Okay Cowboys fans, with the Rams coming to town, we reached out to Turf Show Times to get the lowdown on the visitors from the West Coast.
Blogging The Boys: Jared Goff has had his ups-and-downs at QB for the Rams. Where is he in his development now and what do you think his ceiling is as a QB?
Turf Show Times: It’s certainly been a year that complicated things after Goff’s extension coming off of a successful 2018 for Goff and the Rams despite coming up just short in the Super Bowl.
It’s been an up-and-down year for Jared. I think he obviously bears much of the responsibility for that, but there were three complicating factors that really contributed to some adversity early on that he had to fight through. One was simply the attention the Rams earned the last two years. Defensive coaching staffs know they need to come up with gameplans to deal with McVay’s offense because of how explosive it became in 2018. Whether it was the six-man front that Vic Fangio introduced last year as the Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator or the quarters coverage (often coupled with the six-man front) that really stymied Goff and the offense in the Super Bowl or other wrinkles, defensive coaches figured out some things to rankle Goff and McVay schematically. Second was the state of the offensive line the first half of the season or so. The line play was up and down itself, but toward the lesser end of the spectrum. Injuries also forced shuffling of personnel on the line for the first time in the McVay/Goff era. The last factor would be the load management plan (read: unwillingness to expose his knee to as much risk) for RB Todd Gurley. Because the Rams were unwilling to run Gurley as much but still give him a significant snap count, McVay was essentially tying one hand behind his back. Opposing defenses weren’t taking the rushing threat sincerely which obviously lessened the impact of playaction, a staple of the McVay scheme.
So in terms of his development, I think the adversity of this year probably helped him overall. He’s had to work through those three issues, and despite not putting up fantastic results I think he might have grown from it. As the Rams figure out more to implement from the playbook and solidify the line, I’d expect to see a return to form for Jared though that might be more for next year than this year. We’ve seen glimpses of it recently thanks to the new-look O-line which has been much better.
For his ceiling? I think it’s still a bit early. He’s only in his fourth year and that’s...being nice about Year 1. While this adversity might have been a bump in the road, it might have pushed his ceiling even higher moving forward. He’s not a dual-threat QB, and he’s not the most impressive working off-script. But the Rams are a team built to remain on-script. If they can get back to that more consistently moving forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goff returns to looking like one of the best on-script QBs in the NFL.
BTB: Take us through the strange saga that has been the usage of Todd Gurley. Injuries, coaches decisions, what’s been going on there?
TST: A LOT. A LOT HAS GONE ON THERE.
So you’ve got two sides to this saga. On one, you had what happened last year: Gurley aggravated his knee in Week 15 and the Rams scrambled to come up with the necessary plan for the football response to finish the season while leaning into, let’s say, dishonesty as part of their media response. It got them through it which was kind of the point, but it certainly cast the first pall of cynicism over McVay as a public entity.
On the other side is what happened since the end of last year. Given the condition of Gurley’s knee (whether it’s technically arthritis or not doesn’t really matter), the Rams didn’t feel comfortable continuing to use him as much as they had since he made his debut. With their evaluation that the aggravation of the knee was down to “wear and tear,” the only feasible response was to expose him to less of it. The two questions then were to what degree and until what point? I’m not sure how much of the answers to those were strictly decided upon quantitatively and how much were felt out in-game, but there’s clearly been a drop in quantity and quality. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported going into last week that the load management plan has been scrapped or completed, so perhaps this isn’t really a story down the stretch unless he aggravates the knee again, but it certainly will be going into 2020 a season for which Gurley will be the highest-paid running back in the NFL.
BTB: The team certainly seems to have righted itself over the last month. What are the main reasons the Rams are playing so much better recently?
TST: I’d put it down to the offensive line and the defense.
The new-look line has played well above expectations going into that Week 11 game against the Chicago Bears. While the 2018 line was perhaps the best Rams line of my lifetime (something I’m sure some Cowboys fans will agree with given how they played in our playoff matchup last year), the Rams had a transition plan in place. In 2018, the Rams drafted Joseph Noteboom (a Plano Senior High grad who went on to TCU) and Brian Allen and redshirted them behind their healthy line all year. This year after Rodger Saffold III left in free agency and John Sullivan was pushed into retirement, Noteboom and Allen took over their spots at left guard and center. Then Noteboom suffered a knee injury in Week 6 ending his season, and Week 10 brought a knee injury for Allen that ended his season as well as a knee meniscus injury for RT Rob Havenstein to sideline him for a month. Suddenly, the Rams had just one Week 1 starter in the same position: LT Andrew Whitworth. RG Austin Blythe slid over to center and the Rams brought in three reserves. At left guard, they plugged in Austin Corbett who was a Cleveland Brown for the first games of the season. On the right side, the Rams went with a pair of 2019 NFL Draft picks: fifth-rounder David Edwards out of Wisconsin at right guard and Bobby Evans at right tackle out of Oklahoma (who played at Allen HS with Kyler Murray, incidentally). And the new line...has played exceptionally well. Crazy path to competency, but if it holds the Rams might need to think about keeping much of it in place in 2020. The more immediate decision is whether or not to bring Havenstein back into the starting lineup, but McVay hasn’t tipped his hand about that decision which he’ll have to make for the first time this weekend.
