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3 reasons the Rams will make the playoffs

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Aaron Donald would be one.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The LA Rams didn’t post a winning record from 2004 to 2016 but they’ve now finished above .500 in three consecutive seasons. That’s the first time they’ve done that since 1999-2001. Prior to that, it didn’t happen since four in a row from 1983-1986.

In both cases, the Rams fell below .500 (obviously) for one season and then bounced right back.

In 1987, LA went 6-9 and missed the playoffs, but then they went 21-11 over the next two season with two trips.

In 2002, St. Louis went 7-9, but then 20-12 over the next two seasons with two trips.

Does this mean that the Rams must first post a losing season before reverting back to two postseason trips? No, that’s just some history and it doesn’t impact the present team. But it is also an historical record of how quickly these turnarounds can happen when you’ve proven to have quality coaching and personnel already.

LA has shown that with Sean McVay but will they get back to the postseason? Maybe, maybe not, but today I’ll post three reasons why the answer could be “Yes.”

Aaron Donald - The best defensive player in the NFL

When Lawrence Taylor played for the New York Giants in the 80s and early 90s, especially after Bill Parcells arrived, they played their best football since the early 60s and won two Super Bowls. With Taylor as their best player on either side of the ball. When Reggie White dominated for the Philadelphia Eagles as their best player, of course he elevated that franchise’s defense to new heights, but then he also did the same for the Green Bay Packers. The emergence of Brett Favre gets its rightful due, but the turnaround of the defense aligns with White’s arrival and they played better on that side of the ball than they had in decades. And they too won a Super Bowl.

Donald has been the Rams best player for six years and getting matched with a better coach, same as Taylor and Parcells or White and Holmgren, has seen the team’s results turn around. The defense allowed fewer points in 2019 than they had in 2018 but the offense scored way fewer points.

Taylor also worked with Bill Belichick when he was a very young defensive coordinator. What will Donald teach Brandon Staley and vice versa in the coming months and years? The fact that LA gets to set the entire tone of their defense to the NFL’s best player on that side of the ball (at least) gives the Rams a viable reason to believe that they’ll again be tougher to score on than the year before.

Jalen Ramsey for a full season

Staying on the defense, Ramsey was acquired not just for a push in 2019 but to have a long career under Sean McVay. The immediate results were pretty good, all things considered. In the first seven games with Ramsey, the Rams went 5-2 and didn’t allow more than 17 points any game save the 45-6 loss to the Ravens in which Baltimore rushed for 285 yards.

The team did struggle in the final three games, but Ramsey did grab an interception in Week 16 before sitting out Week 17. On another note, the only real impressive QB they shut down in the second half was Russell Wilson. But to win enough games to compete in the NFC West next season, they’ll need players like Ramsey to face off against not only Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Jimmy Garoppolo, but DeAndre Hopkins, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Christian Kirk, and others at wide receiver.

The Niners have Richard Sherman. The Cardinals have Patrick Peterson. The Rams have Jalen Ramsey.

Offensive Regression

In the final year under Jeff Fisher, the Rams scored 224 points. In the first two years under McVay, they scored 478 and 527 points, respectively. That’s an average of about 500 points per season. More than double the final Fisher year and well more than double the average for Steve Spagnuolo. But with some offensive line issues centered as the probable main culprit, they dropped all the way to 394 points in 2019.

From 1999-2001, St. Louis averaged 523 points per season under Dick Vermeil and then Mike Martz. In 2002, they put up 316 points and dropped to 7-9. That season, Orlando Pace missed six games, Tom Nutten missed five games, and rookie John St. Clair started all 16 games, a duty that would never come around again for him with the Rams.

Offensive line issues.

Then in 2003, Pace started all 16 games and was a first team All-Pro. Kyle Turley took St. Clair’s spot on the right. And the team had the same starting five for all 16 games. The team bounced back for 447 points and went 12-4.

Why not a similar trajectory for the current Rams?

Andrew Whitworth was the only lineman to start 16 games. Austin Blythe started the second most, but at multiple positions. Nobody else on the line started more than 10 and among those in the rotation were rookie David Edwards, and second year players Brian Allen and Bobby Evans. No veteran like Turley is being added to the mix and that potentially could have helped a lot but Rob Havenstein and Blythe could be internal upgrades if they play like they did in 2018.

Regression doesn’t mean getting worse. Regression means a return to a former state. No, not Missouri. And probably not 500 points. But 430 points? 440 points? They wouldn’t be that far off from their 2017 results (478 for, 329 against) when they went 11-5.

And that’s rarely not good enough for the playoffs, especially with an extra wild card.