The LA Rams had an immediate and impressive turnaround from a 4-12 season when Sean McVay arrived in 2017. McVay led the Rams to an 11-5 record in his first campaign and 13-3 in year two with a trip to the Super Bowl. And after ranking 30th in DVOA in Jeff Fisher’s final season as head coach and 32nd on offense, Los Angeles jumped to second in overall DVOA and sixth on offense.
In McVay’s second year, they were against second overall and now second on offense, scoring just under 33 points per game.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they took a step back but it still wasn’t nearly as bad as the Fisher seasons. LA ranked 12th in DVOA and they were 17th on offense. With problems stemming from the offensive line, the abilities of Todd Gurley, and the weaknesses with the passing game when those elements aren’t working, McVay’s offense wasn’t the fearsome unit that it was in his first two seasons as head coach. Had it been, the Rams could have been a very dominant team with their ninth-ranked defense.
Could they be primed for a bounce back or at least hold firm as a team that can compete for a playoff berth again? DVOA — Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, an efficiency metric developed by Aaron Schatz at FootballOutsiders that measures the value of each play depending on down, distance, area of the field, opponent, and other variables — seems to suggest that the Rams could be just fine in 2020.
Schatz posted a list of teams who, like the Rams, had back-to-back top-five DVOA seasons and then fell in the 10-16 range in the year after those campaigns. In none of the 11 cases (DVOA only goes back to the mid-80s) did the team finish below 16th in DVOA in year four cases they were back in the top seven.
Here's a graphic we're not going to end up using in this year's FO Almanac #LARams chapter. Teams with 2 seasons in the DVOA Top 5 who drop around where the Rams dropped last year. Many of these teams rebounded somewhat in Year 4. None of them collapsed. pic.twitter.com/ug0C5jL189— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) June 10, 2020
In the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they won a Super Bowl in 2005 but then only went 8-8 in 2006, which was like their “2019 Rams” year. The Steelers went 10-6 in 2007 and then returned to and again won the Super Bowl in 2008.
The New England Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls but then went just 10-6 in 2005. They outscored opponents by only 41 points and nearly lost the AFC East to the 9-7 Miami Dolphins. In Week 10 of that season, the Dolphins took a one point lead late in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady’s first pass after the touchdown went for 59 yards. On the next play, the Patriots took back the lead. Miami then drove all the way to New England’s 5 — sparked by Gus Frerotte to WES WELKER for 47 yards — and had four shots to tie the game. They didn’t score and that could be how the Patriots even got into the playoffs that year. But in 2006 they were really good again and in 2007 they went undefeated in the regular season.
I only wrote that story down because it was interesting to me and not really relevant to the LA Rams of 2020 perhaps but this should be a little more reason for optimism. There are still good foundational pieces in place and a head coach who recently had quite a lot of success.