It’s been a week since the 2022 Rams season ended and the corpse is cooling in the drawer. The season was a disaster at all levels, coaching, offense, defense, special teams, the front office, and even the fans. Only a handful of reputations come out of this season unscathed and sweeping changes are inevitable.
Sure, injuries were one of the main authors of this godawful season but the injuries were the symptom and not the disease. The injuries were, of course, devastating on the field but they also exposed the rot in the foundation of this team. The purpose of this piece is not to have a Festivus for this Rams season nor is the conclusion going to be “FIRE EVERYONE AND BURN IT ALL DOWN” because that’s an obviously lazy and irrational solution.
Conversely, this won’t be a spoon full of hopium meant to course through anyone’s veins. This is an honest assessment of what the team did wrong, right (believe it or not), and what can be done to come out of the worst Super Bowl hangover of all time without going back out there mixing beer, wine, hard liquor, and cocaine. Last season was a glass case of emotions and the decade-plus-long river of sh*t the franchise and fans had to crawl through ended in champagne. Even a disastrous hangover.
The Front Office
Everything starts with the front office and Les Snead understandably was Mike McD riding a hot hand. His years of “F— DEM PICKS” paid off like a slot machine and his ultimate gambit was trading for Matthew Stafford. That was an unqualified success. Denver and Indianapolis attempted to recreate that move to their detriment and Miami, Vegas, and others made big swinging moves that would’ve made Mike Florio throw up in his mouth a year ago.
One of the big things that Les Snead lost was the element of surprise as the league seemingly is no longer allergic to blockbuster trades. The Rams zagged against the conventional wisdom of the league but now it’s no longer rare to see a team trade multiple picks for a superstar. That was one of the inefficiencies Snead exploited and it’s no longer there.
The media narrative was that trading the picks were why the Rams were abysmal this year and it takes no more than a Google to see why that narrative reeked of lazy takes that were sitting in many an inbox for over a year.
“F— DEM PICKS” in and of itself wasn’t the problem. The Rams weren’t actually bereft of picks. Yes, they didn’t have a first and in some instances a second but they had multiple picks in rounds 3-7. The problem was Snead and his scouting department whiffed the last few drafts. The trick was to surround his stars with uncut gems that buttressed the massive talent around them. The big examples of this are the play that sealed the NFC Championship where homegrown Aaron Donald forced Jimmy Garoppolo to throw a pick to seventh-round pick Nick Scott.
Also, the fact that their biggest homegrown star on offense Cooper Kupp was the MVP while Stafford was forced to lean on Brycen Hopkins, Darrell Henderson, and Ben Skowronek to extend the gaming winning drive.
For all the crap the Rams get for being top-heavy, they actually were top five in homegrown roster talent. Unfortunately, Snead and Co started whiffing on those homegrown guys. The last two drafts were unmitigated disasters and this extends far beyond fans’ favorite rallying cry “CREED HUMPHREY”. Obviously, every draft is a dart throw and there will always be misses but 2020 is where the wheels come off.
2020 started strong with Cam Akers (more on him later) and Van Jefferson which count as wins. They’ve been valuable pieces to the offense when healthy but after that, Terrell Lewis was a guy with a ton of potential but needed to be encased in that mechanism the Mona Lisa was stored in in “Glass Onion”. Terrell Burgess had flashes but was cut midseason, Brycen Hopkins struggled to exist, Jordan Fuller is the closest thing to a winner but his availability is becoming a concern, and Tremayne Anchrum is an incomplete. Clay Johnston and Sam Sloman were whiffs. 2021 would somehow be worse.
Yes, their first pick was Tutu Atwell over Creed Humphrey or Quinn Meinerz. And while Tutu (more on him later too) did come on towards the end of this season, this was still a big misstep. Atwell could’ve been had later. Ernest Jones was a winner but he had a bit of a second-year slump.
Beyond them it got worse, Bobby Brown, Earnest Brown, and Jacob Harris have failed to materialize into anything beyond practice squad mentions. Robert Rochell had flashes as a rookie but really struggled to get on the field and when he did it didn’t end well. Jake Funk is no longer on the team and so is Chris Garrett. Ben Skowronek is the only other player that has a place on the offense but unfortunately, he has too big a place at the moment.
