Being the Super Bowl Champions affords the Rams a good deal of the benefit of the doubt heading into the 2022 season. But there is a reason that it’s been 17 years since the NFL has produced a repeat champion. The New England Patriots were the last to do so in 2004 and 2005. The reason is, is that championship teams are prime targets for poaching, whether on-field or off-field talent. Even teams like the 2021 Buccaneers who retained nearly all members of their championship team failed to reach the Super Bowl, much less repeat.
The Rams have navigated this offseason in their normal fashion. They make splash moves by adding or not retaining some players. Goodbye Von Miller. Hello Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner. They once again drafted lesser-known players with key traits. And restocked their coaching coffers with smart football minds. This has ticked a lot of boxes heading into the Rams season, but questions remain in a few areas that will only be answered as the season progresses.
Here is a look at those questions as we head into the Rams Season.
Rams Season Preview: Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford led the league in interceptions in 2021 with 17. In some cases, those interceptions cost the Rams the game and one came very close to costing the Rams a trip to the Super Bowl. It was an all too common sight throughout the Rams season, Stafford heaves up a desperation deep ball right into the hands of a waiting defensive back. Stafford was very lucky that 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt couldn’t haul in that particular desperate heave.
Including the playoffs, the Rams were 3-3 when Stafford threw more than one interception in a game. They were 5-2 when he threw one pick and they were 8-0 when he didn’t throw an interception. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that fewer turnovers lead to more wins more often, but there is rarely such stark evidence. 1.00 winning percentage without, .714 with one, .500 with more than one. The dropped Tartt interception would have been the second interception of the game NFC Championship game and likely seal a trip to SoFi for the 49ers.
Comparing the competition from last season to this season, may not be good news for Stafford’s turnover numbers. Last season, the Rams faced six teams that finished the year in the top ten defenses by DVOA. The Rams went 3-3 versus those teams. Their other two losses came against 12th ranked Tennesse and 22nd ranked Green Bay. In the losses to the top ten teams, he threw five interceptions versus two in wins. He threw no interceptions against Tampa Bay in week three.
This year they face eight games versus teams in last year’s top ten by DVOA. This includes the Bills. They lead the league in defense by DVOA last season. The Buffalo Bills also intercepted the third most passes last season with 19. The Rams will face the 49ers twice this season. San Francisco intercepted Stafford four times in their two regular-season meetings. They only intercepted 9 passes in the rest of their 15 games. Not only that, but they have a much-improved secondary.
The Chargers, who finished with 11 interceptions and 26th in defensive DVOA, also have a vastly improved secondary and a much better defense all around. The Rams face Dallas, who finished last season with 26 picks, most in the league, and New Orleans and Green Bay. Both teams finished tied for seventh most with 18 interceptions.
With Stafford, a certain amount of turnovers are expected. He is fourth in interceptions thrown among active quarterbacks. The hope is that his upside mitigates the damage. Last season, that was the case. He posted one of the best statistical seasons of his career and the best completion percentage.
Will that continue against the stiffer competition the Rams will face this season? Or will those unforced errors cost the Rams one too many games?
It nearly did last year.
Rams Season Preview: Offensive Line
One thing that helped Stafford achieve such high statistical volume last season was his offensive line. Stafford saw a clean pocket on 73% of his dropbacks, the third highest in the NFL. When it comes to interceptions, Stafford is twice as likely to throw one when under pressure.
Andrew Whitworth retired after posting the best pass block PFF grade in the league last season with a 90.7. His replacement, Joseph Noteboom, was the second-best graded offensive lineman on the team, but nowhere near as good as Whitworth. He posted a 76.1 grade. The big question there is, can Noteboom make a jump from being a good backup to being a great starter? Past evidence throughout the league doesn’t bode well for his chances of making that big of a leap.
The left tackle could very well be the second most important position on the offense. This is something that Sean McVay recognized when he took the reigns of the Rams in 2017. That’s why he went out and got Whitworth in the first place. Former second overall pick, Greg Robinson gave up 40 pressures in 2016. Jared Goff was under pressure on 43.6% of his dropbacks and had one of the worst rookie quarterback seasons of all time. The next season the Rams added Whitworth in free agency and Robinson was traded to Detroit. Whitworth allowed 24 pressures, Goff was given more time, and voila! Playoffs!
A hard truth be told, there will be a drop-off in talent level from Whitworth to Noteboom. The question here is just how much and how much will that affect Stafford? Like most quarterbacks, Stafford doesn’t become better with defenders breathing down his neck. Stafford’s turnover worthy plays percentage jumps from 1.2 to 8.2 percent when pressure is allowed. That’s .1 percent behind Jamies Winston.
There was also a change at right guard with the departure of Austin Corbett. His replacement looks to be Coleman Shelton. Shelton has played a total of 238 snaps on offense in five seasons in the NFL. So not a lot is known about his prowess at the position. But that could be said for many players McVay has put his trust in over the years, including Brian Allen and Corbett. Both worked out very well last year.
Rams Season Preview: OBJ
There are nothing but questions regarding Odell Beckham Jr. at this point. He is still a free agent. He is still recovering from a torn ACL. And now the Rams have seven exciting and diverse receivers on their 53-player roster.
There are two questions about Beckham Jr. that remain. And they just so happen to be in opposition to each other. Will the Rams sign OBJ? And will the Rams want to sign OBJ?
There are situations that will answer the latter. Injuries, of course. Maybe Lance McCutcheon was merely a preseason hero. Maybe Tutu Atwell isn’t effective enough.
But all that said, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Rams will need to sign him. As his return to health inches ever closer, the Rams may find themselves with a lot of leverage. That is to say, they may have one of the best and most dynamic receiving corps in the league and may not want to overturn the apple cart.
It may come down to just how team-friendly will Beckham Jr. get to stay with the Rams.
Rams Season Preview: Edge Rush
The loss of Von Miller is not insignificant. An effective pass rush is the best way to stop even the best quarterbacks in the league. And the Rams will face some of the best quarterbacks in the league this season.
The Rams didn’t do much this offseason to bolster the outside linebacker room. They drafted Daniel Hardy in the 7th round, who has lots of potential and is a gifted athlete. He is currently on the injured reserve and will miss at least four games.
The Rams will lead off with Leonard Floyd and they will trust that Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis will stay healthy and head up opposite Floyd. Undrafted free agent, Jake Hummel is also on the 53-player roster currently. Hummel had an outstanding preseason and the Rams hope he continues in that trajectory.
While this group is as intriguing as they are athletic, they won’t bring the same pressure that the Rams did with Miller.
The wild card will be how the Rams use Bobby Wagner as a pass rusher. They teased a few plays at training camp with Wagner where he was basically firing into the gap created by Aaron Donald on the interior of the line. That sort of makes Donald and Wagner the football equivalent to the fictional racing duo of “Shake” and “Bake”.
A one-two punch of interior pressure is exciting to think about, but the edge rushers still need to set the edge of the pocket to contain quarterbacks. So there will still be pressure, so to speak, on Hollins and Lewis to execute.
That said, Wagner was lined up wide on the line of scrimmage at training camp as well. The Rams success in the pass rush can really hinge on how well these plays work with Wagner as a pass rusher.