The Los Angeles Rams hit the pinnacle of NFL success when they reached the Super Bowl following the 2018 season under the direction of second-year coach Sean McVay and third-year quarterback Jared Goff. Los Angeles was in the spotlight and soaking up all its glory only to fall to the New England Patriots, 13-3.
But that was okay; after all, McVay was the new, young coaching model teams across the league wanted to copy and paste into their own system, and Goff just set a record for the most guaranteed money ($110 million) with his four-year, $134 million contract extension. The Rams were poised for continued success. Instead, they received an abrupt wake-up call and after two 10-plus-win seasons, fell to 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first year under McVay.
Los Angeles isn’t the same team from 16 months ago and the Rams are in the tough NFC West. In order for the 2020 season to be successful, they need to get back to the playoffs.
A playoff berth will do a couple of things for Los Angeles. It’ll 1) give the team and McVay their credibility back; you can’t be the next, hot thing in coaching and then abruptly go up in flames and 2) energize the fan base. There’s plenty to be excited about with both L.A.’s teams slated for the upcoming season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” a new stadium, and a new look featuring younger, and more cost-effective, players.
The Rams looked as if they would return to the playoffs in 2019. They started out well and went 3-0, even beating the New Orleans Saints in Los Angeles in Week 2, but a sudden three-game losing streak rocked the Rams; and more decisive losses, including back-to-back defeats in Weeks 15 and 16 that eliminated them from the playoffs, became the story of their season.
Los Angeles was not without its share of positive takeaways, and one of the biggest components of that is wide receiver Cooper Kupp. We didn’t get to see the full breadth of Kupp in the Rams’ Super Bowl 53 run after he tore his ACL in Week 10, but last season offered a glimpse of what he’s able to accomplish when healthy. He finished 2019 with career highs in yards (1161), touchdowns (10), and receptions (94) while playing in all 16 games with 14 starts. Kupp and Robert Woods led all Rams receivers last season and will be key in their success this year and Goff, hopefully, returning to form.
As the team shifts into a younger version of itself, the Rams are missing some other key playmakers. The list includes a mixture of players traded away or leaving in free agency and starts with the most notable absence of running back Todd Gurley, who is now with the Atlanta Falcons. Los Angeles is also without Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the Houston Texans; Dante Fowler Jr., who is also in Atlanta; Eric Weddle, who retired in February after 13 seasons; Cory Littleton, who’s with the Las Vegas Raiders; Marcus Peters, who was traded midseason to the Baltimore Ravens; Aqib Talib, who was also traded but to Miami and ended his season on the injured reserve; Nickell Robey-Coleman, who’s with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Lamarcus Joyner, who’s also in Las Vegas.
It’s an extensive list, but the soft rebuild could benefit the Rams’ long-term goals.
The players still there—the aforementioned Kupp and Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee, who is coming off his best season on offense as well as star defensive tackle Aaron Donald—the new additions in defensive draftees Terrell Lewis (EDGE) and Terrell Burgess (safety), and the handful of other moves Los Angeles has made—including bringing Kevin O'Connell on as offensive coordinator and Brandon Staley as defensive coordinator to replace, or try to replace, the great Wade Phillips—are creating almost the perfect marriage of young, often unproven, chip-on-their-shoulder talent for McVay to mold.
The Rams also re-signed Andrew Whitworth, who similar to Goff isn’t the same player he once was, but the front office believed in Whitworth enough to pay him up to $30 million over three years; however, the Rams do have an out if they want to take it after the 2020 season.
Los Angeles has enough of a veteran presence to steer the team in the right direction; the Rams just need that trajectory to be upward. But Los Angeles still has a lot to figure out: Who will run the ball? How will the once top-10 defense under Phillips look under Staley? Can Goff morph back into the passer that earned him a top contract? If the Rams can find answers to these questions that are satisfactory among the NFC West and the rest of the division, their playoff window can be extended.