The Los Angeles Rams ended the regular season 13-3 on the back of another fantastic offense under Head Coach Sean McVay, but a tough stretch out of the bye had people questioning whether the Rams could make a prolonged run through the playoffs.
The offensive line looked little like themselves after a stellar first 11 games. Not surprisingly then, QB Jared Goff had a correlated decline in his play out of the bye. And the defense, for all its star power, was facing questions that couldn’t be brushed aside under the injuries to CB Aqib Talib and CB Marcus Peters. And once RB Todd Gurley’s inflamed knee had gotten to the point that it was wiser to sit him in the final two weeks of the regular season, it brought about questions for the running game that even the eye-popping numbers from RB C.J. Anderson in the final two weeks couldn’t satisfy alone.
Then the playoffs started.
The Rams’ offensive line might have single-handedly won the game against the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round. They plowed through the Cowboys’ front seven in the ground game allowing both Gurley and Anderson to top 100 yards while keeping Goff clean and preventing Cowboys EDGE Demarcus Lawrence from taking Goff’s soul. On the defensive side, DL Ndamukong Suh had his best game as a Ram. Outside of an early touchdown when he slid inside to take on a more favorable matchup against S Lamarcus Joyner, the Rams secondary shut down Cowboys WR Amari Cooper.
Whatever the concerns were from the regular season, the Rams not only addressed them in their first playoff game. They turned them into strengths.
The run defense was stellar against a very good unit spearheaded by the two-headed rushing attack of RB Mark Ingram and RB Alvin Kamara. Goff again was well-protected for the most part. And Suh was a force with 1.5 sacks, his season high.
It’s the mark of a well-prepared team to play its best football when it’s needed most. The Rams, and McVay, failed that test a year ago. In their first playoff game, they looked completely undone by the pressure of the moment against the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round despite playing in front of a home crowd. A healthy Gurley was swallowed up by Falcons LB Deion Jones far too often save for two runs in the fourth quarter. LT Andrew Whitworth played his worst game as a Ram. And Goff was unable to get going on much of anything beyond the linebackers.
This year though, the Rams stepped up in January. They elevated their play and turned their weaknesses, shockingly, into strengths at the precise time it was needed most.
Will the Rams’ run defense continue to prevent the opposition from establishing success on the ground? Will the offensive line have yet again one of those games that makes the case for them as the best line in the NFL this year? Will the secondary be able to clamp down on the downfield targets forcing QB Tom Brady to go underneath?
Will we see the 2019 playoff Rams instead of the 2018 regular season Rams?
Given how things have gone the last two games, I’d hope so.