What To Watch
The Battle of the Trenches
Football remains a battle of the trenches. Teams that are successful win at the line of scrimmage.
When the offensive line keeps their quarterback clean and open holes for the running back, it bodes well for a team success. The greatest friend a quarterback can have in today’s passing game is strong running game.
On defense shutting down the run, putting pressure on the quarterback by forcing bad throws coupled with great coverage in the secondary also bodes well for a team’s success even if you have a mediocre offense.
Win both the offensive and defensive battle of the trenches at the line scrimmage with a great team, and it’s hard to imagine losing a football game.
Turnovers and Penalties
Even if you’re winning at the line of scrimmage, turnovers and penalties can still kill you.
Not every turnover is bad except in the red zone.
Commit several turnovers in one game outside the Red Zone, and it will more likely lead to a lost chance to win.
Invariably there are going to be penalties. It’s not so much that a team gets them. It’s about when and why.
Getting a turnover in the red zone is an absolute no-no no matter what for. Getting a defensive “lining up in the neutral zone” on a third and four when the play resulted in an incomplete pass is another no-no.
That type of penalty is a mental mistake which is clearly avoidable if the player was paying attention.
On the other hand, a long bomb pass resulting in a touchdown which gets called back for holding does not necessarily kill you. There could be good reason as the lineman was just about to get smoked and get his QB hit. Bring it back. Regroup, and try again. There’s plenty of time to get the touchdown back.
Teams who win the turnover battle and play relatively penalty-free football are well-coached. Discipline goes a long way when you need that key stop or two-minute warning game-winning drive.
Absent of discipline and poise, fans have to cross their fingers that the team doesn’t screw it up with a unnecessary penalty or turnover. If that’s your team, sometimes you win . Sometimes you lose.
But when you have confidence that your team doesn’t turn the ball over and has demonstrated that they don’t get the dumb penalties, it’s “We got this” in the last two minutes.
Nothing is worse to killing the expectations of a fan then then when a starting player gets injured. Injured is not the same thing as hurt. Getting hurt means that player will be back. Getting injured means that player could be out for an extended period of time.
Losing a starting player for an extended period can dash fans’ hopes and dreams faster then it takes an Alka-Seltzer tablet to dissolve in water.
It could create an opening for someone to take advantage of the opportunity, though.
Depending on the depth of your squad, a new star may emerge. In some situations, losing a starter isn’t going to kill you if you have an adequate replacement.
It forces the other players on the field to step up their own game to get through this temporary set back as was the case last year with the Philadelphia Eagles and QB Nick Foles, who took full advantage of the opportunity provided him.
Proving once again, hurts and injuries happen, but with a solid roster, depending on the position, it can be overcome.
But gametime is not when you want to find this out. Teams don’t rep enough during the week with the second- and third-stringers. There’s a period of adjustment that occurs, and it’s hard for a team to overcome a loss of a starter during the game.
Lose a great starting quarterback to injury for the year? Forget it. Pack it in. See ya next year.
There’s always those pesky intangibles one has to consider going into a game. Besides the unavoidable, here are some to take into account:
(a) Has your team improved itself during the offseason?
If your team didn’t make the playoffs, the question is if the team is that much better as a result of the draft or free agency. If your team made the playoffs, did they sit on their laurels absent winning the Super Bowl go out and get better adding depth while letting players go who may be fan favorites but who were marginal at best?
Some teams that make the playoffs the previous year falter. Some teams let go players who can’t be replaced. Teams who value winning keep their best talents and add to them. Team chemistry is important to keeping a team in contention every year for the Super Bowl.
(b) How really good is the other team your facing this week?
Just because a team had a great record the previous year doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better than your team this year. It could be that their division stunk last year or the teams the opponent played were bottom dwellers.
So coming off of a good record doesn’t equate to that team actually being better then yours this year; however, if your team stunk it up last year despite improvement, the team with the better record who used the offseason to improve will normally find a way to win.
The word “upset” can only be used when a bad team wins over a good team.
(c) Where in the schedule is your team playing your opponent?
One must keep in mind that good teams have are supposed to get a tougher schedule then the bad teams. This enforces the NFL’s high priority of parity across the league.
But good teams can become bad teams fast.
