The Blueprint For The Los Angeles Rams
by Andrew Pasquini – Sports 1140 KHTK
2018 was the second season under 32 soon to be 33-year-old head coach Sean McVay for the Los Angeles Rams. McVay replaced veteran head coach Jeff Fisher after Fisher led the Rams to a 4-12 record in 2015. Since then, the Rams are 24-8 in the regular season, have appeared in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and will make their first Super Bowl appearance since 2001.
So what changed from 2016 to 2017? The obvious answer is McVay but it’s a bit deeper than that.
McVay came in and completely overhauled the offensive system. He put the trust in then second-year quarterback Jared Goff that Fisher refused to give. In 2016, Fisher’s last season with the Rams and Goff’s rookie year, Goff started seven games after Case Keenum started the first nine and after there were questions about whether Fisher even wanted to draft Goff with the first pick.
Goff didn’t win a game in his first season and Fisher was fired. McVay took over and took the 31st-ranked pass offense in the NFL in 2016 and turned it into a top-ten passing game.
McVay allowed Goff to air the ball out more. Goff averaged 5.3 yards per attempt in 2016 under Fisher. When McVay took over, that number jumped to eight yards per attempt and it raised once again this season to 8.4. With Goff opening up the passing game, he was able to more than double his touchdown percentage and more than halve his interception percentage.
Part of Goff’s success came from McVay’s system and part came from upgrading the weapons around Goff.
Fisher had Todd Gurley coming off a Rookie of the Year in 2015 but in 2016, Gurley regressed to averaging 55.3 yards per game after averaging 85.1 in his rookie season. McVay took Gurley and turned him into an all-purpose back. The first step was getting Gurley more touches. Gurley went from 321 touches in 2016 to 343 in 2017. With the upgraded play from Goff, Gurley had more room to run, collecting a league-leading 2,093 all-purpose yards in 2017 and a league-leading 19 touchdowns.
McVay revamped the Rams offensive line as well, which helped both Goff and Gurley. In the 2017 off-season, Los Angeles added tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Austin Blythe. From that point, the Rams protection of Goff improved. In his seven games in his rookie season, Goff was sacked 26 times. Since adding Whitworth and Blythe, Goff was sacked 25 times in 2017 and 33 times in 2018. Goff’s sack percentage dropped from 11.3% in 2016 to 5.3% the past two season combined.
The Rams also added receivers Robert Woods via free agency and Cooper Kupp through the 2017 NFL Draft and acquired Brandin Cooks in the 2018 offseason from the Patriots. In the past three seasons, the Rams went from ranked 32nd in offense, to 10th in McVay’s first season, and second in 2018.
While McVay turned around the Rams offense, he adopted a decent defense. The Rams struggled with allowing points in Fisher’s last season allowing 24.6 points per game but allowed the ninth-fewest yards in the the NFL.
McVay had something to work with and brought in defensive guru Wade Phillips. Phillips’ defense had a nice piece in Aaron Donald to start with. by the time McVay and Phillips took over, Donald was already a two-time First Team All-Pro at the defensive tackle spot. Donald is now a four-time All-Pro and received a well-deserved contract extension prior to the season. Donald was the building block for the Rams defense to build around.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Rams selected safety John Johnson III in the third round. Johnson took over a starting spot in Week 5 of last season and since then he’s collected 187 tackles, intercepted five passes, and has deflected 22. In the NFC Championship Game, he intercepted Drew Brees in overtime which led to Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning field goal.
The 2018 off-season was where the Rams showed they were ready to become Super Bowl contenders. Los Angeles signed Ndamukong Suh and completely re-did their secondary, signing Sam Shields and trading for Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters joining Johnson and fifth-year safety Lamarcus Joyner. The revamped secondary worked out for the Rams, as they touted a top-15 pass defense but finished third in the NFL with 18 interceptions. Johnson, Shields, Talib, and Peters combined for half of those interceptions.
At this seasons trade deadline, the Rams traded a 2019 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire edge rusher Dante Folwer. Fowler finished with two sacks for the Rams but forced a fumble and hit the quarterback five times. Fowler’s biggest hit of the season came in the NFC Championship Game when he hit Brees and forced a lame duck that led to Johnson’s interception.
Three of the Rams top-five cap hits play on the defensive side of the ball but it doesn’t hurt the Rams due to Goff being on his rookie deal still. McVay took the Rams to a place they could have never imagined under Fisher. With McVay running the offense and Phillips running a re-built defense, the Rams look to win their second Super Bowl in franchise history.