As for the defense, it’s been the strength of the team overall throughout the season. You’ve got Aaron Donald up front. EDGE Dante Fowler has outperformed his expectations given what we saw from him in 2018. LB Cory Littleton is turning into a very good every down linebacker. And the secondary has been fantastic through the cornerback depth chart makeover. Jalen Ramsey is Jalen Ramsey, but teams are learning (the hard way) not to try to pick on Troy Hill as an early tactic. Slot CB Nickell Robey-Coleman is one of the best in the league for his role. The veteran safeties in Eric Weddle and Marqui Christian (who has had to fill in for an injured John Johnson) have been a plus. And (this one is going to sting, so make sure you’re in a good emotional state...) rookie S Taylor Rapp has been fantastic. I’d make a case that if you took out San Francisco 49ers EDGE Nick Bosa, you could make a strong argument for Rapp as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year thereafter.
So between the new line coming together and the defense playing good ball from front to back, things have looked much better as of late.
BTB: Do you think the Jalen Ramsey trade was a smart one and how has he impacted the defense?
TST: Well, because of the price it’s going to take more than the year and a half on his current contract to validate.
The Rams put a fourth-round cherry on top of their double first-round sundae in the deal. The latter of those two first-rounders in 2021 would (assuming the new CBA coming prior to the draft in 2021 doesn’t modify fifth-year option) be available to the Jacksonville Jaguars to be optioned for 2025. So Ramsey has to provide more to the Rams beyond 2020. And the quality has to be top-notch.
But what we might be talking about is playoff push games and postseason action. If Ramsey is going to be a Ram for the next three or four years which I think is a starting point for these discussions, than part of what we’re talking about is how he plays when it matters. Yes, he’s going to have be either be a Pro Bowler or Pro Bowl-adjacent given the cost, but he’s also going to have to step up when needed most.
To this point, he’s been up to that bar, but it’s what comes here on out that matters more. If Ramsey can help get the Rams to the playoffs and contribute to the same in the years to come and then be part of the reason the Rams make a deep playoff run? I’d argue that exorbitant price will have been worth it. If Ramsey is somehow an active component of a struggling pass defense or is part of the reason why the Rams get dumped out of the playoffs, that’ll make it much more difficult to back the trade.
BTB: How do you feel about the Rams chances of still getting into the playoffs, and would their be any ramifications for the organization if they don’t make it?
TST: Well, it’s going to be tough. We’re a game back of the Vikings. While things look good on the tiebreaking criteria, if the Rams drop any of their remaining games it will change that even if the Vikes drop two especially if one of them is this weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers since that loss wouldn’t help the Rams in an NFC win % tiebreaker. But the Rams have nobody to blame but themselves for being on the outside looking in and needing someone to help them instead of controlling their own destiny. So I don’t feel great, but we have a shot. And if this is the down year in a hammock era in between tentpole years of more success, that’ll make things more palatable moving forward.
As for ramifications, I wouldn’t expect any. The Rams went 13 years without a winning record prior to McVay’s arrival which brought two NFC West crowns and a Super Bowl run. Any rash moves this offseason wouldn’t really be warranted. If anything, I might be concerned that the coaching staff will continue to get picked apart by teams looking to retool their hierarchy. The Rams lost QB Coach Greg Olson to become John Gruden’s OC in Oakland two years ago as well as Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur who left to get a promotion in responsibility with the Tennessee Titans as their OC before becoming the Green Bay Packers HC this year. And then the Rams lost Zac Taylor, an assistant wide receiver coach in 2017 and then the QB coach in 2018 succeeding Olson, to the Cincinnati Bengals to become their head coach. So I could see another offseason where the Rams are losing coaches out into the NFL promotion ether that require some re-staffing but not as a result of responding to missing the playoffs.
Thanks for the knowledge, Turf Show Times.