With the move to Los Angeles, the Rams made it their goal to reinvent the offense. The team drafted superstar running back Todd Gurley in the 1st round last year, but there was still something missing from the offense in 2015: a quarterback.
The Rams had to move mountains for Cal quarterback Jared Goff. After two different trade ups, Les Snead and company landed their quarterback. Goff was touted as a smart, methodical passer who could provide a steady, accurate presence at quarterback for a team in need of a rejuvenation on offense. Goff is a fresh start at quarterback for the Rams. While he gets acclimated to the NFL, Gurley can carry the load of the offense.
Now, hold on a minute. This story line sounds eerily familiar. Two years before the Rams traded for a franchise (fingers crossed) quarterback to pair with their star running back, a team from the NFC North did the same exact thing.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 NFL Draft to pair with Adrian Peterson and elevate the offense. Last season — Bridgewater’s second season in the league — the Vikings offense was a crystal ball of sorts for the 2016 Rams offense. The comparison stretches beyond just the quarterback and running back, though.
In addition to a similar quarterback/running back duo, the 2015 Vikings offense also had a struggling offensive line, a bare receiving corps and great defensive help. Almost every aspect of the two offenses can be compared and contrasted, so Daily Norseman writer Arif Hasan and I did just that. With a few minor tweaks on either side, Arif and I are generally on the same page.
Teddy Bridgewater is better than Jared Goff and there isn’t much of a debate to be had. It’s funny that the two are getting compared again now, though. Throughout Goff’s draft process, many believed he was Bridgewater 2.0. Goff was said to be accurate, smart and a bit frail, all of which were common themes in Bridgewater’s scouting reports. While Goff is fairly smart and accurate, Bridgewater was and is otherworldly in those areas.
Bridgewater played like a ten year veteran as a sophomore in college, whereas Goff still has a long way to go in terms of manipulating his trajectory and velocity, playing on the fly, and adjusting to pre-snap reads that go wrong. This is not to say Goff is a bad quarterback. He is a fine quarterback that can develop into a quality facilitating-style passer, but Bridgewater is an excellent quarterback who has shown far more NFL ability and prowess than his numbers may suggest. Bridgewater can facilitate and be a dynamic play maker. Goff is more than likely going to live a career of facilitation.
Arif gave a full advantage to the Rams offensive line, which makes plenty of sense considering the Rams have a decent interior that could be better if Jamon Brown develops well. That said, I felt the Vikings’ interior in 2015 was a bit more stable than the Rams’ should be in 2016, while the Rams should have better bookends in 2016 than the Vikings did last season. Neither team has a reliable left tackle, but Rob Havenstein is comfortably better than Minnesota’s T.J. Clemmings, both of whom were rookies last season.
Both Arif and I gave the running backs edge to the Vikings, but Arif made one key clarification. He has Gurley ranked ahead of Peterson. That’s one of the trickiest debates in the NFL right now. It’s safe to say that the top four running backs in football are Gurley, Peterson, Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles, but it’s tough to clearly separate any one of them from each other.
The running backs advantage being given to the Vikings roots more in the fact that Jerrick McKinnon was an excellent No.2 option for the Vikings in 2015, whereas the Rams will have some combination of Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham. Neither of the Rams rotational backs stack up with McKinnon. Granted, both teams keep their star backs on the field a majority of the time, but the Vikings were able to stay on schedule with McKinnon much better than the Rams will be able to do with either of their rotational running backs.
This area was close, but much like the offensive line, neither team was well off. The 2015 Vikings did not have a true, capable No.1 receiver. Instead, they had Stefon Diggs, who would have served as an excellent No.2 if Minnesota had a quality X receiver (they do now in Laquon Treadwell). The 2016 Rams are in the same boat with Tavon Austin. Austin will be forced an ungodly amount of touches out of necessity. He is a good receiver and an explosive play maker, but he is not the type of guy who should be carrying the load for a receiving corps. He needs to be a complimentary player, but the Rams don’t have a good No.1 to take much attention from him.
Much like the ‘15 Vikes had in Mike Wallace, the 2016 Rams have a slowly declining, roller coaster of a veteran in Kenny Britt. Rookie Pharoh Cooper also compares nicely to the Vikings Jarius Wright. Both squads had/have someone who didn’t/won’t produce as much as they should, too. The Vikings had Charles Johnson, who only had nine catches in 2015; the Rams have Brian Quick, who probably won’t exceed Johnson’s nine catch mark by much.
Overall, neither receiving corps is ideal, but the Vikings group was a tad more reliable than the Rams group should be.
Tight Ends and Fullbacks
God bless both of these quarterbacks. In addition to a middling receiver corps, Bridgewater’s tight ends weren’t much of a positive factor either. Kyle Rudolph produced a fair amount in 2015, but it was more out of necessity than willingness from Bridgewater. Rudolph’s hands are highly questionable and he dropped more than his fair share of great throws.
Goff’s tight end situation is funky, too. Lance Kendricks returns as a long time veteran, but the Rams drafted two athletic tight ends, Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway, to pair with Goff. Kendricks should not be leaned on too much because he does not provide a play making presence. On the other hand, Higbee and Hemingway will both need time to adjust to the league’s speed and physicality.
At least the Vikings had a tight end who was both a veteran and an athlete. Rudolph did not have the best of hands, but he made the occasional big play and did a fine job making room for himself.
Norv Turner is a good offensive mind, don’t get me wrong, but he failed miserably to adjust to the Vikings personnel last season. Bridgewater was capable of making all of the intermediate and deep throws that Turner likes to call, but the offensive line could not hold their ground and the wide receivers should not have been trusted that often down the field. Turner also forced the offense to be a bit too reliant on Peterson when there was no reason to, seeing as they had a bright young quarterback.
Heading into 2016, Rob Boras and Mike Groh will tag team the offensive responsibilities for the Rams. The pair should be able to properly blend leaning on Gurley with enough passing by Goff to all levels of the field. So long as they do not ask Goff to take deep drops often, and they almost certainly won’t, the Rams offense should be sound at the structural level.
The Rams are going to have a top notch defense, especially up front, but the 2015 Vikings squad was more well-rounded and not much less menacing up front. Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and the rest of the defensive line have a slight advantage over the Vikings front line, which is quite impressive considering how stacked the men in purple are up front.
The two teams have relatively even defensive back groups, too. Though, Harrison Smith being a much better safety than anyone on the Rams gave them a talent advantage and a bit more flexibility in how aggressive the defense can be. Unforunately for the Rams, there’s no discussion about which team had/has the better linebackers. Anthony Barr is a stud, Eric Kendricks is good alongside Barr on the outside and Chad Greenway is still a functional third linebacker when the team is in base. Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron and Akeem Ayers make for a nice linebacker corps, but it’s hard to top what the Vikings had.
There are a few minor differences between the 2015 Vikings offense the 2016 Rams offense, but it’s probably the best recent comparison for what the Rams offense should sort of look like in 2016. To the dismay of Rams fans everywhere, the Vikings squad last season was better than the Rams are going to be in 2016. The Rams have no clear edge over the 2015 Vikings squad, where as the Vikings at least had a definite stud at the quarterback position.
The Vikings were able to make the playoffs last season and that was due in large part to their offense being functional enough to compliment their excellent defense. Theoretically, the Rams have a shot to do the same with a similar roster. The problem is that they are going to be less experienced and generally less talented than the 2015 Vikings squad. The young Rams offense looks to be set up to have a nice future together, but it’s not likely that their 2016 campaign is as successful as Minnesota’s was in 2015.