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2018 Season Review: 13-3 (NFC West Champions)
Coming off a 2017 season where the Rams came out of nowhere behind new HC Sean McVay, the Rams were a hot pick to make a big jump from the Wild Card round to a deep playoff run. All those who picked the Rams to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl were rewarded with cashing in bets or bragging rights amongst friends.
The Rams in 2018 were very much like the Kansas City Chiefs: they had an explosive high scoring offense behind a young QB, a great group of WRs, and a very good running game that was hindered by a defense with stars but gave up too many points during the regular season.
Before the season even started, the Rams made a few splash moves to improve their team and make a Super Bowl run. First on offense they got rid of Tavon Austin to the Cowboys and Sammy Watkins went to the Chiefs in free agency, so the Rams traded for Brandin Cooks from the New England Patriots. On defense, the Rams traded for CB Marcus Peters from the Chiefs, they signed CB Sam Shields and DT Ndamukong Suh. Then during the year at the trade deadline, they acquired OLB Dante Fowler Jr. from the Jacksonville Jaguars. With all those additions in the off season, the Rams were a “super team” and favorite to make the Super Bowl.
Behind Sean McVay and Jared Goff at QB the Rams were second in the league in scoring at 32.9 PPG. They were also second in the league in yards per game with 42.1, and averaged 281.7 of those passing, and 139.4 of them rushing. Goff had a Pro Bowl type year throwing for 4,688 YDS with 32 TDs and 12 INT.
Goff through to three great WRs. Robert Woods caught 86 balls for 1,219 YDS and 6 TDS, Brandin Cooks caught 80 balls for 1,204 YDS and 5 TDs while WR Cooper Kupp caught 40 balls for 566 YDS and 6 TDs in just 8 games. Kupp only played in 8 games because he tore his ACL, if not then the Rams could have had three different guys with 1,000 yards. The Rams offense was so good though, they barely missed him at all.
On the ground Todd Gurley had another great year. In 14 games he ran for 1,251 YDS and 17 TDs, he also caught 59 balls for 580 YDS and 4 TDs. Gurley had knee issues during the season and those sidelined him for two games, plus the Rams didn’t utilize him as much towards the end of the year and in the playoffs. This story-line was huge during the playoffs and still is ongoing in 2019. In Gurley’s absence the Rams found C.J. Anderson. Anderson started and played in two games, he ran for 299 YDS and 2 TDs. He was solid in the playoffs. In the Divisional Round game against the Cowboys, Anderson ran for 123 YDs and 2 TDs. He was less effective as time went on but still played the role he needed too. The Rams just like the Chiefs also benefited from a great OL, one that might be an issue in 2019.
On defense, the Rams gave up 24.0 PPG and 358.6 yards per game. The scoring was 20th in the league while the yards per game was 19th, so not quite as bad as the Chiefs. Obviously this team on defense was led by their defensive line and mainly Aaron Donald who is fucking unstoppable. As a DT Donald recorded 20.5 of the Rams 41 sacks, he forced 4 fumbled and recovered 2 more, he had 59 tackles, 25 TFL, and 41 QB hits. When a team came to play the Rams they had to game-plan on offense for Donald. Then next to Donald you had to deal with Ndamukong Suh who had 4.5 sacks, 59 tackles, 4 TFL, and 19 QB hits, and for 8 games Dante Fowler JR who had 2 sacks, 4 TFL, and 5 QB hits during that span with the Rams.
On the back-end and at LB the Rams had players everywhere. LB Cory Littleton made the Pro Bowl with 4 sacks, 125 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 INTs and 1 TD. CB Marcus Peters had 3 INTS, 1 TD, and 43 tackles, CB Troy Hill had 2 INTs, CB Sam Shields had 1 INT, and CB Aquib Talib had 1 INT in 8 games. They also had Lamarcus Joyner at Safety who recorded 1 INT, 1 sack, and 78 total tackles.
This defense had players all over, stars all over but they just couldn’t stop anybody. They only recorded 41 sacks which was 15th in the league, but like the Chiefs they forced 30 turnovers which saved them at times.
The Rams started out 8-0 before they finally lost in New Orleans 45-35. They would go on to lose two more games during the year, at Chicago on a Sunday Night game 15-6, and at home against the Eagles 23-20. The Rams lost those close games but they also won their fair share during the year. They beat the Seahawks twice, Packers, Broncos, and Vikings all in one score games. Their defense gave up a lot of points, seven time they allowed more than 30 points including that incredible Monday Night game against the Chiefs. The defense also shut down opponents too, there were seven games where they gave up 20 or less points during the year. It was a hit or miss type of defense throughout the year but they clamped down in the playoffs when it mattered.
