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Rams Fans: Your Team Peaked in 2018 and Now Is Heading South

November 12th, 2019 · No Comments · Football, Los Angeles Rams, NFL

Write it down. The “new” Los Angeles Rams reached their zenith in a 54-51 nationally televised victory over the Kansas City Chiefs a year ago, improving to 10-1 and looking very much like a championship team.

They did, in fact, reach the Super Bowl last season, but they were awful, against the New England Patriots, and lost 13-3 in the lowest-scoring, and perhaps dreariest Super Bowl ever played.

And now? The 2019 Rams are 5-4, third in the NFC West and looking at a difficult set of games in their final seven encounters.

So, yes, the Rams team that exploded on the scene under Sean McVay in 2017 (11-5) and was even stronger (13-3) the following season … may already have shot their wad and are headed south, back to NFL irrelevance.

Remember, the plan for the Rams, when they arrived, was to draft a quarterback and be a solid contender in time for the 2020 season, their first in the palatial new stadium being completed in Inglewood.

Instead, Year 1 for the Rams in their new digs may turn out to be a season when the club struggles to win more games than it loses.

How did this happen? How did a team that went 24-8 over the previous two seasons reach a point halfway through the 2019 season where they are no longer in the “best team” discussion? And, in fact, appear to be falling like a rock.

We start with Jared Goff.

Goff was the great gamble made by Rams executives when they took the team back to Los Angeles from St. Louis, ahead of the 2016 season.

They wanted a QB the team could build around, and journeyman Kase Keenum clearly was not going to be him … so the Rams traded a staggering six draft picks (two No. 1s, two No. 2s and two No. 3s) to the Tennessee Titans to get the top pick in the 2016 draft — which they then spent on Goff.

Goff struggled to get on the field as a rookie, playing the final seven games and losing all of them for a Rams team that went 4-12 and had enormous trouble scoring, under Jeff Fisher.

But then the Rams hired McVay, 30 at the time, who was known for his grasp of the passing game and his ability to make ordinary quarterbacks something quite more than that. Goff would be his greatest test.

It helped lots that the Rams had one of the league’s best running backs, in Todd Gurley. In many cases, in 2017, Goff was throwing into defenses stacked against the run. McVay’s shifty offense, fueled by Gurley, erupted.

The Rams ran wild, leading the league in scoring with 478 points. It was enough to make Goff look like a franchise quarterback. If you squinted a little — and gave Gurley no credit.

The first 12 games of the 2018 season did nothing to change that assessment: Goff and the Rams, upward bound, with the league’s best defensive player — tackle Aaron Donald — also on their roster.

But somewhere along in there Gurley got injured. Or re-injured, a knee that gave him trouble going back to his college days.

He sat a few games. He came back for the playoffs and looked like a shadow of the player he had been. He wasn’t the all-around back who had been leading the NFL in touchdowns.

At first, the Rams seemed to be able to fight through it, perhaps because opponents still feared Gurley. But they were a modest 3-2 over the final five regular-season games, and the offense wasn’t performing as it had.

They won a tight playoff game, 30-22, over the Dallas Cowboys, then got the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game, winning, quite controversially, on an uncalled pass-interference penalty saved them in overtime. They won, 26-23.

That put them up against the Patriots and Bill Belichick in Super Bowl 53, and Belichick was not taken in by the sham that was drips and drabs of an injured Todd Gurley — whom the Rams used sparingly because, by now, everyone knew he was hurt.

The Pats geared up against the pass, against Goff that is, and the Rams were unable to get their offense in gear at any point, coming closer than anyone ever has to getting shut out in a Super Bowl. It also suggested, strongly, that Goff could not carry his team. He could be an opportune passer against run-stopping defenses, but when the attention was on him …

It was ugly; let’s leave it at that. But the Rams had played in a Super Bowl, for the first time as the Los Angeles Rams since 1980. They had just gone 13-3; why wouldn’t they continue to excel in 2019? Same coach, many of the same players, including Aaron Donald. And, of course, Goff, who was so much wiser, now.

Not so much. The Goff we have seen this year, the Goff who has no credible running game to prop him up, is struggling. We have gone back in time to 2016, when basic questions on Goff’s arm strength and ability to grasp the offense again have been raised.

He has developed some bad habits, as defenders pour through a injury-riddled offensive line. Not even McVay’s savvy can save a team that isn’t good enough. Especially at quarterback.

We have noticed Goff tends to hold the ball too long in the pocket, and seems to have no ability to sense when he is about to get hit — leading to lots of wobbly throws to receivers not really open.

Over the weekend, he again was oblivious to players around him, and a tough call went against him and the Rams — what might have been ruled an incompletion was, instead, called a fumble — that the Steelers returned for a touchdown in what turned into a 17-12 Pittsburgh victory.

The Rams’ schedule over the final seven weeks is not kind. They figure to be underdogs in at least five of the seven — home to Chicago (4-5) and Baltimore (7-2), at Arizona (3-6-1), home to Seattle (8-2), away to Dallas (5-4) and San Francisco (8-1), home to Arizona.

The Rams may need to win 12 games to make the playoffs, which would mean closing out the season on a 7-0 run — behind the exploits of Goff, now the key player on offense. (Or should be, given the $143 million, four-year extension he recently signed for, the one with $57 million guaranteed; the one a colleague called “absurd”.)

It doesn’t look good, Rams fans. And what really hurts is that the explosive, exciting team that was so riveting for most of two seasons … well, it appears to be gone.

Also, the Rams now are on course to go through five consecutive NFL drafts without a first-round pick, after giving two to Jacksonville the other day (2020 and 2021) for cornerback Jaylen Ramsey.

McVay can’t make something out of nothing, especially with a quarterback who routinely looks ordinary.

The Rams will have that great new stadium, next fall. There is that. Unfortunately, the kind of exhilarating squad that Rams execs hoped to put on display … it crumbled last season.

That let to the exciting Rams, who led the league in

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