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Rams can’t enter offseason with belief that injuries were only reason for 2022 downfall

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the overall theme of the Los Angeles Rams 2022 season, there’s no question that injuries are one of the top answers. After being one of the healthiest teams in 2021, that was almost the exact opposite this year.

Coming right out of the gates against the Buffalo Bills, Rams starters, specifically on the offensive line started dropping like flies. Brian Allen got hurt in the opener and would miss the next five games. Kyren Williams suffered an ankle injury on the opening kickoff, setting back his rookie season. Joe Noteboom strained his knee against the Bills. While he was able to play the next week, his season ended following a torn achilles in Week 6.

Through the first 12 games of the season, the Rams started 12 different offensive line combinations. Throughout the season, the team played 15 different offensive linemen. That included four left tackles, four left guards, three centers, six right guards, and two right tackles. Rob Havenstein was the most consistent player on the offensive line, playing all but four snaps this season.

That’s where the injuries started, but not at all where they finished. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Allen Robinson were all placed on injured reserve. Stafford’s nine games played were his fewest since 2019 and he likely could have played more had the Rams not shut him down.

On defense, Jordan Fuller started just one game this season, Troy Hill missed time, and Aaron Donald was placed on injured reserve later in the season along with A’Shawn Robinson.

Players such as Derion Kendrick were thrown into the fire much earlier in the development process than they normally would have. By the time the season ended, the players that saw time in the third preseason game and the players starting late in the year weren’t very different.

It’s more than fair to point to the injuries when discussing the Rams’ 2022 downfall. According to Spotrac, the Rams finished with 24 players on injured reserve, which included $58M in cap. That was the fourth-most in the NFL. No team in the bottom-5 ended with a winning record.

All of that can be true while also coming to grips with the fact that injuries weren’t the Rams’ only issues this season. It’s ignorant to say injuries didn’t play a part, but the Rams also can’t put all of their eggs in the health basket once again in 2023 only to watch the bottom fall out.

If they go into the 2023 with the expectation that just staying healthy will result in a bounce back, they’ll be in for a very big surprise in January of 2024. No, the Rams don’t need to re-build, but they also can’t sit and make minor adjustment.

Even before the injuries, the Rams weren’t necessarily lighting the NFL world on fire in Week 1 against the Bills. Noteboom gave up eight pressures and three sacks at left tackle. Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis each beat the Rams secondary deep over the top. The offense was shutout the entire second half. Despite being a 17-10 ball game going into the fourth quarter, the offense didn’t score in the final fifteen minutes for the first of nine separate times during the season.

There are underlying issues that go past injuries.

Starting on defense, the Rams must find a complimentary pass-rusher to Leonard Floyd. The defense works best when they’re able to rush four. The Rams were one of the blitz-heaviest teams in 2022, blitzing on 26.8 percent of opponent dropbacks. That was good for the 11th-most in the NFL. However, they only had 38 sacks which ranked 22nd.

By being forced to send extra rushers, it opens things up on the backend and leads to explosive plays that the Rams defense is trying to avoid. This is why the Von Miller trade was so integral in the Rams’ Super Bowl run last season.

That’s not to say that the Rams need to trade for another player of Miller’s caliber, but they need to find consistent production from that position. Leonard Floyd led the Rams with a 14.4 percent pass-rush win-rate. That ranked 52nd in the NFL among pass rusher with at least 20% of their teams’ snaps. Michael Hoecht was the next closest at 86.

There’s a reason Bobby Wagner had the most pass-rush snaps in his career and had a career-high six sacks. Raheem Morris was forced to send extra rushers regularly.

The Rams also need to get Jalen Ramsey some help in the secondary. The secondary was designed with the expectation that Ramsey could do everything and make up for the deficiencies around him. It’s unfair to expect that level from Ramsey going forward.

Say what you want about Darious Williams, but he was an upgrade over Derion Kendrick. The injuries to Hill throughout the season also didn’t help. Cobie Durant showed some promise, but the Rams need a seasoned second cornerback that they can rely on.

A healthy Jordan Fuller should help the safety group on the backend, however, the Rams need help at cornerback. Durant took significant steps at the end of the year, but David Long and Hill are not long-term solutions.

Due to the talent deficiencies in the secondary, the Rams ranked 24th in pass defense DVOA. The defense also ranked just 22nd on third down. The issue is, all of these things work hand-in-hand. A good pass rush can help a secondary immensely.

The expectation on third down should be for the pass rush to get drive-ending sacks. This was the case last year when the Rams ranked third in sacks they also ranked seventh in third down defense.

Injuries in the secondary certainly played a role in how Morris was able to play his defensive backs. However, it’s not as if the Rams have an elite pass rusher on the edge waiting on injured reserve. This is something that the front office will need to go find this offseason.

The defensive scheme gets much more criticism than it deserves. By design, it should work if the offense is scoring more than 20 points. The issue is, the Rams didn’t play a lot of complimentary football this season. This is certainly something that can be looked at now that the offseason has arrived.

On offense, the Rams do need to figure out the offensive line. I wrote about the potential risk that the front office was taking with the group that they went with heading into the season. They absolutely cannot make the same mistake back-to-back.

Coming off of a torn achilles, Joe Noteboom likely isn’t the left tackle of the future. You could argue that Coleman Shelton should be the center moving forward over Brian Allen. The issue with the offensive line is that while it was the most injured group, there are serious questions on whether or not it was good to begin with. How much does a healthy Noteboom really change things?

Alaric Jackson certainly showed some promise, but should the Rams be using him more as a swing/depth tackle?

The offensive line is something that the Rams need to figure out and it’s much more complicated than just getting healthy.

At wide receiver, the Rams must find a second wide receiver option outside of Cooper Kupp. Outside of the red zone, there didn’t seem to be much of a plan for Allen Robinson. The offensive line could have been part of the issue here, but it wasn’t the entire issue. Is Robinson someone that the Rams see as part of the picture moving forward?

There are growing doubts about Van Jefferson being that guy and TuTu Atwell likely isn’t more than a rotational wide receiver with a specific role. Ben Skowronek is fine, but he’s also not someone you want as your second wide receiver.

Lastly, the Rams need depth at tight end. Coming into the season with just two tight ends on the roster severely limited what the offense was able to do. The Rams are primarily an 11 personnel team. However, with only two tight ends, it didn’t allow them to deviate from that and get into heavier packages. That needs to change moving forward.

Getting Kupp and Stafford healthy will be a huge boost to the offense in 2023. However, there are other issues outside of the injuries to the offensive line that must be figured out.

The Rams finished the season 5-12. While a healthier Rams team potentially wins a few more games, it’s going to take more than getting healthy to fix most of the problems heading into the 2023 offseason. Injuries were part of the problem this season for the Rams, not the only problem.