Rams Football is finally back and the defending champions enter ring night against the Bills as 2.5-point underdogs. That’s right for the first time since the 2016 Denver Broncos the defending champs are home underdogs. It made sense for the Broncos because Trevor Siemian was starting but for the Rams who gained as much talent, this line is disrespectful. This is not HOMER logic, it’s what Hank Hill would refer to as asinine.
That’s par for the course this season as a lot of people are down on the Rams to repeat let alone make the playoffs. The Bengals are being talked about like Eli Apple didn’t get roasted by Cooper Kupp and Joe Burrow didn’t get beaten like Homer got beat by Drederick Tatum.
No NFL team has repeated in 17 years when the 2004 Pats did it and they needed Donovan McNabb to vomit on the final drive like he was in “The Replacements”. History is not on the Rams’ side as injury luck, turnover regression, free agency, coaching departures, and other random things might not go their way.
That said, the Rams have done almost all they could to keep the team competitive and defend their title.
The Rams have lost talent in more ways than one. Andrew Whitworth retired, Sebastian Joseph-Day left along with Austin Corbett, Johnny Hekker, Johnny Mundt, etc. They also lost offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell to the Minnesota Vikings. Fortunately, the Rams are adept at roster turnover both on and off the field. They replaced O’Connell with Liam Coen and that might be advantageous as it allows for growth in their offensive system.
The players they lost are significant but the Rams always draft with the idea that they’ll have to replace major pieces. Joe Noteboom (more on him in a minute) was drafted in 2019 and as time went on he’s been groomed to replace Whitworth. Brycen Hopkins was drafted in 2020 and while not the blocker Mundt was, he should more than make up for that with his potential as a receiver. Troy Hill was brought back to replace Darious Williams.
They even found a way to replace Von Miller in a roundabout way. They didn’t get another marquee pass-rusher but they brought in Bobby Wagner to fix the middle of their defense and to mentor Ernest Jones. Roster turnover is inevitable but the Rams have done their best to mitigate it.
The Rams RUN IT BACK Offense
Offensively, they should be a lot more balanced by virtue of starting the season with a healthy running back room. Last season, Sean McVay was both hell-bent on unleashing Matthew Stafford and the Cam Akers injury made it difficult to run the ball consistently because Darrell Henderson couldn’t stay healthy either and it took a while to properly use Sony Michel.
This season, they can have Akers from the get-go and take the pressure off of Stafford. The offensive line is a cause for concern as depth and experience aren’t in their favor. Noteboom needs to prove he can handle the job and stay healthy all year. He missed time during the end of the season and has had injuries his entire career. That said, he’s had plenty of reps in big games as he stepped in when Whitworth had bouts with Covid and other ailments.
Rookie Logan Bruss tore his ACL so they’re already down a guard. Coleman Shelton earned the starting job in camp, but will also need to prove he can also be a starting guard. Brian Allen is maligned amongst fans and he’s in a prove-it deal as well. He dealt with injury last year as well so it’s understandable that this would give people pause when picking the Rams to repeat. They have no margin for injury but if this unit can stay healthy the offense shouldn’t miss a beat.
Allen Robinson should take the pressure off Cooper Kupp and he’s the prototypical Stafford receiver. He is highly adept at catching 50/50 balls which is an element the Rams didn’t have last year outside of Kupp.
He should provide the Rams a new dimension to their offense while Tutu Atwell (yes that Tutu Atwell) should become the DeSean Jackson insurance policy he was drafted to be. He’s had a great camp, couple that with the emergence of Lance McCutcheon as another deep threat, Ben Skowronek is also a controversial figure amongst fans but he’s going to fill the Robert Woods role (no really) of receiver that can block and open things up for others. He still needs to be better at catching the ball obviously but given how open he’ll be the opportunities will be there.
Brycen Hopkins and Tyler Higbee should finally (For real this time) make the tight end position something McVay can utilize more than he ever has. This is all before remembering that Van Jefferson should be even better in year three.
Rookie Kyren Williams is both a solid blocker and can catch the ball, and around Christmas Odell Beckham will likely be back. Stafford will have a Sarah Conner stockpile of weapons at his disposal and assuming health the offense shouldn’t be in a position where it’s Cooper Kupp or bust again.
The Rams RUN IT BACK Defense
Defensively, the Rams stand to be much better than they were last year. Raheem Morris is back despite being fired several times last year via Twitter and he has more pieces to play with. Bobby Wagner is the biggest new edition and he is already making a difference off the field. He’s taken Ernest Jones under his wing and they’ve been like lamb and tuna fish. Together, they will fix the one glaring weakness they had in that their interior run defense could be exploited by the Niners of the world.
The middle should be much better defended and that makes life even easier for Aaron Donald and Greg Gaines upfront.
Leonard Floyd is still there and while yes, they will miss Von they have young pass-rushers that can step up while opposing offenses worry about Donald and Floyd.
Jalen Ramsey is healthier this year than last and he won’t be by himself as the STAR. Troy Hill will also play that role giving the secondary even more flexibility as second-year Robert Rochell looks to be even better than he was before the injury. Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp will be in even better positions to succeed as well. It’ll be tougher to throw on the Rams this season and they should be better at stopping offenses on third-down.
The special teams will be operating at a position of strength with Brandon Powell being the solidified starter and they have more depth than they did last year everywhere else.
RUN IT BACK In Summation
It’s hard to repeat as champions because aside from all the luck variables there is that perhaps the drive isn’t there. Pat Riley wrote about the “disease of me” where a team wins a title and now everyone wants their minutes. There’s the idea that the Rams might not be as motivated as they were last year when the Mike Florio’s of the world fell through their fainting couches at the way the Rams were constructed.
Whether it was trading picks for Stafford, trading for Von, or signing Odell, the Rams seemed to give the finger to the normal way to build a roster. People ignored the fact that they have the second highest number of home-grown players and they also feel the Rams bought their ring. Never mind the fact that the Bengals spent more money than the Rams in free agency last year. The perception is that they got away with one against the Bucs and Niners, and the refs gifted them the Super Bowl (how did the Bengals score their second-half points again.)
The Rams are probably the most disrespected champions in a long time and the players know it. They’ve been talking about legacy and writing the next chapter. If they can repeat then people will have to acknowledge the fact that Sean McVay didn’t fall a**-backward off the turnip truck into a pre-made contender, he actually built a contender and a culture that can have stars and role players peacefully coexist no matter what.
Even when the Rams cratered in November they fought back to win the west and overcame their Shanahan demons to win their first title since their miracle run in 1999.
For the fans, this title is more transformational than one would think. The “Greatest Show on Turf” title was awesome but that team wasn’t sustainable nor was it able to flip the perception of this team. SOSAR still existed up until Aaron Donald sealed the Super Bowl. SOSAR is dead. The Rams are no longer a poverty franchise. They have as many titles as Baltimore, KC, Tampa, Indy, and Miami. If they win a third they’ll obviously move to a higher echelon.
If they don’t RUN IT BACK, fans shouldn’t have the sense of existential dread they all did after the Niners losses last year. The Rams not only won a title but they solidified their place in Los Angeles and are built for sustained success. History is not on their side but this team is built to overcome anything. ENJOY THE RIDE RAMILY!