It’s not fair to judge 2022 quite yet but there do appear to be some winners. Cobie Durant, Russ Yeast, and Quentin Lake are DBs that could be valuable pieces in the future. Kyren Williams has a ton of upside if he can ever get consistent playing time, and Logan Bruss missed his rookie year because he tore his ACL so he also gets an incomplete.
That said, Derion Kendrick got way too much play and struggled mightily at times. Daniel Hardy never cracked the barren linebacker rotation and AJ Arcuri had to start a few games and did OK all things considered. The point being is that when a team whiffs two straight drafts it caused the Rams house to wobble. It wasn’t just the draft where Snead lost his fastball but it was also in dealing with his incumbent roster and free agency.
The root of the Rams’ off-season was the negotiations with Von Miller. The Rams lost a lot of time trying to work out an extension with Von and they wouldn’t give him the years that Buffalo eventually did. On one hand, this does make some sense. Von is on the wrong side of 30 and his deal would run until he’s 38. That’s a long time to invest in a pass rusher whose speed is a big part of his game and he’s had health issues the last few years (He ended up tearing his ACL this season).
On the other, their pass rush sans Miller didn’t exist and they could always eat the dead cap down the road. So once Von joined the Bills Mafia they made a HARD pivot. They traded starting receiver and cultural touchstone Robert Woods to the Titans for a sixth-round pick (because he had a big contract) and while in a vacuum it makes sense why, as he was coming off an ACL tear, carried a big (well-deserved) salary, and didn’t find a rhythm with Stafford the way Kupp had. Of course, trading him probably hurt the dynamic in that locker room, especially with Andrew Whitworth riding off into the sunset.
They replaced Bobby Trees with Allen Robinson (more on him later) which on it’s face was a good idea. Stafford loves to throw 50/50 balls and Robinson is one of the best at catching them. That wouldn’t pan out and looks worse with the three-year $46 million price tag.
They never got a deal done with Odell Beckham and assumed (albeit correctly) that they would still have an opportunity to do so because he’s coming off an ACL and his medicals would factor into whether he makes a playoff run this season (he wouldn’t) and while they’re still in the Beckham sweepstakes that meant they were down a weapon.
Signing Bobby Wagner was an unqualified success but didn’t address their lack of a pass-rusher.
Their in-house free agency spending was also mixed. They rightly granted Stafford, Kupp, and Aaron Donald raises/extensions as well as Sean McVay. However, rather than go outside for their Whitworth replacement they decided to promote Joe Noteboom. The 2019 3rd-round pick was oft-injured but when he had to fill in for Whitworth he was pretty good. The problem is Snead gambled on the injuries being in the past and they weren’t.
Center Brian Allen was also given a three-year $24 million extension and he was another case of a player who could never stay healthy and yet paid to ultimately dire ends. He also repeated his 2018 of letting Rodger Saffold leave by letting Austin Corbett go which really came back to bite him.
The Rams didn’t go out and pick up a veteran pass rusher or offensive lineman and spoiler alert that wound up biting them. The trade deadline wound up being a crossroads moment as luckily for them the Panthers refused multiple firsts for Brian Burns and Christian McCaffrey.
Neither would’ve moved the needle this season and would’ve MURDERED them for years to come. Their big move was bringing in Baker Mayfield on a flyer and ultimately it was a great ride as he had a come-from-behind win against Vegas and a blowout of Denver. Mayfield will at the very least net the Rams a comp pick in the draft.
The front office flew too close to the sun but it would be Sean McVay who showed signs of burnout.
Before getting into the issues that stemmed from the coaching staff there is one thing that needs to be taken care of first. Sean McVay IS A GOOD COACH. He’s flawed like all coaches are to varying degrees but he is not a nepotism baby that fell a$$ backward off the Metrolink into a Super Bowl.
Yes, like 98% of the league he got his foot in the door via nepotism/connections but he’s not a stumblebum who huffed glue while his superstars did the work. He came into the Rams as the youngest coach in the league and managed to put together a quality staff and build a culture. Anyone who says he was gifted a playoff team is some combination of petty and high.
