The Los Angeles Rams have a lot of work to do before returning to the playoff field in ‘23. Even though there is a great deal to improve upon heading into next season, not all hope is lost. Just a year removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, the Rams can learn a few lessons from their peers still in the NFC bracket.
Lesson #1: Never hesitate in making a blockbuster move
LA has never been afraid to make league-altering moves. They made two on their way to a championship last season. This lesson isn’t necessarily one the Rams need to learn it’s more so what they need to continue doing if they have any hopes on returning to contention in 2023.
In the first round of this year’s draft, the Eagles traded their first round pick to the Titans for AJ Brown. The move appears to be one heck of an investment with Philadelphia now just a win away from the Super Bowl.
AJ Brown 2022 Stats:— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) January 13, 2023
1,496 yards (4th) - Eagles single-season record
292 yards after contact (2nd)
6.4 YAC/REC (4th)
+2 YACoE/REC (4th)
60 1st downs (9th)
17 missed tackles forced (3rd)
89.2 PFF receiving grade (6th) pic.twitter.com/SxCcizttUl
Perhaps this was the production LA figured they would be getting when Allen Robinson was signed in free agency. It’s a shame they didn’t have a first to trade away and beat the Eagles to the punch. Sure it might’ve ended up proving too costly for the Rams in the long run but when you’re in win-now mode, all bets are off the table.
Brown accelerated the development of Jalen Hurts who went from mediocre to MVP candidate in just his second season in Nick Sirianni’s offense. A large part of Hurt’s ascension to elite status can be traced to Brown’s arrival. That just goes to show that when you have a productive superstar wideout, pay them what they want or risk facing their wrath. Somewhere poor Jon Robinson is crying himself to sleep.
As for the 49ers, not only did they beat the Rams on the field, they also beat them in aggressive transactions. LA was beat to Christian McCaffrey and he has reaped the benefits of playing in Shanahan’s system. Curse those damned Niners!
Christian McCaffrey in the 49ers offense has been unstoppable pic.twitter.com/aFrjw31jsK— PFF (@PFF) January 18, 2023
CMC has elevated an already strong running game and might just carry San Francisco to the Big Game in Arizona. He can be deployed anywhere on the field and helps alleviate the stress off rookie QB Brock Purdy. Hopefully in the offseason LA can make a blockbuster move of their own. Honestly I would be quite surprised if they didn’t. It would sure be out of character.
Lesson #2: Diverse running game can be your best friend
I’ve already mentioned Christian McCaffrey and since I don’t want to talk about the pukey 49ers anymore, I’ll instead discuss the Cowboys and Eagles. On Saturday, Philly stuck it to their hated division rival by running the ball down their throats early and often.
Eagles rushed for 656 yards in 3 games vs Giants this year— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) January 22, 2023
That is the most by a team against another team in a season in NFL history
Birds ran for 268 yards last night in playoffs and 253 yards at MetLife Stadium pic.twitter.com/SSwfb4JrfX
The Eagles had been doing what they did to the hapless Giants all season long. Back in November, they piled on 363 to a leaky Packers’ run defense. I had never see that much cheese being shredded in my life. For the season, Philadelphia finished with the fifth-ranked rushing attack, compiling 2,509 yards on the ground and 32 total touchdowns. Hurts and Miles Sanders reached double digit scores while combining for 2,029 yards. What has made them should a tough out is how they wear down opposing defenses and dominate time of possession.
In Big D, running backs Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott compliment each other quite nicely. Elliott is more of the power back while Pollard is the swiss army knife of the offense. Pollard is the more elusive back and brings more value to the passing game, a luxury in today’s NFL.
The Cowboys need to use Tony Pollard more in the passing game. Shame they’re not doing that. pic.twitter.com/L7Ru6mQINb— Ernie (@es3_09) January 18, 2023
If the Rams hope that Cam Akers is the workhorse they’ve always wanted him to be, they have to add another back to compliment him. Diversity in the backfield is a must, especially since Akers does have a troubling injury history. Plus imagine what Sean McVay could do with multiple starting caliber running backs? I’m drooling at the thought is anyone else?
Lesson #3: Having a competent backup quarterback can be a lifesaver
The Rams failed this lesson in every way possible this season. For some reason, the front office actually believed Bryce Perkins and John Wolford were the answer behind Matthew Stafford. When Stafford went down with various injuries, it was very clear that Perkins and Wolford had no business being on an NFL roster. I highly doubt they could make it on an XFL roster at this point.
Baker Mayfield was fun for a while but he doesn’t have a future in LA. He wants to prove he can be a starter elsewhere and I believe he has earned that chance. The Cowboys and 49ers provided a masterclass at how to address the backup QB role on their respective rosters. Not only did they get stable play under center while their starters were out, they likely saved their seasons with the moves they made.
Following a Week 1 loss to the Bucs, it was announced that Dak Prescott would be out weeks due to a thumb injury. Enter backup Cooper Rush who started his first game of the year against the Bengals with a bang:
Questions arose whether the Cowboys could stay afloat until his return.— Original NFL streams | Reddit NFL streams NFLbite (@nflbite_) January 16, 2023
Enter: backup QB Cooper Rush.pic.twitter.com/HV7Ti7TXIo
He became the first Cowboys player to win his first five starts, with four coming in ‘22. Despite a three-interception disaster in Philly to end his brief stint as starter, Rush was a steady presence in wins over the Bengals, Giants, Commanders and Rams. While he never lit up the box score with his stats (five passing touchdowns in five starts), Rush saved Dallas’ season. So if you need anyone to thank for Cowboys fan being more obnoxious than usual, now you know.
As for the 49ers, they had to be thanking their lucky stars they re-signed Jimmy G when they did. Second-year quarterback Trey Lance exited a Week 2 game against Seattle with a season-ending ankle injury. Garoppolo stepped up and went 7-3, playing the best football of his career in the meantime. Then he suffered an apparent season-ending injury of his own in a win over the Dolphins.
Little did we know that the legend of Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy grew on that fateful December afternoon. Including the playoffs, Purdy is 6-0 as an NFL starter. He has completed 67% of his passes, tossing 13 touchdowns to just four picks. Last week in the Wild Card round, Mr. Relevant performed like a HOFer in his postseason debut.
Fans across the league (yes Cowboys fans, I’m talking to you) haven’t been giving Purdy his due. Yes, he has a loaded team around him with one of the league’s best play callers as his head coach, yet what he’s doing in his first year is unprecedented. To step in and immediately confront enormous pressure as the new face of a Super Bowl contender shows his mental traits are special. Rookies generally aren’t as composed as he is and his best play in the first round won’t show up on the stat sheet.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how the rookie will adapt once defensives gain more tape on him. Still you have to give credit where it’s due and the Cowboys and 49ers deserve a great deal of it ahead of their epic matchup. Take notes Rams and actually learn from your mistakes. If Stafford goes down next season, that is one Hollywood sequel I could do without!