If a good team stays put during the offseason or if a preseason injury occurs or if an offseason retirement happened or if the team lost a valuable player to free agency whom the good team undervalued, this can leave the door wide open to two or three surprise teams rising from the ashes of last year.
The surprise teams are often the result of a head coaching change. A new attitude, new staff and running up a series of wins can propel the bad team into a good team. A lot of this has to play itself out first. You’re not really going to know a lot early probably not until the fourth or fifth game of the season.
That’s when the fan has to reevaluate their initial wins and losses predictions made when the schedule came out.
Losing against any team isn’t good, but losing to a good team doesn’t have to be the end of world. We can learn a lot in losing if your team is willing to make changes.
It’s also important to understand that some games become more important then others during the course of the season. Division games always the most important. Number one goal—win the division. Next are Conference games in order to guarantee yourself (assuming you win the division) home field advantage for at least one playoff game. Win the division. Win the conference battle and then you can win your non-conference games to assure yourself home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If you have a winning record within a competitive division and and have won more then you lost in the conference, you’re probably gonna make the playoffs. So the most underrated aspect of looking at games ahead, and should only be done one-game-at-a-time, is when and where you play your opponent because as the season plays out, some games (even against bad teams) become more important then others.
If you have a better record, when you lose a game against bad team, it’s a letdown. Letdowns happen. Even great teams have letdowns, but because they are so talented, they overcome them and win anyway.
A team that is so good that it can routinely overcome letdowns is probably going to play in the Conference finals or the Super Bowl. These become the four teams at the end of the 16-game season, despite one or two letdowns. They find ways to win.
(d) Coaching Changes
This is by far the most interesting X-Factor.
A new head coach can turn a team around in heartbeat. Great coaches turn untalented teams into winners. No one could’ve predicted that a Vince Lombardi would turn into the coach he did except Vince Lombardi.
His daughter once asked, “Where’s Green Bay? I can’t find it on the map.” He replied, “Don’t worry. Once I start coaching there, you won’t need a map. Everyone in the world is going to know where Green Bay is.”
The next great coach, the next Paul Brown, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Don Shula or Bill Belichick is out there. You just gotta find ’em.
It sll comes down to the head coach. Even if saddled with poor talent, it’s up to him to turn a marginally talented team into a great team. It’s also the duty of the head coach, when things go south, to turn things north whether its during the course of the game or after a loss in the regular season.
Find that diamond in the rough, and a Super Bowl victory are in the cards.
The 2018 Los Angeles Rams
In all of these categories, the 2018 LA Rams get a A+. If they can avoid injuries, on paper coming into the 2018 season they must be considered a contender for at least the Conference championship.
QB Jared Goff must show growth, but confidence this will happen should remain strong as he’s guided by Head Coach Sean McVay who appears to be that diamond in the rough. After polishing up in his first year, he’s gonna shine brighter year after year.
The team is better defensively then they were last year with the acquisitions of CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib and DT Ndamukong Suh. They should be tough against the run and better against the pass.
The schedule is more difficult then last year, but in order to be the best you have to beat the best. Who knows which one of the mighty 2017 NFC teams will fall. It ain’t gonna be the Rams. They’re too talented on both sides of the ball. What may have looked like a tough game in August isn’t necessarily going to be one come November or December.
The Rams have added a lot of depth on the offensive line and at running back. There may have questions about the linebacking group, but they have played well during preseason. Any defense coached by Wade Phillips is going to good if not great.
Expectations are high in Los Angeles—they should be. Management is just as responsible for creating this buzz as the fans belief in this team that this will be our year.
The Rams have come a long way from “The Return” debacle of two years ago. Their 2017 season is all the evidence one needs that “Back in Los Angeles” in this city means winning, which should never be an expectation, its a requirement.
Its also been a long time since the Los Angeles Rams have won a NFL Championship back in 1951. Following in the Rams footsteps came the Dodgers, Lakers and Kings all of whom have multiple championships after their arrival.
And now, 2018 is as good a year as ever to make that long awaited for dream come true for Los Angeles Rams fans. There’s no reason these Rams can’t do it even though its been a long time. But once it happens, it will be worth the wait.
So hold onto your hat. This year is going to be a fun ride.
I hope to see you in a sold out Coliseum soon as the ultimate prize is within our grasp.