Jeff Fisher was around when some big pieces were in place but outside of Donald and Todd Gurley, none of them were properly utilized if utilized at all. Dare anyone to look at that roster and at that moment say that’s the kind of roster anyone could win the NFC West with (even a bad NFC West). You can’t. Cooper Kupp was a rookie and unproved, Andrew Whitworth was a 35-year-old tackle, and Robert Woods was a wide receiver who was only complimented for his blocking. Gurley was coming off a second-year slump and Jared Goff.
Yes, the Rams were aggressive in acquiring stars but that didn’t come at the detriment of doing actual player development. Furthermore, they brought in volatile figures like Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Jalen Ramsey, and Odell Beckham, yet the “WE NOT ME” culture didn’t suffer.
Even when things would go south there wasn’t one word about the locker room turning on McVay or that he wasn’t up to the task. Instead, he turned it around. He won a Super Bowl in his first five years despite roster tumult, other teams poaching his staff year in and year out (if he sucked they wouldn’t poach), and the pressure of having to revive football in LA, oh and his in-laws are in a war-torn Ukraine. Which isn’t easy.
From the outside, it looks easy but it wasn’t. So while all the leave of absence talk seemed like a frontrunner bailing when things got tough, he’s not that. He’s coming back to coach and made a point of calling this year a professional failure and admits he’s had to confront his shortcomings (more on those in a minute) and while time will tell whether or not he truly figured it out, he’s not turning tail and running away because he was forced to actually coach.
Furthermore, he also didn’t just coast on the roster Jeff Fisher built and if Jeff Fisher had a playoff roster he would’ve made the playoffs. So, anyone who thinks he’s a bad coach propped up by superstars can go to hell.
All that said, this was the first year all the above tumult finally caught up with him. Kevin O’Connell finally graduated to head coach and because the hiring cycle occurred during the playoffs the pickings for offensive coordinators were SLIM. He landed on Kentucky OC Liam Coen and while McVay is the primary play caller he does like having an O’Connell or a Matt LaFleur to have input, so the OC isn’t just tasked with guarding a bee in a jar.
Coen’s influence on the offense didn’t yield anything positive and one could chalk that up to the injuries along the offensive line but McVay succumbed to one of his worst impulses by getting overly conservative and failing to divert from his system.
Even in the face of a running game that was in shambles and Allen Robinson not gelling with Stafford, and not having Van Jefferson until week eight, he didn’t adjust. Furthermore, the offense had a difficult time integrating Robinson until the point where he got hurt. His big early adjustment was Ben Skowronek as a fullback or in the Robert Woods jet sweep role and while that worked for a bit, it ultimately wasn’t enough. He leaned on Cooper Kupp to the point of Kupp getting injured on a play he absolutely didn’t need to be in on.
Eventually, when Kupp went down he had to experiment by making Brandon Powell a K-Mart Deebo Samuel, actually using Brycen Hopkins, and just bombing it to Tutu Atwell and Van Jefferson. His Baker Mayfield offenses did what they could with their limitations but once Cam Akers reemerged as a capable runner and they found some semblance of an offensive line there was proof that the system hadn’t totally collapsed. Too little too late, unfortunately.
Thomas Brown‘s lack of involvement or at the very least reduced involvement in the game was very apparent. He was promoted to assistant head coach/passing game coordinator and even did time with the tight ends. They hired R’aShaad Samples and for whatever reason, he didn’t work well with Akers or Darrell Henderson. McVay’s handling of Cam Akers was truly baffling. There was clearly a major rift between the Rams and Henderson. Akers kept getting treated as the feature back but his explosiveness was still working its way back after tearing his Achilles.
It was miraculous he came back for the playoffs but he wasn’t himself. Even with a full training camp, Akers was still working his way back to full health because that injury takes at least a year to fully heal if it ever does. No matter the reason, McVay obviously didn’t want him around and the Rams tried to shop him but there was no reason anyone was going to trade a pick for Akers as his stock price was akin to Tesla’s post-Elon’s Twitter purchase.
