If the Dallas Cowboys are going to improve upon their playoff performance last year, they’re going to have to come up big against some tough opponents. In this final installment of our Eye on the Enemy series, we take a look at one of the opponents standing in their way, who just so happens to be the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year - the Los Angeles Rams.
With one of the game’s brightest offensive minds currently in the league, the effervescent Sean McVay has rescued this Rams team from the pit of misery and turned them into one of the best teams in the league. McVay’s presence immediately propelled his team into postseason action after a 12-year playoff drought. A drought that included 10-straight losing seasons, resulting in the selection of five players that were either first- or second-overall picks in the entire draft. It was bad. Really bad.
One of the benefits of being terrible for so long is that McVay inherited some blue-chip talent. Players like Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, and Jared Goff were already on the team when he showed up. McVay is a guy that knows how to get the most out of his tools, and let’s face it - the Rams have compiled some nice tools over the years.
Here is what their roster looks like entering the 2019 season:
Why they can be dangerous
The Rams offense is loaded with talent and after leading the entire league in scoring in 2017, they put together another 30+ average points scored season just to remind people they’re the real deal. Considering the previous 10 seasons their offensive finished outside the top 20, including dead last three different times, that’s quite the improvement. You have to go all the way back to 2006 when Scott Linehan was their head coach to find a Rams offense that finished in the top 10.
The Rams rack up the yards both on the ground and through the air. The team has completely remodeled their wide receiver corps over the last couple years by trading for a former first-rounder (Brandin Cooks), signing a veteran free agent (Robert Woods), and finding a gem of a receiver in the third round (Cooper Kupp). Their organization did a great job using all facets of players acquisition to bolster this group, and if something like that sounds familiar...it should.
The Rams have one of the top WR groups in league. Give their front office a lot of credit for using the draft, free agency, and making big trades to put it all together. I wish my team did stuff like that. pic.twitter.com/GIowCkkDwu— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) July 18, 2019
The Woods signing was such an under the radar move, At the time, it seemed like they overpaid for him after giving him a five-year, $34 million deal a couple years ago. After all, he never reached 700 yards in any of his four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. But in just two seasons with the Ram’s he’s put together 2,000 yards receiving, including a nice 1,200+ effort last year.
And if the duo of Cooks and Woods isn’t enough, the team has another dangerous weapon in Cooper Kupp. He was on pace for a 1,000 yard, 12 touchdown season before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Despite a great corps of receivers, the bread and butter of the Rams offense last year was on the ground. Led by two-time All-Pro Todd Gurley, the Rams featured the third-best ground attack in the league last season. Gurley is just shy of 4,000 total scrimmage yards over the last two seasons and has 40 total touchdowns in that span. Unfortunately, a knee injury has put his status in jeopardy forcing the team to spend a premium draft resource in April to select a running back (Darrell Henderson).
With one of the games best running backs and an electric receiving group this offense should be primed for another big year. Of course, a lot also depends on the play of their quarterback. Through the first 11 games of the season last year, Jared Goff showed why he was the no. 1 overall pick back in 2016. During that span, he threw 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He did struggle a bit down the stretch, including just one touchdown in three games in the playoffs, but the team still found ways to win games. If Goff continues to improve like he did last season, this Rams offense is going to be very dangerous.
What’s holding this team back?
The Rams are a little strapped for cash and free agent losses like Ndamekong Suh and Lamarcus Joyner aren’t going to go unnoticed. And the uncertainty of Gurley definitely brings about some concern for Rams fans.
But one of the biggest reasons this team could falter may be in the changes along their offensive line. The Rams lost two good players in the interior, including Rodger Saffold who signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Tennessee Titans in March. The team will now rely on two youngsters in Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen to fill in, neither of which have any NFL starts under their belt. They also have a left tackle who’s 37 years old. The Rams had one of the healthiest offensive lines last year, but if they don’t repeat that same good fortune, things could get messy for them. And with a young quarterback who lacks mobility and is still working on his pocket poise, that’s not going to be the best of news for the Rams’ offense.
And despite having the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald, the Rams defense can’t seem to gain any real traction. They have some decent pieces on defense, but they also have a whole lot of mediocrity. Opponents should be able to put points up on this defense.
Should we be worried about them in 2019?
They’re the reigning NFC Champs with a great core of players and a great head coach, so it goes without saying that we should be worried about them this season. With a middling defense and an offense that lives and dies by the strength of their offensive line, there are certainly some cracks that have the potential of crumbling a bit. But while last year’s dominance in the trenches might be in question due to Gurley’s knee and attrition along the offensive line, the Rams have too many good players to not be one of the perennial threats in the league.
Should we be worried about them for the future?
The Rams are an interesting case. You’d think with a brilliant young coach and all the abracadabra the front office has done recently, that they’d be set for years to come. On one hand, they’ve done a pretty good job exchanging cheap draft capital for some high upside players. Yet on the other hand, all these transactions have an expiration date.
Players like Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Dante Fowler have all been acquired for Day 3 draft picks. This has been an effective way to fill holes for their defense, but these are short-term solutions. All three of these players will be free agents next offseason. And last year with the $14 million rental of Suh, the Rams front office positioned themselves for a deep playoff run and it worked. This year, they’ve bought themselves two-years worth of former All-Pro veterans Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle. Both players are solid adds to the Rams defense, but they are nearing their mid-30’s.
The plug and play method works for present, but how sustainable is this? None of the Rams draft picks from a year ago earned their way into a starting role last season. That’s not encouraging.
Of course, the biggest thing Rams fans are worried about is the condition of their All-Pro running back. If Gurley’s knee continues to be a problem, that one will be hard to come out of because the team has made quite the financial commitment to him. If their young offensive linemen who will be thrown to the wolves this season don’t pan out, the Rams will feel the effects. And if those structures start to show weakness, everything will fall on the arm of their young quarterback.
For other installments of this series, make sure to check out:
A players value was determined using the Approximate Value numbers from Pro Football Reference. They were taken from the last season that player saw action and prorated over a full 16 game season (if a player missed games).
Not all contracts are created equal so the cost comes from cap numbers from Spotrac; however, the actual figure used is either cap hit, average salary, or yearly cash - depending on the nature of their contract. These values are selected to better represent the team’s investment in that individual player.