rivalry, and more competitive football teams will lead to greater competition for limited playoff places.
Will the Rams play post-season football?
The LA Rams are a very strong football team on paper. They have talent on each side of the ball and the ability to win when it matters. However, the start to the upcoming season looks formidable. The Rams start with a challenging run of Panthers (a), Saints (h), Browns (a), Tampa (h), before two divisional battles at Seattle and hosting the 49ers. Last season they were able to get out to an 8-0 start before finishing 13-3. A similar start and it will be likely that the Rams are busy in January, a stuttering start in a competitive division may mean their chances are reduced.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: Highly probable