Akers missed a month of the season and Darrell Henderson was tasked with being the lead back but his own durability concerns and the aforementioned offensive line breakdown hindered his effectiveness. With Henderson being a free agent the Rams granted his release as they worked to make amends with Akers since he’s cost controlled for one more season. Thomas Brown went back to being the running back coach and Akers flourished late in the season and even improved as a pass blocker. It isn’t known exactly what went down or how it was resolved but McVay bears responsibility for the situation being as ugly and public as it was.
In speaking to the defensive side of the ball, the “FIRE RAHEEM” movement reached a fever pitch, which seemed impossible given how toxic and annoying it was last season. That said, Raheem Morris had a mixed year. On one hand, the run defense did improve and the defense even without Aaron Donald for the last six games didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher until Week 17.
On the other, the pass defense suffered. The “bend don’t break” philosophy proved flawed when the personnel wasn’t fit to run the scheme. Jalen Ramsey was tasked with running the entire secondary because Troy Hill spent seven weeks injured and Jordan Fuller missed all but three games. The secondary was relying on rookies, as well as future comp picks Taylor Rapp and David Long. Ramsey had to also be a primary run defender which isn’t that common for a corner to be and he was great at it finishing in the top four in the entire league.
While Bobby Wagner and Ernest Jones did what they could in the middle but they desperately needed a pass rusher. Von Miller‘s loss on this defense was catastrophic. Aaron Donald was the only source of a pass rush as Leonard Floyd‘s injuries prevented him from being effective for six weeks. Greg Gaines had a slow start to the season and no one developed outside of them.
Morris and his defensive staff deserve blame for not experimenting with their rotation more as Justin Hollins (later released) wasn’t an adequate pass rusher and he never adjusted his scheme at all. The nadir for Morris was the cataclysmic collapse in the Tampa Bay game where the Rams had the Bucs dead to rights but the young secondary headlined by Derion Kendrick got roasted by a running-on-fumes Bucs offense.
The accusations of “SOFT” coverage aren’t entirely without merit but they aren’t entirely derived from Morris or the defensive scheme for being WEAK. The entire point of the defense isn’t to get beat for explosive plays, but that opens them up to being killed by a thousand cuts. This is, of course, best highlighted by all the meetings with the Niners, which is further exacerbated by the Rams penchant for poor tackling which on some level is on the coaching staff.
As great as Bobby Wagner was this season he’s not the linebacker anyone wants in pass coverage but he had to shoulder that responsibility too often and while Ernest Jones is a developing cornerstone he experienced a second-year slump.
The defense also failed to get turnovers until the back half of the season and that came when they allowed Michael Hoecht to try out as a pass-rusher. They finally went with Cobie Durant at corner and it turns out that adjustment paid off.
Again, Morris should’ve altered his scheme a bit to meet the skill set of his players and should’ve worked harder at finding better rotations when what he had clearly wasn’t working. But that is by no means a reason to have him fired.
Aesthetically, the defense can be hard to watch especially when injuries and poor personnel allow for the offense to routinely convert third and fourth downs. Even when they get goal line stops and or force field goals the time it took to get that far compounded with the offense’s inability to score made “bend don’t break” all the more frustrating.
All the rookies and younger players have also made the special teams difficult to watch as the Rams routinely excel in coverage or in the return game. Brandon Powell struggled to make much of a spark as he did a year ago primarily because the blocking wasn’t there. With Joe DeCamillis gone, it will be up to the next coordinator to right the ship.
Circling back to McVay, as stated earlier his conservative play-calling hindered the team but also his failure to make fundamental changes sooner. Yes, the offensive line was decimated by injuries but McVay refused to make changes to that rotation until it was too late.
Bobby Evans is the poster child of this. Evans had a strong rookie year in 2019 but got worse each and every year. Evans was easier to pass than the admissions board to Arizona State. Despite being a chief cause of Matthew Stafford‘s sacks, Evans would start game after game with his nadir being the Tampa Bay game where he’d give up multiple sacks that would stall drives.
McVay finally had to pull the plug but like with Morris’s defensive adjustments it was too little too late. He also failed to utilize his tight ends more as he’s done in the past when the chips were down and even when bombs to Atwell worked he seemed afraid to keep trying it.
