How good could the Rams be this year?
For years, under Jeff Fisher the Rams were one of the most mediocre teams in the league. Always a 7-9 or at best an 8-8 season was in Fisher’s own words “bullshit”. The then St Louis Rams moved to LA and in the subsequent season sacked Jeff Fisher in a bid to beat off mediocrity. The sad image of him waving the team off whilst holding his dogs lead in All or Nothing will not long be forgotten.
To replace the aged Fisher, the Rams hired Sean McVay who would become the NFL youngest head coach. It’s fair to say that it was an inspired appointment as in the space of a season the Rams went from mediocrity to winning the NFC West in style. Gone is the drudgery of Fishers offence and in it’s place, McVay transformed it into an exciting, dynamic and entertaining to watch unit. Alongside that, McVay was able to get the potential out of the former No.1 pick Jared Goff.
Heading into the off season, hopes were already high that 2018 could be even better. And that was before GM Les Snead starting wheeling and dealing. Trades for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib has meant that the Rams instantly obtained one of the better cornerback tandems in the league. Whether McVay can control those two personalities remains to be seen! To further beef up the defence, the Rams acquired Ndamukong Suh to team up with all-pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Wade Phillips, who won a Super Bowl with a great defence in Denver, must be in heaven with the amount of talent that he has to play with now.
It wasn’t just the defence that got an upgrade. On the offensive side of the ball the Rams may have watched Sammy Watkins go but, in his stead, they traded their first-round pick to bring in Brandin Cooks from the Patriots. Along with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp that’s a good set of receivers for Goff to throw to, all with a unique skill set that will keep opposing defensive coordinators guessing, especially when you throw Todd Gurley into the mix as well.
So there’s a lot of talent on the pitch and there’s a lot of talent off the pitch as well in McVay and Wade Phillips. There are two main concerns I have with this team at this juncture:
- The ability to gel all the new players into the team and have the old players not rest on the laurels and success of last year
- The number of players coming in to contract years
Wade Phillips can rely on his past success and reputation with which to command the defensive players. There are few, if any players that have a CV as impressive as his. He’s also got a former pupil in Talib who he can lean on as a defensive leader. I’m sure that Talib would not have come to the Rams without Phillips giving his approval. On the offensive side of the ball, McVay proved his worth as a play caller and motivator last year. Moving in to 2018 he needs to maintain this and also bring the new players into the fold ensuring that they’re clear on the standards that were set last year and what’s expected from them.
Suh, Gurley and Donald are all due a new contract at the end of the year. Donald is already holding out of the off-season programme in a bid to get his deal sorted out sooner rather than later. Gurley had a comeback year last year and had the fifth-year option picked up but I would expect the Rams would be keen to secure his services for the next few years. And Suh is on a one year prove it deal though it’s unlikely that the Rams would be able to afford to keep both Suh and Donald for more than this year. This could swing both ways – either each player plays exceptionally well to prove themselves next year or else they each become consumed with the need for more dollar that it distracts them from the game.
The NFC West is looking like an interesting division next year. The 49ers are improving after a few years in the doldrums. The Seahawks are rebuilding with a lot of veterans leaving town. And the Cardinals are starting again with a new head coach and new quarterback (be that Bradford or Rosen). Saying that, the Rams are best placed to succeed in 2018 and by all accounts are in a ‘win now’ state at the moment. I would say they’re also one of the favourites to make the Super Bowl in 2018 and at the very least, getting to the NFC Championship game.