The Los Angeles Rams entered the 2021 season with high expectations because of the acquisition of Matthew Stafford and the “all-in nature” of the roster that the media was hyper-focused on. Of course, the Rams were built to last longer than only one season, it is no surprise that Stafford, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Cooper Kupp remain with LA for 2022, but the pressure was on from the very beginning.
And the Rams went above and beyond those high expectations by starting 3-0 in September, then boasting a 7-1 record at the end of October.
Now with the target on their backs, the L.A. Rams can hardly hope to start better than they did a season ago. Anything less than a 3-0 record this September could be considered a disappointment, even if we do know that it is not a death knell. Even 1-2 or 0-3 is survivable over a 17-game season if the team is as talented as the Rams are.
But 3-0 would be nice.
September 8 vs Bills (TNF season opener)
The Rams open their season with the (usually) annual duty of the defending Super Bowl champions hosting a marquee matchup for the first game of the year. It is hard to get more marquee then welcoming a Bills team that has had a dramatic turnaround from their playoff drought (2000 to 2016) to ranking as a favorite to win the AFC.
Quarterback Josh Allen is a supremely talented 26-year-old football player and he’s been right on the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance over the last two seasons. The Bills fell short in the AFC Championship in 2020, then had that dramatic loss to the Chiefs in the divisional round in 2021. Had Buffalo handled kickoff duties better, the Bills may have been too much for the Bengals to handle and it could have been Allen against the Rams in the Super Bowl instead of Joe Burrow.
Allen finished second in MVP voting in 2020. Last season, his yards per attempt dropped by more than a yard (7.9 to 6.8) and his interceptions went up (10 to 15), but it was probably still a better all-around season by the quarterback than the year before. Allen also rushed for 763 yards and six touchdowns, leading the NFL in yards per carry at 6.3.
The way Josh Allen makes this throw look incredibly easy pic.twitter.com/gdyk36deky— Kendell Hollowell (@KHollowell_) June 20, 2022
Buffalo welcomes back receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis (a player I highlighted a lot here during 2020 training camps, as I was searching for potential breakout stars based on reports that year), running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, tight end Dawson Knox, offensive linemen Dion Dawkins and Mitch Morse.
But there are also a few new names, including veteran receiver Jamison Crowder, rookie fifth round receiver Khalil Shakir (he was electric at Boise State and one of my favorite steals of the draft), second round running back James Cook (look for him to be more of a James White type of back), tight end O.J. Howard, as well as a couple of names familiar to Rams fans.
Veteran guard Rodger Saffold now mans the left side between Dawkins and Morse, while Case Keenum will be the backup quarterback to Allen.
What’s really interesting about the offense though is that it may have not been the team’s greatest strength: the defense ranked first in points and yards allowed in the NFL last season... and they’ve added Von Miller.
Led by a secondary with cornerback Tre’Davious White and safeties Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Sean McDermott’s defense is probably looking to “prove it” with another top-ranked season; Buffalo was also first in the NFL in DVOA for defense too, in case you wanted to know what analytics had to say about that.
Miller’s pass rushing abilities join a front-seven with Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau on the defensive line, Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds at linebacker, plus AJ Epenesa, Boogie Basham, Daquan Jones, and Shaq Lawson.
The team also drafted cornerback Kaiir Elam in the first round and linebacker Terrel Bernard in the third.
For those of you who were hoping that the Rams would draft Matt Araiza to replace Johnny Hekker at punter, it was the Buffalo Bills who made that selection in the sixth round instead.
The Buffalo Bills are an extremely talented football team, making this perhaps the best Week 1 season opener in quite some time. Given the way these two teams played in 2020, with the Rams erasing a 28-3 deficit, then losing in the final minute, it could be one of the most exciting openers of the last 20 years.
September 18 vs Atlanta Falcons
If Josh Allen and the Bills are too much excitement for you, the Rams will be getting a reprieve 10 days later when they host the probably-very-bad Falcons. This is not meant to insult Atlanta, nor is it a prediction of what will happen in three months, but when you go from previewing Buffalo’s roster to previewing the Falcons, it’s hard to not face reality of the differences.
Number one: If we’re basing this off of the last two years, Josh Allen might be the best starting quarterback in the NFL and Marcus Mariota could rank 32nd out of 32. (Geno Smith or Drew Lock are probably 32nd.)
Last winning a starting gig in 2019 when current Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was his Titans’ offensive coordinator, Mariota only threw 30 passes with the Raiders over the past two seasons. Expected to even compete with Derek Carr, Mariota dealt with some injuries even though he was rarely out there with the starters and no teams ended up pulling the trigger on a trade for him.
