Schedule: DAL, @PHI, @BUF, NYG, @WAS, @SF, CHI, @MIA, BYE, SEA, @TB, SF, @ARI, NE, NYJ, @SEA, ARI
DL A’Shawn Robinson (FA), EDGE Leonard Floyd (FA), RB Cam Akers (Draft), WR Van Jefferson (Draft), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Draft)
Losses: WR Brandin Cooks (Trade), S Eric Weddle (Retired), RB Todd Gurley (Cut), EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. (FA), LB Cory Littleton (FA), K Greg Zuerlein (FA), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (FA), PR/KR Jojo Natson (FA), S Marqui Christian (FA), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Injury), DL A’Shawn Robinson (Injury), LB Travin Howard (Injury)
Was last year’s four-win drop just Super Bowl Hangover or indicative of who this team really is? I’d say more the latter than the former. Los Angeles made a series of all-in trades that left them with alarming cap and draft pick situations. Had they won in 2018, it might’ve all been worth it. Of course, they didn’t, so hindsight has the moves looking much more questionable.
I just can’t see the Rams running it back with a seemingly worse roster and returning to contender status. Their biggest weakness in 2019, the offensive line, returns the same underwhelming rotation. Don’t let the sack numbers fool you: they were bad last year. Sean McVay’s play-action and quick passing calls were responsible for the low sacks, not a strong line. One thing in this group’s favor is youth. With a ton of young guys on the line, betting on internal development wasn’t the worst idea.
On the other hand, expecting improvement from Jared Goff might be unrealistic. We pretty much know who he is at this point—you can rely on him to keep the gears turning in a great offense, but not to carry a bad one. He’s still a franchise quarterback; he’s just not in the league’s upper-echelon.
Unfortunately for Goff, this year’s offense looks closer to the 2019 disappointment than 2018 juggernaut. At receiver, losing Brandin Cooks will hurt a little. Only a little, though. Rookie Van Jefferson seems poised to make an early impact and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are more than capable of picking up the slack. The tight ends should remain stout as well. Both Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett flashed last season, so this could end up being one of the best groups in the league.
In the backfield, the running back-by-committee won’t come close to matching Todd Gurley’s brilliant 2018 season. Meeting last year’s standard is far more realistic. Actually, a broken-down Gurley might still be better than the Malcolm Brown-Darrell Henderson-Cam Akers trio. The 2020 rookie seems like the only one capable of matching the new Falcon’s ceiling, though he has to get a chance first.
Even McVay deserves a little blame for last year’s fall from grace. Defenses seem to have figured out the constant jet sweep trickery, so Kid Genius needs to come up with something new. To be fair, if anyone is capable of completely reinventing his offense in one offseason, it’s the Rams coach.
After L.A.’s offense cratered last year, it could be the defenses turn in 2020. They did a remarkable job of withstanding last season’s departures, but this year’s wave is much larger and scarier. Outside of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, two of the best players at their respective positions, standouts are in short supply in this unit. For a team whose strategy has been to acquire as many stars as possible, that’s worrisome.
Ramsey’s secondary-mates are promising, but calling them elite is a reach. Maybe after the year it won’t be, though. Troy Hill, Taylor Rapp, and John Johnson have each looked great in stretches, so if they can maintain that over a whole season, the Rams may not be dead yet.
The defensive line is a similar story. We know Donald is a one-man wrecking crew, so anything the other guys can add is gravy. Michael Brockers had one foot out the door, but he’s back in the supporting role he’s held for years. Sebastian Joseph-Day is a nice complementary piece as well. If A’Shawn Robinson ever gets on the field, this group could be really good.
Sandwiched between two promising groups are the awful linebackers. Throw in the edge rushers, too. Neither position inspires much hope. L.A.’s plan to replace studs Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler is prayer, apparently. For a team so cap-strapped, how did they possibly think spending $10 million on Leonard Floyd was a good idea? If playing across from Khalil Mack doesn’t make you break out, odds are you’re never going to. Between Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and record-fast bust Jachai Polite, the other options aren’t any better. Rookie Terrell Lewis isn’t going to transform this group upon his return, either.
Somehow, the inside linebackers might actually be worse. Before Travin Howard’s season-ending injury, this group looked bad. Now, they’re possibly the worst in the league. Troy Reeder played limited snaps next year while Micah Kiser has zero career starts and is coming off a season-ending injury. Opposing backs and tight ends might eat these guys alive.
While I only have the Rams going 7-9, a playoff berth is definitely possible. The schedule is very manageable, so if L.A. can play to their strengths while hiding their weaknesses, they could pile up wins in what should be an insane division. That’s another reason I don’t have them in the playoffs. Between San Francisco and Seattle, winning the West is pretty much off the table. Pulling out a wildcard spot in the deep NFC will tough, too.
What’s your record prediction for the Rams? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.