Rams have busy Offseason
March 9, 2018
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LA Rams Haven’t Fixed Biggest Problem
A change of scenery did the Los Angeles Rams some good last year and they’re hoping that mindset will do the same for some of their key acquisitions this week. From sweeping Coach of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year and being the biggest turnaround franchise in the 2017 NFL season, it’s hard to believe that the Rams could continue building on their newfound momentum. Yet I haven’t been able to scroll through my news feed without seeing this team make significant changes so it’s about time I sat down and gave this a lock-see.
WADE PHILLIPS GETS HIS DEFENSE
The Rams began their tectonic roster changes by first acquiring Marcus Peters from the Chiefs in a move that helped both teams. Leaks, presumably from the Chiefs’ side of things, about Peters’ character were pretty funny but his on-field production can’t be ignored. Peters is one of the best game changers in the league.
Robert Quinn was then shipped to Miami and Alec Ogletree was somehow traded to the Giants with the latter returning a king’s ransom. I like Ogletree but he’s not a “next level” linebacker that’s worthy of the money that he’s due next season. Shedding both players brings some much needed cap relief to this roster, and while they were both productive players it’s not like they’re irreplaceable.
Then Wade Phillips went out and got his guy – Aqib Talib, who the Denver Broncos were smart to trade instead of letting him walk right back to the Patriots. In a vacuum, Talib and Peters apart aren’t really noteworthy. But shifting them in to a secondary that already has LaMarcus Joyner and then added veteran Sam Shields to replace Trumaine Johnson? I’d say that’s a win.
From a big picture standpoint, this is an obvious attempt to recreate the same defense that Denver employed a few seasons ago to win Super Bowl 50. Phillips is a mastermind as a defensive coordinator, and well regarded for how he runs the 3-4 scheme. He prefers to use blanket coverage over top to let the front-seven run wild, which means that you can expect a lot of action around the team’s defensive centerpiece – Aaron Donald. You know, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year?
WAS THE OFFENSE REALLY ‘THAT GOOD’ IN 2017?
If you rewind back to the 2017 season, it’s easy to say that Rams relied on a high powered offense while their defense didn’t hold up their end of the deal. That’s fair to a certain extent, but it also ignores the fact that the Rams had a totally average opponent base that ranked 15th best in terms of strength of schedule by season’s end.
I always laugh when people release the strength of schedule early on in the preseason because we have no idea what teams are going to look like at that point. Did anyone have the Rams penciled in as prohibitive NFC contenders? Put your goddamn hands down. No, you didn’t.
Without getting super nerdy about the Rams’ offensive production, let’s look at where they really padded their numbers. How about a 33-0 blanking in prime time during Week 7 against an injury depleted Arizona team? What about when the played Seattle at full strength and coughed up five turnovers in a 10-16 home loss? They feasted on San Francisco in Week 3 during a 41-39 thriller, blew up Dallas sans Sean Lee the following Sunday in a 35-30 win and also dropped 51 points on a Giants defense that was routinely one of the worst in the entire league.
Of course, this isn’t meant to detract from what they accomplished. More than anything, context matters when looking at any team in the NFL. They battled the Saints to a great 26-20 win in Week 12 and barely lost to the Eagles in a memorable Week 14 showdown that saw Carson Wentz go down for the season.
It’s not that the Rams didn’t have a good offense, it’s that they didn’t have a great one. They averaged 29.9 points per game on the lifeless bodies of some lackluster defensive sides, but more than validated themselves in important statement games. That thinking goes both ways as they were also stuffed by the Vikings in a similar matchup late in the year.
GOFF GOT OFF EASY THANKS TO GURLEY
Again, let’s look at the numbers. Goff was the 10th best quarterback in terms of passing yards with 3,804 to go with 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. You can calculate usage in a lot of ways, but one of the bare bones methods is to look at some simple kitchen sink stats. Goff had the 17th best passing percentage overall and the 18th most attempts of all quarterbacks. To put this in perspective, he managed just 8 more passes than Jacoby Brissett. Even more important is the fact that Goff had the third worst completion percentage of quarterbacks that attempted at least 475 passes. The only two he beat out? Cam Newton and Blake Bortles.
What does that tell you? It says very simply that McVay saw Goff as a game manager instead of a game breaker. This takes a bit of explaining by bringing in some surrounding data so bear with me.
