I was thinking of a doing “5 reasons for confidence/concern” pair of articles before ESPN’s Bill Barnwell including the Los Angeles Rams in his five teams he expects to regress in 2019. So I had to get one of em up today.
I’ll start with the optimistic side which, no surprise given how far the 2018 Rams went, looks very, very, very good.
With that said, here are my five biggest reasons for confidence in the 2019 Rams:
5.) An anti-Super Bowl hangover
Yes, the trope is relatively meaningless at worst and an empty game at best, but the idea of a team responding negatively to losing the Super Bowl permeates narratives around NFL media.
But what if the Rams experience the opposite? What if the team is more motivated having gotten so close only to come up short? What if the players headed into their final years as Rams and the two vets that came in to close their careers out are more eager to ensure they walk away with a ring?
Part of what I mentioned that explains how hollow the “Super Bowl hangover” phrase is is that there’s no conference championship hangover or divisional round hangover. The Rams certainly didn’t suffer from a wild card hangover last year after losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Falcons after the 2017 season.
Confidence level: 2/10
4.) Aaron Donald
He’s my pick, and his peers’ pick, for the best player in the NFL and some people’s pick for the greatest player of all time.
This isn’t so much a reason for optimism as it is a reminder that we have Aaron Donald and he is very, very, very, very, very good.
Confidence level: 5/10
3.) Non-RB skill level
Running backs remain overvalued in the NFL. I know it’s somewhat ironic to say as a fan of the team that employs the highest-paid running back in the NFL who’s headed into a job share on the day that the Dallas Cowboys contractual feud with RB Ezekiel Elliott escalated into outright furor today. But the bottom line is that even with a very talented back in the right situation, you can get 90% of the production with 50% of the skill at 10% of the cost as the Rams did with C.J. Anderson late last year.
So Rams fans shouldn’t put much stock into pieces that call for a regression for the Rams in 2019 based on the well-being of RB Todd Gurley’s knee. It won’t matter as much especially now that the Rams have a talented, young 1B in Darrell Henderson.
Instead, Rams fans should be enthralled at the roster quality where it matters: on the offensive line and in the passing game.
Last year’s offensive line was probably the best Rams line of my lifetime and three of the five members return. We’ve got two promising prospects coming in for starting work; while they’re yet to prove anything at this level, Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator/Co-Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer has earned the benefit of any doubt that he won’t be able to get them into adequate shape this year.
And I’m not sure I need to go into much depth about how good our wide receivers are. PFF ranked them the third-best unit in the NFL, and that doesn’t even acknowledge the fact we’re four-deep.
Confidence level: 7.5/10
2.) Sean McVay
McBae is the best young head coach in the game. Did he get outcoached in the Super Bowl. Yes. By a mile. By the best head coach of the modern era.
But don’t let recency bias overwhelm you.
McVay has proven his capability since his arrival. I’m not expecting teams to have “figured out McVay” or anything along those lines. If anything, I’m expecting a response from McVay should teams try to employ the quarters defense that the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots used to such success against the Rams last year.
We’re talking largely about a single defensive structure. Quarters, or Cover 4, drop four backs deep with each assigned a zone making up a quarter of the field. McVay saw immediately in Super Bowl LIII it was what the Patriots were using and what Chicago had used back in early December:
It didn’t take Sean McVay long to realize the Patriots took a page from the Bears’ book pic.twitter.com/uTzvDruMgH— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) February 9, 2019
With the Pats’ front seven wreaking havoc on the Rams’ interior line, QB Jared Goff wasn’t put in many positions to succeed in getting the offense going.
I fully expect McVay to have a response for quarters coverage this year. That he already has guided the Rams’ offense to such ridiculous heights in pretty much every other look suggests he will.
And that it’ll be damn good.
Confidence level: 9/10
1.) Jared Goff
I’ve been higher on Goff that most since the jump.
When people were calling him a bust after a disastrous rookie season, I said he was still too young and inexperienced to make any declarations.
When people were suggesting he couldn’t win big games after losing a playoff game or that he couldn’t take over games late after his second year, I said he was still too young and inexperienced to make any declarations.
When people suggested he was a system QB...ok, that one I just laughed.
So here’s a little hyperbole I think most Rams fans will enjoy getting behind.
Jared Goff has the best trajectory of any quarterback in the NFL.
That’s not to say he’s the best QB in the NFL or that he’s going to become it this year.
It means he has improved more than any quarterback since 2017. And I don’t know why we should expect that improvement to have suddenly stopped at the end of the NFC Championship.
That he was given more responsibility and flexibility by McVay was an indication of his growth heading into the season. His performance overall throughout the year showed a heightened ability in situations that required him to make plays outside the structure of the offense and/or playcall. That he was able to do so late in games to get his first late, come-from-behind wins and that he was able to do so in games that mattered so much affirmed what Rams fans had been hoping for (and some had jumped the gun on...): a legitimate top-tier quarterback.
I know we’ve seen the rankings that have him outside the top 10, and I know that rankles some fans. But y’all just gotta let it go.
They’re arbitrary. They’re biased upon preconceived notions (see: system QB). And they’re a reflection of a larger body of work than 2018. And sometimes, though not always, they’re from pundits or analysts that have watched very few Rams games!
Here’s the bottom line. Jared Goff threw for 4,688 passing yards last year, the second-best total in franchise history and the 40th best total in NFL history.
In his third year.
There’s just not much reason to assume his development has stopped. And if Goff makes a jump as he did from 2016 to 2017 and as he did from 2017 to 2018, then we’re not talking about a top 10 quarterback. We’re talking about a top 5 quarterback in a league with Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Confidence level: 9.5/10
Barnwell’s reasons for a potential decline are legitimate. I’ll have my five reasons for concern up tomorrow. They’re sincere.
But so are these five reasons to believe the Rams will be just fine this year.