When Greg Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard field goal in overtime at the Superdome on Jan. 20, 2019, the Los Angeles Rams were on top of the world.
They were headed to the Super Bowl. Jared Goff had just been named to his second Pro Bowl and was a few months away from a four-year, $134 million deal. Sean McVay had validated his hype as the NFL’s next great coach. Teams would scramble to hire coaches with even a remote connection to McVay, and brag about it in announcing the hires. You could have talked yourself into the Rams being the NFL’s next dynasty.
The thought that we’d go into the 2020 season questioning Goff, McVay and the Rams’ approach in general wasn’t on anyone’s mind. The NFL moves fast.
The Super Bowl was a rough one. Goff struggled badly. McVay was thoroughly outcoached by Bill Belichick and then-New England Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores. He immediately acknowledged it. The Patriots won an ugly game. Then, the Rams missed the playoffs in 2019 and had an offseason of reckoning. Many key veterans are gone, including running back Todd Gurley. Even Zuerlein, whose clutch kick at New Orleans was as true as could be, left in free agency.
The last year-plus since that Super Bowl loss revealed some cracks. McVay’s offense, overly reliant on three-receiver sets and play-action passes, was exposed a bit. Goff didn’t look anything like a $134 million quarterback and didn’t make another Pro Bowl. Not even close. The Rams went from a team that was lauded for aggressively pursuing a championship to one that looked impulsive and mismanaged. We’d rip any other team for some of the moves the Rams have botched.
The Rams haven’t made a first-round pick since Goff in 2016. They’ve traded those picks for big-name players, but there’s a reason teams avoid that method of roster building. Those stars need contract extensions. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey is soon to be the latest to get a massive contract, and the Rams have no leverage after trading a ton for him. Brandin Cooks did get a big extension after the Rams traded a first for him, and then he was traded to the Houston Texans with an NFL-record $21.8 million dead cap hit left behind. Gurley was cut two years into his four-year, $60 million deal, and then he and Clay Matthews openly complained the Rams were stalling in paying them guaranteed money they were owed. These moves aren’t indicative of a franchise that has any long-term plan.
And to think, that day at the Superdome was only about 18 months ago.
We’ve seen McVay and Goff rise and then fall together, and 2020 seems like a crossroads for them and the Rams. McVay started to morph his scheme, going to two-tight end sets 21 percent of the time last season, according to SharpFootballStats.com. The Rams used three receivers 89 percent of the time in 2018. Goff is probably due some positive touchdown regression after falling from 32 to 22 last season. He probably isn’t a quarterback who can carry a team, but he’s probably not as bad as he was last year.
It will be a challenge to bounce back. Key veterans are gone. The offensive line has become an issue, and the Rams haven’t had the cap space or draft picks to replenish it. The Rams are still looking for someone to take Gurley’s place, and have spent valuable draft picks two straight years on the position. This isn’t the loaded Rams roster that made the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
The Rams need their coach and quarterback to make up for those deficiencies. And we ask a question that seemed ludicrous that afternoon in the Superdome a year-and-a-half ago: Do the Rams have the right pieces in those key places? We might find out this season.