No surprises now: LA Rams adjust to Super Bowl aspirations
Not with their stunning one-season transformation still fresh in the NFL’s collective mind, and certainly not after adding several stars to their roster in the offseason.
The Rams are headed into the new season as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, with all of the accompanying baggage and scrutiny. For a 23-year-old leader of a franchise that has very little recent experience with positive expectations, Goff appears to be handling it well.
“There’s not one change to the approach at all,” the third-year quarterback said. “I think you see every year, there are teams that get that type of label and often fall short, and you wonder why. I think that’s something we can’t really focus on. Take every day like we have the past year.”
That past year was nothing short of outstanding. Coach Sean McVay’s debut team ended the Rams’ streaks of 13 consecutive non-winning seasons and 12 straight non-playoff seasons with an 11-5 run to the team’s first NFC West title since 2003.
The league is ready to be challenged by McVay’s potent offensive schemes, Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley’s relentless running and Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald’s disruptive play in the middle of the defense.
The Rams must figure out how to adjust to their opponents’ anticipation with new twists and a renewed focus.
McVay seems confident his veteran players will be ready for the pitfalls of being a favorite this fall.
“Going into Year Two, there’s a comfort level of at least feeling like you know your players,” McVay said. “We feel really good about the core group of leaders, and about some of the younger players we’re going to expect to grow into leadership roles. It’s a great group of guys.”
The Rams kept intact much of last season’s roster, but their offseason additions are an eye-catching bunch: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. All four have established themselves as elite NFL contributors, and their addition to an 11-win team shows why the Rams are getting Super Bowl talk.
But Talib realizes the Rams have to prove they know how to use all of that talent over the next five months before they can think about February.
“We aren’t talking about what’s going to happen down the road,” Talib said. “We take care of the little things, and then some time later we can talk about the playoffs.”
Here are some other things to know about the Rams:
The Rams probably won’t double the number of points they scored last season, which is a feat they actually accomplished in 2017. But McVay’s offense kept its entire line intact and added the speedy Cooks to replace Sammy Watkins. Almost everybody else returns, including Gurley, the scheme’s centerpiece. How McVay plans to use all this talent is partly a secret, since the coach decided to keep his entire starting offense out of the Rams’ four preseason games. The league must wait to see what innovations McVay has produced until the season opener in Oakland.
Peters and Talib have similar reputations as risk-taking, playmaking cornerbacks capable of shutting down a top receiver or changing a game with a big interception. The Rams haven’t had that swagger at the position for a long time, and their presence will allow coordinator Wade Phillips to be more aggressive against passers. Peters and Talib have also brought a confident attitude to a Los Angeles defense that relied on Donald’s brute brilliance inside to set up much of its success.
SUH AND DONALD
Suh looks very comfortable already in the Rams’ scheme, where he will be asked to play primarily at nose tackle for the first time in his career. Yet he still must learn how to play alongside Donald, whose second consecutive contract holdout has stretched to the brink of the regular season again. The Rams have a potentially fearsome combination in these two dominant defensive linemen, but Donald’s absence creates a large unknown.
IN THE MIDDLE
The front and back of the Rams’ defense appears solid, but the linebackers are under scrutiny. The Rams couldn’t fit their new defensive stars under the cap without trading Alec Ogletree, their leading tackler last season. Untested Cory Littleton is starting on the inside alongside Mark Barron, who has barely touched the field during camp and the preseason. Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam also are expected to start in challenging roles. Phillips’ biggest task is making sure his linebackers don’t let down the rest of his roster.