Last year the Rams returned to Los Angeles, the city from which they moved in 1995 to greener pastures in St. Louis. Their homecoming was bittersweet though. Fans once again had a team, but the one that they now have isn’t much to cheer about.
In what looks to be more of a marketing move than a well thought out plan, the Rams traded up for the top pick in the 2016 draft to nab hometown quarterback Jared Goff out of Cal. While it may have been driven by the need to sell tickets, the early returns on the trade (which cost the Rams plenty) are not promising.
Goff was wretched in his rookie season, so much so that he didn’t even start until November as the great Case Keenum led the team. Once Goff saw the field, he was played like a deer in the headlights and the Rams lost every game the rest of the way.
Normally a high draft pick would at least provide a salve on the wound of a 4-12 season but the Rams had already traded it away for Goff.
The great dumpster fire of 2016 cost head coach Jeff Fischer his job but the Rams inexplicably hired the 30-year-old former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay as his replacement. McVay is the youngest head coach in modern NFL history and his inexperience doesn’t bode well. The Rams did bring in veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who has his work cut out for him.
It’s probably safe to say that there is nowhere to go but up for Goff but the Rams clearly blew it by passing up the better prospect Carson Wentz who has already exceeded expectations in Philly and should take a big jump forward in 2017.
The offense will have to rely on running back Todd Gurley whose production drastically dropped off from his offensive rookie year of the year award winning 2015. Gurley finished with only 885 yards rushing but did manage to catch 43 passes although to say that he was a huge disappointment is an understatement.
Goff didn’t exactly get much help from what was arguably one of the worst receiving corps in the entire NFL. Leading receiver Kenny Britt left via free agency so the Rams used the draft to add three new receivers and a tight end.
Then on Friday, the team pulled off a stunning trade to acquire speedy but often injured receiver Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills. Watkins will provide an immediate deep threat if he can stay healthy.
The move to Los Angeles and the grass field at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum away from the fast track of the Edward Jones Dome nullified the speed of what was once a fearsome pass rush. The noise in the dome combined with speedy pass rushers was a nightmare for opposing QB’s but those days are history now.
The Rams still managed to finish 9th in overall defense in 2016 but their sacks dropped off to 24th. The team is hoping that a bit of the Wade Phillips magic can return the defense to its previous status. Phillips was the mastermind behind the Denver Broncos Super Bowl winning season two years ago.
That offense was horrific with aging quarterback Peyton Manning injured and on his last legs, yet Phillips worked miracles and it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the defense carried a team that based on offensive production, should have been 7-9 or worse. Von Miller may have been Super Bowl 50’s MVP but he could as easily have shared the honors with Phillips.
He has some talent to work with in L.A., defensive tackle Aaron Donald remains one of the top linemen in the NFL and he is joined by Michael Brockers and Aaron Westbrook. The move to a 3-4 scheme should maximize what Phillips has to work with.
The Rams have a decent linebacking corps and added former Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin via free agency. The secondary could be an issue but Phillips brings former Bronco Kayvon Webster with him from Denver so he will know the system.
It’s hard to be optimistic if you are a Rams fan these days but hey, at least you have your team back.
So, what does it all mean?
Probably another year of dueling the San Francisco 49ers for the bottom spot in the NFC West cellar. It isn’t going to be anything besides that until Goff develops into a reliable pro quarterback and that’s a big IF.