In the Divisional Round against the Cowboys the Rams defense gave up just 22 points to Ezekiel Elliot and company. More importantly, they completely shut down Elliot only allowing him to rush for 47 yards on 20 carries. The Rams meanwhile in that game had C.J. Anderson run for 123 YDS and 2 TDs, while Todd Gurley ran for 115 YDs and 1 TD.
We all know what happened in the NFC Championship game regarded the refs (you can read the Saints preview for more on that), but the Rams got a good performance again out of their defense and Jared Goff who made some very timely throws. For the most part this was a surprisingly defensive game for two teams that averaged over 30 PPG and put up 80 during their regular season match-up. The Saints jumped out to a early 13-0 lead and it looked like the Rams were going to blown out but the second quarter the Rams clawed their way back in and after the brutal missed PI call, the Rams took advantage. With only 1:41 left in the 4th quarter, Goff led the Rams down the field for a game tying 48 FG by Greg Zuerlein and in OT the Rams forced a turnover, and Zuerlein hit a 57 yard FG to win the game.
Onto the Super Bowl the Rams went, albeit in controversial fashion, to face the New England Patriots. The Super Bowl was a boring display of football to be blunt, the Patriots ended up winning 13-3 and there were very few exciting plays. The defense played well but obviously the Rams offense was horrible and Sean McVay has come out since saying he takes a lot of blame for this.
Goff was 19 for 38 with 229 YDS and 1 INT. Gurley only ran for 35 YDs and Anderson only ran for 22. The Patriots also held Gurley to just 1 reception for -1 YDS. The only bright spots were Robert Wood who caught 5 balls for 70 YDS and Brandin Cooks who caught 8 balls for 120 YDS.
Goff’s INT came at a horrible time also. The Rams had a drive going late in the 4th and floated a ball which was picked off by Stephon Gilmore at the 3 yard line with 4:18 left in the game. Goff was also late earlier in the game on a pass to Cooks in the back of the end zone that could have been a TD. Those two plays defined the game for Goff, if he makes one of those throws the Rams could very well be Super Bowl Champions.
Instead, the Rams lost the final game of the year in disappointing fashion. The second year in a row after the Saints loss in brutal fashion, fans wondered how much better the next game could have been if the Saints could have pulled out the W. The Rams did show they belonged there and can build on that in 2019. For one, McVay and Goff got some big game experience that is only going to make them better and for the most part, the Rams were bringing back a big core of their team. Let’s take a look at what this off-season has looked like for them.
Key Off Season Acquisitions
FS Eric Weddle (2 Years, $10.5 Million)
Weddle comes over from the Ravens to fill in the void left by Lamarcus Joyner who got a big contract from the Raiders. To be honest the Rams might be getting an upgrade here for a cheaper price. Weddle can still play a high level and he is a great leader. I think he can really help the secondary get lined up correctly and help fix some mistakes this team made on the back end in 2018.
OLB Clay Matthews (2 Years, $9.25 Million)
Packers ave up on Matthews after a slow decline so Matthews decided to go home to LA where I have no doubt he’s’ going to make a Pro Bowl. Matthews might find a resurgence here, he still has good football left in him and with Donald in the middle and Dante Fowler on the other side Matthews is going to see a ton of one on ones.
QB Blake Bortles (1 Year, $1 Million)
The former backup was Sean Mannion, now the Rams have a QB who has big game experience and if Goff was every lost for an extended period of time, the Rams can stay afloat. This one year deal for Bortles is really about learning for Goff, showing what he can do in the preseason and then hopefully getting a shot at a starting gig next year.
Round 3 Pick #70: RB Darrell Henderson
Interesting pick here with Todd Gurley’s knee issues. Henderson was a stud a Memphis and can do everything and anything. He should fight for time with current backup Malcolm Brown and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pass up Brown midway through the season.
Key Off Season Departures
G Rodger Saffold (via free agency to the Tennessee Titans)
This is a huge loss for the Rams. Saffold is one of the best guards in the league and the Rams really need to replace him. The Rams OL was a great unit in 2018 and without Saffold they are going to lose a lot in the run game and pass protection.
