While the Los Angeles Rams of 2021 were a Team for the Ages, they may have in fact just been a precursor to an even greater story in 2022.
Don't get me wrong. With the possible exception of the 1999 Rams, and the worst-to-first, amazing Saint Louis Rams championship year, the 2021 Rams were the most satisfying team of my lifetime. (And, hint, I'm old enough that I have grandkids).
Matthew Stafford coming over in the blockbuster trade that sent Jared Goff to Siberia. Cooper Kupp's breakout Triple Crown receiving year. (Raise your hand if you were NOT surprised by Kupp's year. I wasn't, and most Ram fans that have been paying attention were not as well) Key free agents Von Miller, and Odell Beckham made big contributions. Aaron Donald was his usual, dominant self. And let's not forget the cherry on top of an amazing career, with Andrew Whitworth dispatching his original team, the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, to go out with a ring.
But looking forward to this coming season, I see reasons for optimism for the whole "Run it Back" narrative. The reason for this is threefold. The Offensive chemistry, the Defensive chemistry, and the Overall team chemistry.
Offensively, last year the Rams, with their new quarterback, Matthew Stafford, seemed to start the season running on all cylinders. But the running game was just average, Stafford was still really learning Coach Sean Mcvay's system, and injuries to key players Cam Akers, Robert Woods, and later Tyler Higbee and OBJ in the playoffs, seemed to dampen the potential of that side of the ball.
Injuries happen every year, but did the Rams ever really put together the "perfect game" last year? Was there ever a game where you could say, as a Rams fan, "That game truly realized the potential of Sean Mcvay's offense", with that 2021 personnel group?
I say we see 3-4 of those games this year from our Rammies. Cam Akers, I believe, will play most of the season- (C0meback player of the Year?), giving the Rams a more lethal running game. New wide receiver Allen Robinson comes over from the Bears with a ton of talent, a loaded spring and with the first REAL quarterback since "Touchdown Timmy" Wigglesworth, from Robinsons second year of Pop Warner.
Word also has it that Stafford and Kupp have extended their work relationship from the Breakfast Club to "Brunch with Bros." complete with "no-look omelets" and plenty of bacon. Yeah, bacon. And Stafford in year two with McVay? Is someone going to seriously make the case the Rams are going to take a "step back"?
I also do see OBJ coming back to the Rams just in time for the playoff run, one of last year's rookie receivers stepping up, and Van Jefferson becoming a bit more aggressive at the point of attack as well, catching more balls at their highest point.
We are on the "Run it Back" train people. Not "step back". That train left after the NFC Championship game, and it had a lot of passenger wearing Niner red, much like the outbound Sofi escalators, after Jimmy Gee's last glorious pass of the year.
Sure, we lost the Rock of the offensive line, Big Whit, and starting right guard Austin Corbett, but I trust that Whitworth hung up his cleats at just the right time- better a year early, than a year late, with a blind side left tackle in the NFL, I always say. (Actually, I've never really said that, but I bet some wise NFL sage has a time or three. Maybe even Whit himself, or F-them-picks Snead has said it.) Now I'm saying it, and I'm touching the third rail in doing so. But here it is: Andrew Whitworth retired at just the right time. Whew. Sorry Whit. Love ya, big guy. Stay around and coach forever man, and I'll be a happy man. And left tackle? I believe Joseph Noteboom will be ready for his time in the spotlight.
Austin Corbett. So glad we got him too. Actually had a personal family connection and was rooting for him. Big Corbs was always the first guy there when one of our guys scored a touchdown. helping the receiver to his feet, or getting the first hug, or high five. But I have to say, glad AC got his payday, and I am excited to Logan Bruss fill his shoes at right tackle. I haven't had this feeling about a guard since the Rams drafted Tom Newberry. The Rams will be fine on the offensive line.
Overall, I feel confident the Rams Offensive Chemistry will be pointing upward. And that is both hard to imagine, after last year, exciting to think about. I predict the Rams will be a top three offense in 2022. Maybe even #1.
On Defense, it's just this simple: we lost a rental in Von Miller, have an emerging star in Jones at linebacker, and gained a future Hall of Famer in Bobby Wagner, still in his prime. Aaron Donald has much more help in the middle with A'Shawn, and twinkle-toes Greg Gaines. Edge has some questions, but the answer may be on the roster.
I loved the move getting back Hill at corner, along with some of our young guys with another year experience for depth. Jalen Ramsey had a crappy Super Bowl, but he will be fine, add a healthy Fuller, and the Rams backend should be good as well. The Rams Defensive Chemistry will also take a step forward, not backward, and the Rams will finish top 5-7 in defense this coming year.
Overall team chemistry, coming off the Super Bowl title, will be the biggest challenge. The Rams play the #1 toughest schedule in the league this year, no surprise, with perhaps the toughest game of the year coming game #1 at Sofi against the much-hyped Buffalo Bills. Complacency creeps into many Super Bowl Champion locker rooms. They have their ring. Teams are tired from a long season, and a shorter off-season. The overall hunger is not there for many.
But I do not see that disease afflicting our horn-clad group. Not under Sean McVay. And not with a very NOT retired Aaron Freaking Donald setting the example. No, there will be a run at this repeat title by our Los Angeles Rams. They may or may not make it all the way, but I like their chances.