From 2017 to 2018, his third and fourth seasons in the league, Mariota only managed 24 touchdowns and 23 interceptions over 28 starts, leading Tennessee to a 16-12 record in those games. The Titans were only 2-4 when he was injured and replaced by Ryan Tannehill during the 2019 season, which is when Tennessee finally started to take off and become an AFC contender again.
His latest assignment is to turn around an Atlanta offense whose top four receivers are rookie Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, former Raiders third rounder Bryan Edwards, and Auden Tate. Those are the top four receivers.
Arthur Smith said Cordarrelle Patterson is at minicamp but will not be participating. Smith said this was his decision, have him on a diff offseason plan— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) June 14, 2022
Noted they want to be smart with CP and they didn’t want to crank him out for just two days when they need him 100% in season
The key returning players are tight end Kyle Pitts, who topped 1,000 yards as a rookie, and running back/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Cordarrelle Patterson:— Alex Caruso (@AlexCaruso) June 19, 2022
-Will reportedly play more WR this year
-Has had over 100+ touches once in 9 seasons
-Is only competing with a 5th round rookie RB
-And was the RB9 last year
The Falcons may have considerable weaknesses at quarterback, receiver, and offensive line, but could also struggle if Patterson is expected to pick up the slack at receiver and leave a hole at running back.
It’s not a great sign for a team whose defense ranked 30th in DVOA and 29th in points allowed in 2021 with an NFL-low 18 sacks.
No other team came close to being as low as 18 sacks. The Falcons had little response to this other than drafting linebacker Arnold Ebiketie in the second round. Atlanta has added cornerback Casey Hayward after he was released by the Raiders and former first round disappointment Rashaan Evans, another familiar face to Arthur Smith, but it’s hard to imagine how the defense is going to be much better.
The Atlanta Falcons look to be a team squarely in the competition to obtain the number one pick and select a quarterback like Bryce Young in 2023. I know there could be comments along the lines of “Be careful what you say” and “Any given Sunday” and the like... but this not trash talk. The Falcons were bad last year and after trading Matt Ryan with few moves that appear to be going in the positive direction, appear to be worse. It doesn’t guarantee the Rams a victory, it’s just reality.
September 25 at Arizona Cardinals
Remember that 7-1 start last year? The Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games against the Cardinals and the only loss was that “1” in 7-1, a 37-20 defeat at the hands of Kyler Murray in October.
But will Murray be back under center when the teams meet in Week 3?
Kyler Murray is a fun watch for anyone interested in rotational athletics. His initial strike kickstarts a clean sequence that flows from the ground up and generates a ton of torque with hip and core rotation. pic.twitter.com/tMSY5WqV1E— Honest NFL (@TheHonestNFL) June 21, 2022
Barring injury, the answer is almost certainly Yes. Whether he likes it or not, Murray has little choice but to honor his current contract and return to Arizona with or without an extension. The Cardinals may decide to pay Kyler Murray, but they could always wait and see how he does without DeAndre Hopkins again.
Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of the season, meaning he won’t be available in this contest, and Murray struggled immensely when Hopkins went out with injury last season. This is largely due to the lack of receiver talent beyond Hopkins, but that didn’t stop the Jaguars from giving Christian Kirk a $72 million deal.
Kyler Murray had zero open pass-catchers on 19.4% of his dropbacks last season, the second-highest rate in the NFL, per @PFF.— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) June 21, 2022
Arizona did change up their receivers room however, trading a first round pick to the Ravens for Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. He may have been held back from breaking out because of the nature of Lamar Jackson’s offensive attack and that’s one reason he demanded a new location.
The Cardinals will also feature second-year player Rondale Moore, an exceptional pass catcher who had plenty of growing pains as a rookie in 2021, and veteran A.J. Green.
Rondale Moore is ready to make the leap pic.twitter.com/gV5RX5QFF0— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 15, 2022
Arizona also brings back tight end Zach Ertz, this time for a full season, and adds second round tight end Trey McBridge. The offensive line looks to be above-average, while James Conner (18 touchdowns in 2021) hopes to build off of his first Pro Bowl season.
The biggest change defensively is the loss of pass rusher Chandler Jones, now a member of the Raiders. There really aren’t many notable additions on that side of the ball, just hope by Arizona that J.J. Watt will stay healthy and that linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins will take the next step up in their careers.
The Cardinals ranked sixth in defense by DVOA under coordinator Vance Joseph, equally adept against the pass and the run.
What do you think the Rams record will be at the end of September?
What will Rams September record be?