Hot take alert - Todd Gurley was the engine of the LA Rams. He was involved in 37.7 percent of his team’s plays from scrimmage when it comes to both rush attempts and targets in the passing game. Le’Veon Bell blows everyone away in terms of usage as he was utilized on 41.7 percent of the Steelers’ plays (which is one of the main reasons the franchise should absolutely pay the guy). The only two backs that shared a similar workload were LeSean McCoy (37.8 percent) and Melvin Gordon (36.6).
Compare that type of workload to what other bell cow backs in the league had, and you have a group that includes Kareem Hunt (35.3), Leonard Fournette (30.0, but also due to injury) and Jordan Howard (35.3). A single point on this scale is worth about 15 plays, or an entire quarter for an offense on average. It’s a lot.
The point I’m getting at is that Gurley was leaned on to produce for his team in a way that almost no other player was in the NFL at a playoff-caliber level outside of Le’Veon Bell. Hunt was surrounded by offensive playmakers galore. Bell plays on one of the most explosive teams in the league with a Hall of Fame quarterback to boot. McCoy and Gordon were absolute workhorses on bad teams.
And that’s where expectations differ when it comes to teams like the Chargers and the Rams. Heading in to the 2018 season, the Rams will be expected to recreate the league shattering offense that propelled them through the previous campaign in a way that doesn’t seem plausible. Scouts and defensive coordinators will be memorizing game tape of Gurley to create ways to stop him, not only because he’s one of the best weapons in the league, but because he’s the only threat the Rams really have offensively.
This brings us back to the free agent frenzy the Rams find themselves in the middle of. While everyone is talking about the defense that Wade Phillips is building, he also had Peyton Manning playing with peak Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Are you really going to suggest that Goff is that kind of pilot?
Goff made considerable jumps from being an idiot in 2016 to a very serviceable playmaker in 2017. Sean McVay has everything to do with that, but it’s impossible to really extrapolate what Goff can be in 2018 given that he wasn’t used in the way that elite quarterbacks have been. Goff didn’t win games as much as “didn’t lose them”. The team attempted to bring him significant help in the form of Sammy Watkins last summer, but the mercurial receiver never really produced in the flash-bang way he was supposed to.
THE RAMS HAVE WAY BELOW AVERAGE RECEIVERS
Not all of that is Watkins’ fault, because the passing game of the Rams wasn’t really there to put up big numbers. If anything, it was meant to take advantage of the continued focus on Gurley. The Rams were excellent in needling passes in the red zone because defenses didn’t want to be put on a Gurley’s highlight reel (not that they could stop it most of the time). Watkins was a very distant fourth in receiving for the Rams behind Cooper Kuup, Gurley and fellow Buffalo cast-off Robert Woods. Sure, he led the team in receiving touchdowns but that doesn’t matter right now because he’s a free agent.
That’s right – the best receivers that the Rams have are still the two guys that nobody else really wanted. Woods is a journeyman at best while Kupp is a third-round pick. They’re both very good, but if the Rams really want to take a leap, they need a better receiver corps.
Los Angeles has also fool hardily spent $16,000,000 – or 11.8% of their cap – on Robert Woods and Tavon Austin with a pair of $8,000,000 salaries for the 2018 season. How they upgrade this position is beyond me, and their tight-end situation is pretty unspectacular as well.
The team is relying on Goff taking another massive leap forward and let’s be clear about this: he went from “joke” to “serviceable”. The jump to “elite” is a big one and we don’t know if he has it in him. How are you supposed to grade a guy like Goff on a team that is paying Greg Zuerlein $6.75 million a year to make up for his short comings?
HOW DO THEY FIND HELP?
Wide-receivers are going to be criminally expensive this off-season and the Rams can’t afford to be buyers especially given the class that’s available. After Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon, the next best include Watkins, Cameron Meredith, Terrelle Pryor and Donte Moncrief. I mean…c’mon.
There’s no obvious way that the Rams can upgrade unless they see prominent value in Calvin Ridley out of Alabama, who has been rated all over the first-round depending on team need.
So let’s remember that while all of the Rams’ moves this off-season have bolstered a defense that needed improvement, their real area of need is in play makers at receiver. Gurley can and probably will have another MVP caliber season in the same way that Bell has had back-to-back years of greatness because he’s not used in the same manner that Adrian Peterson was at his peak. But for Goff to take that next, all-important step he needs more talent around him.
I just don’t see how the Rams get that talent because it’s not a straight line acquisition for them due to cap concerns. However, if we’ve seen this franchise do anything this off-season, it’s wheel and deal their way in to a stronger position. Hopefully that means a big splash at receiver.
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