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Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2017 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the preseason.
Los Angeles won’t stand for boring, and no team in the NFL last season was more boring than the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams’ first season wasn’t a smash hit. They were bad on the field, and fans didn’t go out of their way to watch. Nor should they have. Their games were mostly awful, including a pair of games in which neither team reached 10 points. Los Angeles had the worst offense in football and it wasn’t close.
The Rams’ strange, blind loyalty to Jeff Fisher had to end, and it finally did. None of Fisher’s five Rams teams finished .500 or better, and none of them ranked higher than No. 23 in the NFL in points scored. He was fired during last season.
Two men will determine if the Rams can actually move the needle in L.A. over the next few years: new coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff.
Hiring McVay is the kind of bold move the Rams needed to make. He’s just 31, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. He’s young, but he has already drawn praise for his acumen as an offensive coach. With McVay as their offensive coordinator last season, the Redskins finished third in the NFL in yardage and 12th in points scored. The last time the Rams finished higher than No. 21 in points scored or No. 24 in yardage was 2006.
A competent offensive coaching staff will help 2016 No. 1 overall pick Goff, but he comes into his second season with serious questions. Goff sitting behind Case Keenum for the first nine games of last season, or being third-string behind Sean Mannion out of the preseason, can be explained away by coaching incompetence. But it’s not like Goff did much when he got the chance. The Rams went 0-7 in his starts. Goff had a 63.6 rating. He was sacked an astonishing 11.3 percent of the time, and a quarterback does have some control over his sack rate. It shows that Goff had trouble identifying where to go with the ball and getting rid of it. The game seemed like it was going too fast for him.
Goff was playing behind a bad offensive line, with a lackluster set of receivers, under a coaching staff that had no idea how to generate an offense. The only thing the Rams can do is blame the outside factors and let Goff start 2017 with a clean slate. After giving up so much last season to trade up and draft him, it’s not like they have a choice.
If the Rams could be simply decent on offense with McVay calling plays, Goff looking like the first overall pick and Todd Gurley running like he did as a rookie, the Rams might not be bad. The defense is talented, and new coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best in the NFL. His track record in his first year with a new team is impressive. There are some reasons to be optimistic. It’s just hard to set aside how bad the Rams – who were 0-2 against the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers – looked most of last season. They lost 11 of their last 12 games after a good start.
It’s not like Los Angeles was clamoring for its own NFL team (and it definitely didn’t want a second team … good luck with that, Chargers). The NFL has tried pushing the notion that everyone is excited about football being back in L.A., but that wasn’t the case last season. Then again, the product the Rams put out for their fans in the ancient Los Angeles Coliseum wasn’t worth watching.
If McVay can make the Rams watchable and get L.A. excited – and that’s even more important with the new Inglewood stadium delayed a year – that would be a great first step.
The Rams’ big move this offseason was signing longtime Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth to a three-year, $33.75 million deal. Even though Whitworth is 35 years old, it was a good addition. The Rams have to protect Jared Goff better if he’s going to develop. They also need a few weapons for him and … they signed receiver Robert Woods to a five-year, $34 million deal. Forget 1,000-yard seasons, Woods never had a 700-yard season for the Buffalo Bills, and had 12 touchdowns in 57 games. It’s curious why the Rams didn’t spend for a more dynamic receiver, or just retain Kenny Britt after his 1,000-yard season. Because the Rams severely overpaid in the Goff trade, they had no first-round pick. Second-round pick Gerald Everett is an interesting tight end prospect and maybe receiver and third-round pick Cooper Kupp can help right away. Grade: D-plus
The Rams defense has legitimate talent, and you’d assume Wade Phillips will take a good unit up a notch. The Rams finished ninth last season in yards allowed, and also fifth in pass yards per play allowed and eighth in rush yards per play allowed. Assuming the players take to Phillips’ scheme, the Rams can have a top-10 defense. Then if the offense can go from horrendously awful to just kind of bad, more wins should come.
The four youngest coaches of the Super Bowl era, before McVay was hired, were Lane Kiffin, Raheem Morris, David Shula and Josh McDaniels. That list make you feel confident? (In fairness, John Madden was the fifth coach on that list and he did OK.) While it felt like the Rams needed to do something dramatic, hiring a 31-year-old coach is dangerous. McVay has just three years as an offensive coordinator and a few more as a position coach. He was 14 years old when Tom Brady was drafted. Maybe McVay is Madden. Or maybe he’s Kiffin. We just don’t know.
