7 KEY QUESTIONS THAT WILL DETERMINE THE OUTCOME OF THE 2020-21 SEASON PART 2
BY ADAM GREENE
Before the 2019-20 season kicked off, the Los Angeles Rams faced plenty of unanswered questions as they embarked on a defense of their NFC title defense.
Would they make up for their offensive no-show in Super Bowl LIV? (The answer: eventually) How bad would that Super Bowl hangover be? (Pretty bad) Was Todd Gurley healthy and 100 percent? (Nope and they struggled to adapt).
While plenty of NFL writers and pundits have written off the Rams, after last season, I’m not one of them. We’ll get into that as it’s all connected to the main question facing Los Angeles as they open training camp.
2. What will the Los Angeles Rams offense look like without Todd Gurley?
Todd Gurley’s demise as a running back was overblown. While he wasn’t the player he was through most of 2017-2018, he was hardly a bum. The arthritic knee robbed him of his quick burst, and that was what was most evident. So many of the Rams’ run plays for Gurley were designed with that quick jump in mind. The offensive line blocked accordingly and 2017-2018 Gurley makes that quick move once the ball is in his hands and the magic happens.
In 2019, it was gone. Gurley’s lack of the first quick move got him stopped behind the line plenty, especially early in the season. Sean McVay, as innovative as he’s been as a playcaller, was slow to make the change in running strategy. You can see from Gurley’s 2019 highlight film the difference in playcalling as McVay adapted to his lack of that first quick move, and instead built run plays where Gurley could pick up a head of steam before reaching the line.
This is why the Atlanta Falcons signed him. Gurley isn’t “done,” he’s just different. The reason the Rams parted ways with him is simply money, they needed the cap space and were paying for the quick-cut guy that contended for MVP, and as good as Gurley still is, he’s not that. It’s like going from a 99 to an 85 on Madden. Still good, but the freakish highlights are probably off the table.
What does this mean for the Rams offense, though? While there might be some mystery here, my guess is we’ve already seen much of this offense as it developed over the last two seasons. First off, let’s go back to the Rams’ 2018 Super Bowl run. Most people don’t factor in that Gurley’s knee issues really showed up in December of that year and the Rams, largely because back up Malcolm Brown was hurt, signed C.J. Anderson as their running back.
It was Anderson, running a completely different set of RB plays, that pushed Los Angeles to the Super Bowl.
As Gurley’s early burst was gone, so wash much of the Rams’ playbook. McVay was famous in his first two seasons for using almost exclusively 11 personnel (three WRs, 1 RB and 1 TE). At the end of last season, he’d adapted again, using multiple looks between 11 and 12 personnel (2 TEs, 1 RB, 2 WRs). What happened? Tight end Tyler Higbee became a budding superstar.
L.A. has spent the last two drafts stockpiling a couple of elite college running, Darrell Henderson out of Memphis in 2019 and Cam Akers from Florida State this past April. And while there’s plenty to be excited about with those players, don’t sleep on Brown, Gurley’s prized back up who always delivered elite performances when on the field.
The Rams were too slow to adapt to the change in Gurley’s playing style last season. That won’t be the issue this year.
As for the loss of Brandin Cooks at WR, again, he was hurt most of last season and didn’t play. The bigger loss to years ago was Cooper Kupp, who was not part of the Rams’ Super Bowl run. Kupp is their best overall receiver (not by much, Robert Woods is elite too), but he’s QB Jared Goff’s safety target, his Julian Edelman, and his absence was felt in that Super Bowl stall.
While McVay was enamored with Cooks’ track-star speed, what he’s learned since is that guys like Woods, Josh Reynolds and rookie Van Jefferson are plenty fast enough to stretch the field.
Lastly we have QB Jared Goff, justly maligned for his overall performance last season. He, like McVay, was thrown into a situation for which he wasn’t prepared with the offensive line injuries and Gurley’s knee issues robbing him of his scat back qualities. Goff attempted more passes than any QB in the NFL last season, 626. He still completed 62.9 percent of them. By season’s end, he’d bounced back. He led the league in completions to open receivers according to Pro Football Focus. He did that in spite of playing behind the second worst line in pro football, according to those same folks at PFF.
That line, though, at the end of the season, was significantly better. They’ll open 2020 healthy and loaded with NFL experience. As long as they hold up, the Rams will be in the Super Bowl conversation all year.
As of right now, the Rams are at +3000 to win the NFC Championship and +6000 to win the Super Bowl.