Most Rams fans have been extremely excited about the upcoming season. There have been many discussions about the Rams having the best roster that they have had in at least 10 years. The conversations have been gaining steam and picking up more and more as the season draws closer.
It makes a lot of sense to be excited about the current Rams roster, but the lines might be blurred a bit as to why they are a better team. There's not a lot of differences with the roster from last year, so when discussing what makes the team better, one has to be very precise and detailed.
The simple truth is that, the Rams are a better team because of two reasons:
- Their defense
- Another year of experience
They managed to bring back all 11 starters which is rare in today's NFL. Not only did they maintain continuity, but they actually upgraded on one starter by bringing in Akeem Ayers to start in place of Jo-Lonn Dunbar giving them depth and experience at the linebacker position that they have not had in quite some time.
Adding Nick Fairley is a nice bonus as well. Should the addition really be considered as a key upgrade? No one can honestly tell another person that Kendall Langford is more talented than Fairley, but Fairley's talent has not shown up much in games. A poor work ethic and inconsistency has resulted in 98 tackles and 13.5 sacks in 46 career games.
The most important thing to mention with this team is that all of these young players that have been around the last couple of seasons are now more seasoned and experienced. There's simply not a huge or drastic upgrade in the starting 22 outside of the offensive line and running back.
No, Nick Foles is not a huge upgrade. A startling realization is that often times, fans will take what is heard in a report and use it as concrete, golden truth.
The acquisition of Nick Foles brought headlines like "the Rams now have stability at the quarterback position", or "the Rams have added a talent upgrade to their quarterback position". What is not mentioned is that Foles is anything but stable. While he is without question an upgrade in talent over players like Shaun Hill, Kellen Clemens, or Austin Davis, he is not a talent upgrade over Sam Bradford.
Foles was traded with a fourth and second-round pick, I have never in all my life heard of a franchise quarterback being traded with the inclusion of any picks, yet alone ones of such value. They usually demand value picks in return, and among those picks has to be at least one first-rounder. Bradford drew first-round pick interest on the trade block, so just from a talent perspective he is not an upgrade. Add in his trouble with staying on the field - much like Bradford - and you could argue he is a downgrade. Foles is merely another Andy Dalton or Alex Smith without the consistent availability. Nothing spectacular, just solid quarterback play.
The most misleading stat of all is wins. The last 4 seasons the Cincinnati Bengals have won more games with Dalton at Quarterback, than the Saints with Drew Brees, the Falcons with Matt Ryan, or the Lions with Matthew Stafford. Now who will be the brave soul to dare to say that he is better than any of that trio? Win totals define how good the team is not the quarterback.
There's also a lot of hype surrounding Todd Gurley. I am a huge fan of Gurley, but the honest truth is that his injury track record is along the lines of Bradford and Foles. He can't stay out of the the training room, and that is a huge concern. It's bigger than just his ACL. I would feel more comfortable with the addition of Gurley if he just tore his ACL in May walking down the street and had no prior injury issues.
Gurley has had elbow injuries, wrist injuries, ankle injuries, knee injuries...there's just too long of a track record to make me feel comfortable in him being available consistently. Again, his talent is undeniable, but what good is talent if it can't stay on the field? Exhibit A: Sam Bradford. So no, Gurley and Foles are not the reason to rejoice.
The real reason is the same reason that teams win championships: the defense.
This unit deserves not just more of the spotlight, but all of the spotlight. They have some truly dominant pieces in place in Alec Ogletree, T.J. McDonald, and Michael Brockers. But they don't get enough credit or attention, especially Brockers. No, I did not mention Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald, and for good reason. It's time to shed some light on the real reason the Rams are a better team. Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have invaluable experience, and has had - by all accounts - GREAT off-seasons, they will both play huge roles in the teams success this year.
I have often heard that the belief is that Jeff Fisher is copying the Seattle Seahawks plan to building a team. But I cannot agree with that, as the Seahawks have a very explosive offense. In fact the Seahawks led the league in explosive plays last season. Explosive being defined as running plays of 10+ yards and passing plays of 25+ yards. The Seahawks had 110 of those plays, which translates to 10.77% of their plays being explosive, with Green Bay in second at 10.05%, the only two teams to break 10%.
I would more closely compare the Rams to the 2000 Ravens. That's not to say that the Rams defense will be historical like that teams defense, but instead it's a team that will survive off of defense and special teams.
This isn't bad news as we all seen how that turned out for the Ravens, but it is a reality check, that the offense might not be that good this season. And if they are, it will likely take some time for it to begin to show.
It will be all about the defense this year.