There have been the obligatory offseason stories about Jared Goff looking much better. The truth is, he couldn’t look much worse. Most rookie quarterbacks struggle, but you’d like to at least see a few impressive moments. Goff very rarely looked like a No. 1 overall pick. Goff put on some muscle, should play behind a better line with Whitworth protecting his blind side, and has a coach who seems to know how to call an offense. That’s great. Because if Goff plays as poorly as he did last season, then what?
Some would argue defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL. If he’s not No. 1, he’s on a short list. That’s why the Rams have to figure out his contract situation. This is not a team that can afford to lose an elite player, and ask them how franchise-tagging Trumaine Johnson twice has worked out (here’s the answer: Johnson, a good-not-great cornerback coming off a disappointing season, has the fourth-highest base salary in the entire NFL at $16.7 million). You’d assume Donald will get paid like J.J. Watt, Justin Houston or Von Miller and live happily ever after, but you’d also like to see the Rams handle the situation sooner rather than later.
From Yahoo’s Liz Loza: “The most exciting thing about the Rams was their new stadium, and even that’s delayed now. But there is a glimmer of hope. No, I’m not referring to Todd Gurley’s bounce-back potential (though if you want to read about that, check this out). Rather, I believe Lance Dunbar has an opportunity to produce for PPR enthusiasts.
“Before Sean McVay moved west, he got creative using Chris Thompson in Washington. The pass-catching back averaged over 9 fantasy points per game in PPR formats and closed out 2016 within the top-30 overall producers at the position. Given their overlapping skill sets, a similar fate is not out of the question for Dunbar. A late round stash in PPR leagues, I have the former Cowboy ranked ahead of Thompson.” [Check out Yahoo’s Pressing Questions for more on the Rams’ fantasy outlook.]
The Rams were as bad on offense as an NFL team can possibly be. They were last in the NFL in points scored, with 40 fewer points than the Cleveland Browns. They gained 262.7 yards per game, and second-to-last was the San Francsico 49ers at 308.1. That’s a huge gap. The Rams were also last in the NFL in first downs, passing touchdowns and net yards per passing attempt. They were 31st in passing yards, 30th in interceptions, 31st in rushing yards, 31st in rushing yards per carry, 26th in rushing touchdowns … you get the point. According to metrics from Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, the 2016 Rams were the fourth worst offense of the past 30 NFL seasons. The Rams could be significantly improved on offense this season and still be the worst offense in football. They were horrific a year ago.
WHAT HAPPENED TO TODD GURLEY?
Here’s a report from our colleague Greg Cosell of NFL Films from Gurley’s 13-carry, 50-yard game against a bad New Orleans Saints defense on Nov. 27: “Gurley did not run well, he did not show good vision at times leaving yards on the field, he also looked mechanical and robotic, not fluid and quick – not the same decisive and explosive runner he was a year ago.” It’s amazing how much worse Gurley was than in 2015, when he won NFL offensive rookie of the year. His yards per carry dropped from 4.8 to 3.2. He didn’t have a 100-yard game. He only broke 80 yards once. A bad line, horrendous quarterbacking and a poor offensive staff did not help. But Gurley needs to play much better than he did last season. The dynamic, decisive runner from 2015 was nowhere to be seen last year.
If you spent the past few years criticizing Jeff Fisher, you have to also believe the Rams will improve just by changing coaches. Jared Goff is young and there’s a reason he was the first pick. Todd Gurley looked like a future star just a year ago. If the Rams have the 31st-ranked offense in the NFL it would be a quantum leap from where they were, and that’s why Sean McVay was hired. Wade Phillips’ track record, especially in his first season with a new team, could mean great things for the defense. Finishing .500 (or better?) isn’t totally out of the question.
If Jared Goff isn’t good, the Rams are in serious trouble. They mortgaged the franchise for him and he showed nothing last season. It’s hard to believe Goff will be that bad again, but that’s what the Rams should fear. If Goff is a bust, the move to go get him in the draft will set the franchise back for years. It doesn’t help that they passed Carson Wentz, who had some impressive moments as a rookie.
We all know coaching matters, and the Rams got no help in that department. Sean McVay is not a sure thing, but at least a new voice should add some enthusiasm. Also, he will run an offense that looks like it’s from this century. It’s impossible to look at the Rams’ offensive numbers (or Jared Goff’s game film) from a year ago and rank them much higher than this. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Rams far exceed expectations due simply to better coaching and improvement from Goff.
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