After a decisive win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night, the Rams now sit at 8-5 and have kept their playoffs hopes alive, for now. The Minnesota Vikings currently sit at 9-4, one game ahead of the Rams. The Vikings will travel to Los Angeles to face a Chargers team, who just came off a big 45-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Minnesota loses to the Bolts, they would then have a huge divisional tilt with the Green Bay Packers the following week that could decide the Rams fate. Even if the Vikings beat the Chargers next week, but then lose to the Packers the following week, the Rams would own the tie-breaker, assuming both teams finish the season 11-5.
But that is a lot of jargon and a lot of scenarios, when in reality, the Rams need to just win out, then let the rest take care of itself. With three games remaining, who is the Rams’ most important X-Factor?
The Rams Most Important X-Factor To Make The Playoffs
You can certainly make the argument that there are a number of different guys that could and should be the x-factor for the Rams down the stretch.
You can always look at the quarterback, and his play will absolutely be integral to any success now and in the future. The way that Jared Goff has played over these last two weeks should give fans hope and confidence that he is still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. Sunday night was proof that he can sling it and has the arm talent necessary to make a deep run.
But Goff is not the x-factor. As long as he does his job and does not try to do too much, the Rams will be in every game moving forward.
Todd Gurley is finally being used like the elite running back that he is. The leash has been removed and he is being allowed to ball out. When you are a workhorse back like Gurley, you need touches to get going, to get in a groove. Over the past two weeks, the running back has had 20+ touches in each game and has looked like a very confident runner.
In his rushing touchdown against Seattle, he displayed the power that he still possesses as he threw Trey Flowers to the ground with a vicious stiff-arm, scampering into the endzone.
But Gurley is not the x-factor. A playmaker, but not the x-factor.
Robert Woods has been one of the unsung heroes of this offense. His stats may not be eye-popping but he is still 17th in the NFL with 933 receiving yards, and 15th with 71 receptions. But he means more to this offense than just his statistics. He is the lifeblood that makes the unit go. He is an outstanding blocker, and a team-first guy that has helped will this team to eight wins.
It will be extremely important to get Woods involved down the stretch. The more involved he is, the better.
But Woods is not the x-factor.
Bobby Evans is a rookie tackle out of Oklahoma. Transitioning from tackle at the collegiate level to the NFL is a difficult task as the pass rushers are elite every single game. In training camp, Evans had his struggles. The transition looked like it may be too much, and on the surface, signs pointed to disaster if he was needed to step into a starting role this season.
Well, Evans has taken over for the injured Havenstein and has played pretty well, not great, but not bad for a rookie that looked to be a liability in the early onset. In his four starts, he has been graded as the 33rd RT out of 38, according to PFF. In 145 pass-block snaps, he has allowed 7 pressures, 1 sack, 3 hits (all in week 14), and 3 hurries. His 5.5% pressure rate allowed since week 11 ranks tied for 18th out of 38 during that span. For a rookie tackle that had to go up against the vaunted Bears pass rush, the great Ravens defensive line, an underrated unit in Arizona, and a division rival and a sack artist in Jadeveon Clowney, these are very admirable benchmarks.
But Bobby Evans is not the x-factor.
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So is the x-factor for the Rams heading down the final stretch? It may come as no surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Head Coach Sean McVay.
Currently, the defense is playing lights out. Outside of two games (Week 3 vs Tampa Bay, Week 13 vs Baltimore), the Rams defense has been giving up an average of 14.73 points per game, which would be good enough for 2nd in the NFL behind only the Patriots (if you throw out those two outliers).
This is to say that the final games are going to come down to the offense. Sean McVay’s brainchild. It will be up to him to put all of the aforementioned pieces together and move them in a chess match that will leave the Rams yelling Checkmate.
The offensive playcalling has been much better over the last two weeks and part of that has to do with McVay going back to his roots and doing what made this team great.
If you ask anyone what kind of quarterback Jared Goff is, most people would immediately refer to him as a prototypical pocket passer. While this is not a wrong assessment, what if I told you that he was one of the most lethal QBs in the NFL outside of the pocket?
On the season, Goff has 55 rollouts, which is 3rd behind Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson, and 50 attempts on those rollouts, also good enough for 3rd, according to PFF. Of those 50 attempts, he has 33 completions, tied for 4th, 438 yards which are 2nd, and two touchdowns. His 8.8 yards per attempt are good enough to put him tied for 5th.
So what do all of these numbers show you? That Jared Goff is pretty damn good at throwing the ball outside of the pocket. But it is up to McVay to design and call plays that utilize this skillset. We saw plenty of these great throws against Seattle on Sunday Night. These are the types of plays that not only break the game open and are exciting to witness, but also set up other play designs. Having a high success rate with the play-action and bootleg will, in turn, set up quick passes from the pocket, jet sweeps, and screen passes. They all work together hand and hand, and when McVay uses these in unison, the offense is something to marvel over.
It is also up to McVay to get Todd Gurley going. He may be an elite running back in the NFL, but he cannot call his own number. It takes his coach trusting in him early to get going, and then he can take over and do this rest with his elusive, yet punishing running style.
Robert Woods will go over 1,000 yards receiving for the 2nd straight season and it will be because his coach will get him involved in the play design. All of the Rams receivers are great, they can all make plays, but Woods is the leader of the group. When he succeeds, the team succeeds. McVay drew up a lot of plays on Sunday Night to get him involved in every possible way. He had nine targets while also garnering two rushes in the running game. In order to win the next three ballgames, McVay needs to keep feeding Woods the ball, because good things happen when he does.
What is the best way to aid a rookie offensive lineman (in this case two rookies with David Edwards)? A progressive scheme and play design that takes the pressure off of them. Quick plays, simple run concepts, screens, jet sweeps, etc. The offensive line has somehow improved over the last few weeks with two rookies, and a lot of that is thanks to these aforementioned play concepts.
So while execution will be just as important, the x-factor for the Los Angeles Rams if they want to make the playoffs in 2019, will be their head coach, the man responsible for the chess pieces in these last three weeks of football.