Like most people, the Los Angeles Rams have set high expectations for themselves going into the new year. 2017 saw the team go from last season’s laughing stock to the formidable dark horse in this season’s playoffs.
A preseason poll conducted by the NFL Nation reporters predicted the Rams to finish with an 8-8 record. However, new Head Coach Sean McVay has led the Rams to an 11-5 record, earning them a Wild Card matchup with the 10-6 Atlanta Falcons.
There’s a slight buzz in the air now that playoff football has returned to the City of Angels and Rams fans are excited to see what the future has in store. However, if the Rams hope to succeed at the highest of levels, they must first take heed to some New Year’s Resolutions.
No. 1) Don’t Make It Obvious
It is no secret that Todd Gurley has been one of the most integral parts of the Rams’ offense this season. His stellar play has not only landed him in the MVP race but on everyone’s scouting report.
The Rams will need to avoid being one-dimensional and not rely on Gurley too much in order to keep opposing defenses guessing.
In all of the L.A.’s losses this season (except the final game against San Francisco), the defenses did a good job of mitigating the Rams’ ground game. Gurley, in particular, only averaged 14.5 carries in those five losses compared to the 20 he averaged in L.A.’s victories.
This will certainly put more pressure on the rest of the Rams’ offense, especially quarterback Jared Goff. But as he’s shown plenty of times this season, Goff has made a remarkable improvement when it comes to making quick decisions at the line of scrimmage.
No. 2) Defense Wins Championships
After Los Angeles was brushed aside by the Vikings in Week 11, Alden Gonzalez, ESPN’s beat writer for the Rams, pointed out an alarming statistic. In that game, the Rams blitzed a season-high 20 times but Vikings quarterback Case Keenum wasn’t sacked a single time.
Instances like this go to show how ineffective outside linebackers Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin can be. This pass-rush problem has given way for teams to double Aaron Donald and could be heavily exploited in the playoffs.
Despite the struggles, Quinn and Barwin have made improvement down the stretch, especially in the Rams’ Week 15 win over the Seahawks. The veteran duo combined for three sacks on Russell Wilson and helped the defense limit Seattle to only one touchdown.
To round out the Rams’ defensive issues, the team must clean up the amount of yardage they give up on rush attempts. They are 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game with 124.1.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is able to get the most out of his players.
No. 3) Here’s The Kicker!
In the NFL playoffs, many tight games will come down to a single field goal. For most of the regular season, the Rams knew they were fortunate enough to have such a reliable kicker in Greg Zuerlein, the league’s leading scorer.
Unfortunately, Los Angeles was forced to put Zuerlein on injured reserve in December because of a lingering back issue. Not having a solid kicker to potentially score a game-winning field goal could spell an early playoff exit for the Rams.
Zuerlein’s replacement, Sam Ficken, failed to impress in his debut against the Tennessee Titans. The 25-year-old (who was working at a Connecticut brokerage before getting called up, according to the Orange County Register) missed a field goal and an extra-point attempt in that game.
His performance left many wondering if Ficken can be that solid contributor the Rams need to make a deep playoff run. However, L.A. has expressed that it remains confident in Ficken’s abilities as he’s expected to make his playoff debut this weekend.
It serves Los Angeles well that Ficken was at least given two games of experience to shake off any nerves. Nevertheless, the Rams’ offense will need to try their darnedest to put their kicker in favorable positions and help remove any doubt.
It won’t be easy by any stretch, but if McVay can get his young squad to stay true to these resolutions, the Rams have a legitimate shot at making the Super Bowl. Los Angeles will host it’s first NFL playoff game in nearly 40 years this Saturday at 5:15 p.m.