Every year, FootballOutsiders releases an almanac in which they give detailed statistical breakdowns of the previous season and possible projections for the upcoming one. That hasn’t changed in 2020.
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I sent a few questions over to the FootballOutsiders staff about the LA Rams and they responded with a few answers.
In the preview you mention that it is “hard to look at the Rams’ roster and find any position where they are likely to be better” but can you clarify what you mean by “better”? Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks are names, but struggled in 2019. The offensive line is basically the same, but would your models account for regression and assume there’s a middle ground between the line’s highs and lows that they can settle into? John Johnson returns, Jalen Ramsey gets a full season. Surely you don’t mean there’s not plenty of room for improvement with the current starters?
FO: By “better,” we meant offseason additions who would be an upgrade over what the Rams had at the position in 2019. Maybe Cam Akers and Van Jefferson will be solid starters as rookies, but that’s a high expectation for a pair of second-rounders. There were no significant additions on the offensive line. It is true that 16 games of both Ramsey and Johnson would help, but we weren’t really thinking of them as additions because they were both in L.A. last season.
You said that Jalen Ramsey didn’t have impressive individual statistics. Can you expand on how FootballOutsiders tracks corners, what stats are most important to you, and how Ramsey and Troy Hill performed in those areas last season with projections for 2020?
FO: Sure! For corners, we track total targets in coverage, success rate (how often he forced an incompletion or a catch for a short gain) and their average yards allowed per target. Each are important in their own ways — the very best cornerbacks do well in all three.
They rarely get thrown at; when they do get thrown at, they don’t give up completions; and when they do give up completions, those plays don’t gain many yards. Hill actually fits that group — he was in the top 10 in all three categories, though he only started nine games, and he hasn’t played so well in the past.
Ramsey ranked in the 40s or 50s, so right in the middle of the pack (there were 85 qualifying corners last year), but that includes his three games with Jaguars. It also includes his first three games with the Rams, which were pretty rough, but he was much better after that, pitching shutouts (games in which his receiver was never targeted) against Arizona and Dallas.
Several times last season the Rams were great against really good opponents: a 27-9 win over the Saints with a -60-percent DVOA on defense; a 37-10 win over the Falcons with a -54-percent on defense; a 34-31 loss to the 49ers, but with a -22-percent on defense and +23-percent on offense. Can you identify anything that was different about the Rams on these days, whether it was offensive adjustments or defensive success with regards to a certain player? Or just randomly doing well because the Rams were a good team?
FO: The Rams were definitely random — they were 30th in variance, which basically measures the difference between each team’s best and worst games. The only two teams behind them were the Jaguars and Jets, who both had to deal with major changes at the quarterback position.
What stuck out to me was how much better Goff played against bad defenses. He played four games against teams ranked 25th or worse in pass defense DVOA (the Bengals, the Falcons, and the Cardinals twice) and ripped them to shreds, completing 64% of his passes for an 8.9-yard average with 10 total touchdowns, no interceptions or fumbles, only two sacks, and a DVOA of 30.6%.
However, when he played four games against teams ranked fourth or better (the Patriots, the Ravens, and the 49ers twice), they ate him alive, holding him below a 60% completion rate with 5.8 yards pass, two touchdowns, 10 sacks, five interceptions, a half-dozen fumbles, and a DVOA of -27.8%. And as you noted, his Week 16 game against San Francisco was pretty good, but that just shows how bad those other three games were.
What do we know about offensive lines that perform extremely well one season and then really poor the next season? Is there any indication of how those lines do in the third year after those two?
FO: That’s a hard question to answer, because it’s rare to see a line play as well as the Rams did and then decline so quickly. The Rams were in the top three in adjusted line yards (our rough measurement of run blocking) in both 2017 and 2018; they fell to 19th last year. They’re just the 14th team since 1996 to rank in the top three two years in a row; of that group, they’re only the fourth team to fall outside the top 10 in Year 3.
The others were the 1999 Broncos, the 2002 Rams, and the 2006 Chiefs. The Broncos rebounded back into the top five in 2000, but the other two teams actually got worse a year later. This is too small a sample size to draw any real conclusions. In general, when we see a team, unit, or player perform well in two of the past three seasons, we usually assume the bad year is the outlier and that they will at least bounce back toward their prior success.