Once the season was over, he rightly took stock of what he had, and sure enough, Atwell, Hopkins, and others had moments throughout the dead part of the season, which further frustrates him because there’s a sliding doors moment where he adjusts earlier and they squeak out two or three more wins. Instead, he doubled down on what felt safe even when it didn’t work.
The backup QB situation also reared its ugly head. Once Stafford went down, it became apparent that the staff was derelict in their duties in planning for injuries. John Wolford dined off of one decent game and once his sample size grew he was exposed for being woefully unprepared to be a Stafford understudy and Bryce Perkins was only marginally better. Perkins struggled to read defenses and never seemed comfortable.
Once Baker came on board they were able to also find a bit of stability on the offensive line (not much) and the running game fell into place. Experimentation became possible and everyone was able to audition for their spots next season but again, it shouldn’t have taken future comp pick Baker Mayfield to enable that.
The coaches and front office bear the brunt of the blame for how everything went down but it also comes down to play on the field. The Rams have already begun pruning their roster of guys that haven’t worked out so there’s no point in belaboring Bobby Evans or Justin Hollins any longer. They’ve had a fairly lucky health situation the last few years but the injury bug infested the Rams like they were a Travelodge.
Their offensive line alone had at least fifteen different combinations which obviously means there was no cohesion. Rob Havenstein was the only lineman to make it through the season unscathed and for that, he deserves a medal. On the positive, there were linemen that acquitted themselves as capable when they were in the rotation.
Alaric Jackson and Coleman Shelton stepped into a brutal situation and when healthy were guys who deserve to be key reserves with the Rams assuredly injecting more resources into that position they are two that deserve to stick around when the roster purge happens.
Matthew Stafford came into the offseason not entirely healthy and it was difficult to parse what was happening with him because of how bad his blocking was. His elbow didn’t seem as big of an issue as reported in the summer but at the same time, a lot of his picks or bad throws could be chalked up to not having time. He was under duress at every turn but at the same time, Cooper Kupp was the lone source of offense right up until he got injured.
Beyond that Van Jefferson missed seven weeks and even once he was back didn’t truly get into a groove until the Stafford went down. Tutu Atwell will never be CREED HUMPHREY but he actually proved himself as the burner the Rams could utilize in the near future. He also was able to be used in jet sweep situations so if McVay and his future new offensive coordinator want to get back to that they can depend on him.
Ditto Brandon Powell who as stated earlier was able to be used in that fashion and has enough speed/agility to make guys miss. McVay likes using the empty set with Stafford but Powell, Atwell, and Skowronek demonstrated why he might want to expand his horizons a bit. Allen Robinson struggled mightily too.
Tyler Higbee had a rough year following his injury that resulted in his drops increasing. McVay wanted to lean on him and while he’d have a game or two where he was moving the chains and getting into the end zone but then he’d have games where he’d be ineffective which became a problem as his role in the offense had to grow given the injuries elsewhere. Brycen Hopkins was the only other viable tight end and he missed six games due to a suspension.
The run game’s struggles were documented earlier but it needs to be said that Akers not only lacked explosion but he was also careless with the ball. He had multiple games where he fumbled in key situations and until later in the season he was a liability as a blocker and didn’t do well in pass-catching situations.
Kyren Williams when he played was a decent pass-catcher and blocker. He was also able to break tackles when he had to but the sample size was too small. He and Akers have the makings of an interesting duo next season if that comes to pass.
Jalen Ramsey and Bobby Wagner put the defense on their backs this season. Not only because they started every game but they overcompensated for the deficiencies elsewhere on the field. Both were exemplary run defenders and while Ramsey was described as “washed” he was anything but.
Yes, there were times when he was scored on but that was largely due to the coverage errors made by Taylor Rapp, Derion Kendrick, and the other DBs on the field. He could still shut down a team’s number one receiver but without help from a pass rush or from his safeties the odds he gets beat increase.
Bobby Brown missed four games due to a suspension and that hindered any development on his part. Greg Gaines didn’t come on until late in the season and until he got hurt A’Shawn Robinson was once again an unsung hero in the run game. Robert Rochelle regressed in year two and while a lot of that was due to injuries but even in special teams situations made a lot of second-year mistakes. He struggled to crack the rotation even late in the year as well.