C John Sullivan (unsigned)
Another loss on the OL that is pretty big. Sullivan has been the starting C for the Rams since McVay was the head coach. The Rams now need to fill this spot with an unknown and the center of this OL looks like it could be an issue in 2019.
FS LaMarcus Joyner (via free agency to the Oakland Raiders)
Joyner played very well for the Rams and before free agency even started you kinda knew he was gone. The Raiders gave him a ton of money but the Rams signed Weddle to replace him. Could be an upgrade honestly.
LB Mark Barron (via free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Barron was a Swiss army knife guy for Wade Phillips on defense. Barron was a converted Safety to LB and could do a lot things for Phillips from blitzing to cover backs and TEs. They lose that ability with him and a veteran presence. His loss isn’t getting talked about enough.
DT Ndamukong Suh (via free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Suh only played in one year but he also helped Donald get free sometimes. Suh was also a great run stuffer up front. Right now the Rams have un-proven guys to fill this void.
The Rams and Chiefs had very similar 2018’s but I am much more confident in the Chiefs repeating their success, and even improving on their defense than I am with the Rams. First off, let’s start with the offense.
At the skill positions the only question is with Todd Gurley and his knee. It’s being reported he has arthritis in his knee but the Rams are going to be mum on the injury for as long as they can. C.J. Anderson played well at the end of the year, but he’s gone and this offense just isn’t the same without Gurley. Its fine for a game or two but if Gurley misses significant time that could impact the offense in a major way, which is why the Rams drafted a guy like Darrell Henderson.
The second question for the Rams is the offensive line. The middle of the line is going with John Sullivan and Roger Saffold departing. The guys to replace them are unknowns in 2018 draft picks Brian Allen at C and Joe Noteboom at LG. The Rams are obviously set at tackle with Rob Havenstein and Andrew Whitworth but a weak interior OL can ruin a team, take a look at the 2018 Green Bay Packers. Pressure up the middle is the worst for QBs and Goff isn’t exactly the most mobile guy back there. So early on, expect a lot of attention to be paid to the Rams interior line to see how they hold up.
On defense the Rams added a lot of guys, but also lost a lot of guys. They didn’t make any huge signings which make you think they’re going to make a huge jump forward. They did add Matthews to hopefully help with their sack numbers, and Dante Fowler will have a full off-season to learn this defense. The Rams need Matthews and Fowler to create good pressure so Donald can hopefully get some one on ones on the inside. Next to Donald is a question though without Suh and how much depth do they have up there? They didn’t stop the run last year and there’s no reason to think they will this year.
The secondary is also mostly the same with the exception of Eric Weddle. They have names all over and should be good, but again gave up a ton of yards and points. What Rams fans need to hop for, is the defense that showed up in the playoffs. If that defense comes to pay in 2019, the Rams are gong to fighting for a top seed in the NFC yet again.
The NFC West plays the NFC South and the AFC North this year. The Rams also play the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys.
The Rams are going to be on national TV quite a bit in 2019. Starting Week 3 at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night Football, then Week 5 on Thursday Night Football at the Seattle Seahawks, Week 11 at home against the Chicago Bears on SNF, Week 12 at home against the Baltimore Ravens on MNF, and finally Week 14 on SNF at home against the Seahawks again. Being on the West Coast they play a lot of late afternoon games and at home against the Saints in Week 2 will the main late game. They also play at the Steelers in Week 10 and at Dallas in Week 15 in the late afternoon slot which should be the main game those weeks also.
On top of all that, the Rams plays in London against the Bengals and their former QB Coach Zac Taylor, a week after having to travel to Atlanta. That is also a home game for the Rams so they only get to play 7 games in Los Angeles.
The Rams get a good bye week during Week 9. They have a division heavy end of their schedule, playing four division opponents in the last five weeks of season.
Fantasy Player You Want
Take any one of the Rams receivers you can get your hands on: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, or Brandin Cooks. I think all of these guys are going to finish a WR2 or better in 2019.
Fantasy Player to Avoid
I don’t want any part of the Rams TE Group. They have too much at WR and RB for them to feature a roster worthy TE. Yes there might be a game or two where one of them goes off, but I’ll stay away from those guys throughout the year.
If the OL plays up to par and this defense improves on last year, I can see this team winning 12 games. I just don’t see 13 again with their schedule and an improved NFC West.
I don’t see much drop off but honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team miss the playoffs. I am going to say they win at least 8 games.