In many ways, sports have a blind faith similar to that of a religion.
In fact, there’s a reason that a ton of people consider sports to be a religion of its own. Whether it’s a prayer storm right before your team’s kicker lines up for a 50-yard game-winning field goal attempt or the endless amount of hope required to believe that “next year is the year,” it’s blind faith all the way around. Short of a couple of teams, it’s rarely rewarded on an annual basis.
Enter the Los Angeles Rams and my switch to covering them after a decent chunk of time spent covering the world of college football. The past year was a learning curve for me; understanding how the team, Owner Stan Kroenke, and Former Head Coach Jeff Fisher operated all while interacting with an NFL fan base for the first time in my life. More than anything, I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t screw up it. I wanted to learn. So what did I learn? Are there even enough words for me to elaborate?
The Rams are a team that inspire hope and no hope all at the same time. It’s an eerily similar proposition to Kroenke’s other juggernaut franchise, Arsenal Football Club. Each and every year fans line up and think to themselves “this is the year,” only to watch their talented franchise come up well short of expectations. While Kroenke gave Fisher nearly five NFL seasons to produce, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger failed to produce for nine years before winning a trophy in 2014. Clearly failure is tolerated, even enabled, at least on some level.
There’s no denying the talent on the Rams, especially over the last two years. At one point in time, you simply did not pass on the Rams. Now teams can seemingly do whatever they want to great effect. They are by no means the worst defense in the league, but the offense is so poor that it places undue stress on their defense. Given enough time on the field, any defense would begin to wilt over the course of a season.
Enter new Rams Head Coach Sean McVay and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. One promising young football mind, the other an aging defensive genius fresh off a Super Bowl victory in which his defense was the only thing doing anything. On paper, it’s a sign of maturity by the first-time head coach; bringing in a well-known commodity on defense to help shore up the weaknesses from last year. No doubt, the hire was a strong one.
At a glance, this is a promising start for the Rams. They desperately needed to inject some life into their offense. But as important as the offense is as a project, the dropoff on the defense is something that probably unsettled Rams fans the most. After all, there weren’t too many logically-minded folk entering the season thinking a rookie quarterback (or Case Keenum) was going to bring the franchise into ascendency.
Like most, I’m thoroughly curious to see how McVay will fill out his staff. There do seem to be kernels of truth to the rumor that Anthony Lynn was McVay’s top target at offensive coordinator. The Los Angeles Chargers scuppered those plans by hiring him as a head coach, but many around the league feel like the Chargers did so because the Rams were lying in wait. Whether or not that is true is immaterial, but it does fall in line with McVay’s plan to surround himself with the very best the NFL has to offer in positional coaching.
The rest of McVay’s staff will likely be filled out in the coming weeks and fans are going to be keeping an eye on several things as OTA’s and mini-camps start this year. The biggest question of all centers on the quarterback position. Is Jared Goff really the guy to lead this franchise? He had the worst quarterback rating of any rookie quarterback in NFL history. In fact, Cody Kessler, who was concussed twice and had to sit out the remainder of the season, finished with better overall stats on one fewer snap than Goff. Did I mention Kessler plays for the Cleveland Browns?
Goff has a long way to go before he convinces me that he’s the future of this franchise. Having watched his entire career at Cal while covering USC, I was less than impressed with his ability to break down physical (read: NFL) defenses in college. When he did go up against a defense that was capable of bringing pressure on all fronts, Goff completed a healthy number of passes to opposing defensive backs, often staring them down before gifting them an interception. Utah, USC, Washington and several others were all indicators of Goff’s inability to read disguised coverages, identify defensive marks, and go through his progressions.
That doesn’t mean that Goff can’t succeed. After all, I am no draftnik. I see what I see, and I feel what I feel. There are far more skilled people in those matters, but the performances also speak for themselves and Goff’s performances on Sundays were just short of abhorrent.
In theory, the only place for Goff to go is up. His offseason workout regimen will help determine how far he goes in the NFL as a starting quarterback. Another season like last year and it’s hard to see McVay charting a course for a third season of quarterback play, especially since he didn’t draft him nor can McVay afford for Goff to find his way while he’s trying to prove he is a viable head coach in the NFL.
So, what now? Now we wait.
I wait just like the rest of you. Fans have the option to trust the process, as cliche as it might be, or they can put on a pessimistic front and approach the season with minimal expectations. There’s no clear direction to point anyone since nobody knows exactly how McVay is going to approach the start of his head coaching career. There is hope in that most of the people who speak of McVay do so in the positive sense. He’s been referred to as a genius, wunderkind, and has been said to be born for this role.
Time will tell and like all of you, I will be watching.