4 Questions for the Los Angeles Rams' 2018 Season
By the standard of Las Vegas bookmakers, the Los Angeles Rams far exceeded expectations in the 2017 season. The Rams rebounded from a tough first campaign in L.A. to win the NFC West with an 11-5 record-- shattering the 5.5 wins they were projected to have -- despite being +700 just to make the playoffs at the start of the year. Following such a dramatic turn around, here are four questions the Rams are facing this upcoming season.
1. How will the Rams fare as the hunted and not the hunter?
Going beyond the 2017 odds of +700 to make the playoffs and +17000 to win the Super Bowl, many throughout the sports media didn't see much in store for the Rams:
"The Los Angeles Rams are a bad football team. After being mired in mediocrity for years, the Rams turned over the reins to the youngest head coach in the NFL in 31-year-old Sean McVay. But he's a coach, not a miracle worker. This thing isn't getting turned around overnight." - Bleacher Report
"Jared Goff might be, uhhhhh, uninspiring to the masses. But if he can absorb the techniques and scheme that Sean McVay imparted on Kirk Cousins ... why not .500 ball in Los Angeles?" - NFL.com after giving the Rams a 8-8 Ceiling in 2017.
"Jared Goff can only improve off last season. L.A. won four games last year, and six may be a stretch for this season, but who can say?" - SI.com who projected the Rams at 6-10.
Los Angeles will face the opposite task this season after their first division win since 2003. It surprised nobody when they were announced as the 4th ranked team going into the 2018 season by ESPN.
They will likely start the season as favourites to win the divison, a position many of the Rams young, talented players such as Todd Gurley and Jared Goff may be unfamilar with. Though the team has added veterans during the offseason such as Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters, it will be an interesting test for the players to go into the season as favourites instead of underdogs.
2. Can Jared Goff replicate his stellar 2017 campaign?
This question could have very easily been called: "will we see 2016 Goff or 2017 Goff in the 2018 season". It may not be entirely fair to assign that much weight to a rookie being thrown into the fire midseason with a running back playing below his capabilities, not to mention the epitome of mediocrity that was Jeff Fisher, but the discrepancy between that season and 2017 suggests it's warranted.
His play led to Rams fans seeing alot of this last season:
He threw for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns with just seven interceptions and a 61.2% completion percentage in 2017 and was a huge part of the Rams league-leading offense. Goff won the Pro Football Writers Association Most Improved Player award and improved his Pro Football Focus Grade from a 45 to an 81.3 after a solid sophmore season in 2017. Football Outsiders projected him as a top-ten quarterback in both DYAR and DVOA--two metrics used to measure total value and value per play-- and he helped lead the Rams to 29.9 points per game, the most in the league.
The question is, can Goff keep his success going moving into next season, maybe even carry it through into the playoffs this year? And if not, how far can the team go relying on Gurley as heavily as it did in 2016? If he cannot replicate his season from last year, or at the minimum be a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, it will put much more weight on Gurley and the defense.
3. Will NFL defenses catch up to Sean McVay's offense?
The Rams scored a league-leading 478 points last season -- 20 more than the next closest team, the New England Patriots -- under first-year head coach Sean McVay. They scored more than 30 points nine times, more than 40 four times, and more than 50 once. It's not suprising L.A. was top ten in pass yards, rush yards, and total yards as teams struggled to keep up with their offense.
But the offensive engine sputtered when it mattered most, in their Wild Card game against the Atlanta Falcons. Los Angeles lost that game 26-13 despite having more total yards, and weren't able to score more than a single touchdown against a solid Atlanta defense. The two fumbles didn't help, but it begs the question if NFL defenses in general will start to catch up to McVay's offense, even if they had already seen it in his days with the Washington Redskins. The Rams have upgraded at wide reciever and tight end with the additions of Brandin Cooks and Gerald Everett, but there must be some sort of decline in the juggernaut offense, right?
4. How will the new members of the defense gel?
Los Angeles took a 'win now' approach this offseason as they traded away several draft picks for known commodities such as Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Throw in the signing of Ndamukong Suh, and departures of Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, and Connor Barwin, and you're looking at six new starters if not more.
Though the talent they've added is exceptional -- Suh has an elite-level player grade of 90.9 from PFF, Peters and Talib are both high-quality with grades of 85.7 and 86.2, respectively -- the test for McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be making sure all the stars can work together and keep their egos in check. Especially when reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald is on the same field.
If the Rams new defensive pieces can mesh well, they have the talent to be one of the better defenses in the league.