The Los Angeles Rams are coming into 2019 off a Super Bowl loss. Many teams look quite different after a Super Bowl appearance due to losing parts to other teams as they attempt to cash in on a great season. However, the Rams still have nearly the same roster and coaching staff as they did when they went on their Super Bowl run.
That being said, from running back Todd Gurley to Head Coach Sean McVay, a new offensive line, and older veterans, there is a lot changing and a lot to learn about this team this season. Will these changes lead to a Super Bowl hangover or a Super Bowl conquest? Here are five of the biggest questions plaguing the Rams in 2019.
Five Big Questions For McVay And Co. In 2019
1. Will Todd Gurley Be As Effective?
When looking at his utilization in combination with the performance of the offense as a whole, it could be argued that the Rams offense ran through Todd Gurley in 2018. Specifically, Gurley had the fourth-most rushing attempts in the league in the same offense that was ranked second in points, yards, and points per game as well as third in rushing yards.
Gurley didn’t escape the season unscathed, however. He injured his knee during the season and it continued to degrade as the season wore on. Eventually, he sat out Week 16 and 17 and never rushed more than 16 times in a game after Week 13. On average, after Week 13, Gurley ended up only averaging 10.6 carries over his last five games (including playoffs). Even in the Super Bowl — the biggest game of his career — Gurley only rushed 10 times.
Of course, ex-Bronco and Super Bowl 50 winner, C.J. Anderson, was essentially picked up off the street and proceeded to run amok, hiding Gurley’s absences at the end of the season. However, Anderson isn’t in Los Angeles anymore and so it seems that the spotlight is back on Gurley once again. That being said, after the injury, Gurley’s future cannot be certain until he steps on the field and proves that his knee is fully functional.
Even if it is optimal, Gurley will have to share the spotlight this season according to Sean McVay, who was quoted saying that he will not be the “bell-cow” moving forward. Assuming McVay follows through, this change can only put a lower ceiling on Gurley’s production this year and into the future.
If Gurley is not as productive this year, then the Rams could be in trouble. Of course, with the new addition of running back Darrell Henderson, Gurley might not need to be the backbone of this offense but this is far from guaranteed.
Last year, the Rams won six games by one possession. Without Gurley to keep the offense chugging along at a break-neck pace, Los Angeles would likely have lost several of those games. Could having Gurley on a decreased snap count have the same effect?
2. Will Fatherhood Catch Up To Key Players?
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is 37, starting cornerback Aqib Talib is 33, Linebacker Clay Matthews is 33, and starting safety Eric Weddle is 34. All of these players have a lot on their plates and would leave a big hole if they were unable to perform this season due to injury or natural decline in their ability to play due to age.
The Rams simply cannot lose arguably their best offensive lineman or their number one cornerback because the players behind them are almost guaranteed to not be nearly as good. While the Rams might be able to manage the loss of the other two players, it would strain their resources to the absolute brink. On the other hand, if all four players find themselves able to put together a great season and stay healthy, it will create wins.
3. How Will Sean McVay’s Scheme Evolve?
Up to this point, McVay’s scheme has been relatively simple at its core: run the ball early to get opposing defenses thinking about the run and then work in play-action to get big chunks of yardage. In response to the trend-setting offense created by McVay, defenses have decided to bottle up the running back as much as possible early on and force Goff into obvious passing situations. This started happening in the second half of the regular season and into the playoffs. It seemed to work pretty well considering after Week 14, Goff threw six touchdowns and seven interceptions and the team went 4-3 in its final seven games (including playoffs).
If the Rams want to keep its offense flowing, McVay has to create the next generation of his scheme. The question is: how?
4. Will The Offensive Line Be As Good This Season?
As explained above, the Rams ran excellently in 2018. In front of every good running attack is a good offensive line. However, this year, the Rams have two new faces plopped in the core of its line after the exit of Guard Rodger Saffold and Center John Sullivan: Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen. This will be their first full season starting in their positions after staying out of the fray (for the most part) in 2018. Will the transition be seamless?
Also, it is worth mentioning that Andrew Whitworth, 37, is likely to be neighbors with Noteboom and Allen this season. If Whitworth degrades this year or becomes injured and the two newbies turn out to be disappointing, the Rams will have three offensive line positions that are worse than they were in 2018. If this comes to pass, Goff, Gurley, Henderson, and Malcolm Brown will be running for their lives on most plays and the Rams offense will drop off the map, despite arguably the deepest receiving corps in the league. Overall, the line is possibly the biggest concern for this Rams this year.
5. Are The Rams Due For A Super Bowl Hangover?
While the rest of these questions are important, the ultimate question for the Rams is whether they can bounce back from a devastating Super Bowl loss. History shows that the Super Bowl loser is seldom playing the following February. Looking back — with the exception of the 2017-2018 New England Patriots — the last team to return to a Super Bowl following a loss in the previous one was the 1993 Buffalo Bills after losing in 1992 during that awkward four-year Super Bowl losing streak.
Essentially, only two teams have accomplished this in 26 years. Could the Rams make it three as they have nearly the same roster and coaching staff? No question, the Rams have the talent on paper but as the old saying goes: “talent only takes one so far.”