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Rams need to get the run back

Los Angeles Rams HC Sean McVay and RB Todd Gurley during Super Bowl LIII, Feb. 3, 2019. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

While Jared Goff got the most national attention on the Rams for his year-over-year performance downfall, it is really LA’s rushing offense that took the biggest hit from where they were as a Super Bowl team to one that was on the outside looking in for the postseason. That’s something that I noticed as I was browsing Pro-Football-Reference today and seeing that while the Rams finished first in EPA (expected points added) by rushing in 2018 (65.94), they fell all the way to 27th last season.

And over at FootballOutsiders, the Rams dropped from first in rushing DVOA (21.3%) to 21st (-7.5%). Sean McVay, Todd Gurley, and the offensive line were not the only ones around the league to suffer a significant drop there of course.

The Denver Broncos finished fifth in rushing DVOA in 2018, but dropped to 19th.

The LA Chargers finished seventh in rushing DVOA in 2018, but dropped to 24th.

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 12th in rushing DVOA in 2018, but dropped to 30th and were the worst offense overall.

This isn’t just rushing yardage totals where being a bad team may mean fewer rushing attempts and rushing attempts of meaning, but DVOA and EPA where it’s all about the value added per play. Being bad overall did hurt the ability for these teams to create valuable rushing plays, but we can also agree that they had disappointing seasons on the ground either from their backs, the line, or the coaching.

Even the New England Patriots fell in their ability to run the ball successfully and we saw they weren’t as good of a team, either in the second half of the year or the postseason, as we became used to.

This season, the Baltimore Ravens put up a rushing season not even close to anything we usually see. They finished first in rushing EPA at 100.56, which is lightyears ahead of what the Rams led the league with in 2018. They were even further ahead of second place, the Dallas Cowboys, who put up just 37.08 rushing EPA. The Ravens finished first in rushing DVOA, first in passing DVOA, and of course first in overall offensive DVOA.

Baltimore will need to let LA serve as an example that these things can change quickly, either by coaching moves (the Rams keep losing offensive minds and will be making more changes this year), personnel changes, injuries, league adaptation, or just plain old regression. The idea that Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh can just come back in 2020 and repeat is probably not realistic.

We also saw that teams like the Kansas City Chiefs (14th in rushing DVOA) and San Francisco 49ers (13th) can get to the Super Bowl without setting the world on fire in that aspect of the game — further proving that passing is more important than rushing, but rushing is probably not as close to worthless as some “running backs don’t matter” folks will tell you — though the Niners certainly boast an elite run-blocking line and Kyle Shanahan has emphasized the importance of rushing as much as any coach in the league.

McVay counts himself among those too and I assume that many of the moves you see the Rams make between now and September will revolve more around improving on their ranking as the 27th-best team in yards per carry and maybe less so around getting Goff back to where he was. If they can do one, McVay probably believes the other will come around too.