Troy Hill came on strong in week one but again, injuries dulled his impact, and even when he came back he was beaten more often than not. Injuries also made Jordan Fuller‘s season a miss and Leonard Floyd was a dud for half the year for the same reason. Injuries clouded everything, especially with the younger players. Their 2022 draft was listed as the second least active but again that’s due to most of them not being available.
Given everything that went wrong this season, a massive overhaul is coming at all levels. They’ve had almost half a season to evaluate all of their in-house free agents and likely know who they want to keep and who they can move on from. It starts with restructuring several contracts including Floyd, Stafford, Kupp, and possibly Ramsey. They have the lowest pick they’ve had in over five years with the 36th pick and have several comp picks coming their way.
They aren’t flush with cap space but again, by restructuring they should free enough space to bring in a few key vets. Their biggest areas of need are obviously the offensive line and pass rusher. They also have some big decisions to make in terms of their post-June 1st releases as it will give them cap space to make moves later in the year because as Les Snead has demonstrated, the team isn’t built in March.
With McVay back and Donald on borrowed time it’s clear they aren’t headed for a 3-5 year rebuild, but reloading. Snead needs to restructure his scouting department and get new voices in terms of player development. It might be a feature and not a bug at this point but his penchant for giving out ill-advised extensions needs to stop and he needs to better evaluate his in-house talent.
Depending on if Raheem Morris gets a head coaching job the defense could look dramatically different next year and that might be a good thing. Morris deserves another chance to be a head coach and the Rams could always use another comp pick. Perhaps, with a new voice on the defense they might shed some of their worst tendencies. If he stays then McVay still has his head coach on defense and they can fine-tune that staff.
They need to maximize their Donald, Wagner, and Ramsey core for the next few years and whether that’s with Morris, Vic Fangio, or some other coordinator to be named later.
Sean McVay is in his most critical off-season yet. He’s said the right things in terms of confronting his weaknesses and insecurities but now he has to prove it. The first step is hiring an offensive coordinator who whether they have play-calling duties or not can be a check on McVay and a key voice in the room by adding new wrinkles and dimensions to this offense.
McVay needs to demonstrate a willingness to let go even just a little. The burnout reports seemed silly because he’s only 36 but it makes sense given the way he coaches and runs the team. He likes having a head coach on defense because that takes the pressure off and he needs to do something similar with his offensive staff. He needs to delegate more and not feel compelled to call every single shot.
He also needs to develop more flexibility and not double down on the people or plays that feel the most comfortable, and get back to being the creative play-caller he was in 2017 and 2018. No more running back screens on third down! As long as he’s in LA and has this core he will always feel pressure to win but in order to grow as a coach, the willingness to open himself up to change is going to be vital.
The Rams aren’t about to enter another era of bad luck and misfortune that will haunt fans’ pathetic souls for all eternity as they did pre-McVay. Les Snead is a better GM than he was in 2012 and the ownership is in a better place than it was post Greatest Show on Turf.
It’s understandable that there is anger and anxiety amongst fans because these past six years felt AMAZING despite being an emotional roller coaster. Beating the Niners and winning Super Bowl 56 was one of the most cathartic and euphoric feelings a fan can experience and that forever should’ve buried the notion of SOSAR.
Despite jokes that the Rams don’t have fans, the long-term over these last six years has disproven that. Go outside and see how many kids are rocking Rams gear (it’s true) and if this core makes one or two more runs at a title that’s probably galvanized for life.
The old heads, the St. Louis transplants, and the bandwagoners have done an awesome job laying the foundation for “WHOSE HOUSE” and that work will pay off down the road. SoFi won’t be a sea of visiting jerseys and empty seats for long.
In the meantime, everyone should take a breath, catch up on some TV, go outside if possible, and not fret over every single social media post or stray comment. Let the news play out before spiraling into a Dewey Cox-level “DARK F—— Period”.
Nobody wanted “RUN IT BACK” to run into the negative zone but it’s probably forced a lot of necessary decisions and conversations to be had. Sometimes in life, a rock bottom needs to be hit in order to have a moment of clarity. As Buster Moon would say “the best thing about rock bottom is there’s nowhere to go but up”, and that’s when the real change happens.