Los Angeles Rams fans would love to forget about the 2016 season, but they won’t be able to. Too many important events happened making it impossible to block out the mediocre football displayed in the first year back in Los Angeles. So, what exactly happened?
California here we come
The debates finally ceased, and Rams owner Stan Kroenke successfully convinced the league to move the team back to Los Angeles after over two decades located in St. Louis. It was decided that the Rams will play their home games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (their former home stadium) as they await their new home to be built in Inglewood in 2019.
The team scrambled to find practice facilities and set up training camp at UC Irvine. In true Hollywood fashion, the entire move was captured by the Hard Knocks crew. We later learned that Hard Knocks does an excellent job at hyping a team, because the team presented on the big screen wasn’t what showed up on the field on Sundays.
Rams trade the farm for QB Jared Goff
In a bold move, the Rams traded up to acquire the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft from the Tennessee Titans, but surrendered the 15, 43, 45, 76 picks of 2016, and the No. 5 and 69 picks in 2017. The Rams selected Cal quarterback Jared Goff in hopes of making him their next franchise quarterback.
Goff failed to earn the starting job in training camp, which was slightly expected given veteran Case Keenum’s mild success toward the ending of the 2015 season.
Mob Squad in full force
L.A. Rams fans made it known that they were ready for football right away. They quickly sold out the season tickets, and a lottery system had to be in place to fairly distribute them. An early indicator of the success was when the Rams set a U.S. preseason record in attendance when they played the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of the preseason. A total of 89,140 showed up, and the atmosphere was pure electricity.
This set the tone for the rest of the season as the Rams finished second in fan attendance behind only the Cowboys. That’s not bad considering that they had the league’s worst attendance in 2015. This is also considering the awful season the Rams put on the field with games landing on and close to two major holidays, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
A totally inept offense
The idea was that the Rams offense was just a quarterback away from being an elite or at least decent offense. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Part of the reason for the lack of success was the ineffective in-house hires for offensive coordinator. It didn’t work the previous year with Frank Cignetti, and it didn’t work once again with Rob Boras. The playbook became even more predictable and the offense looked even worse in 2016.
What didn’t help Fisher or Boras is that Goff wasn’t ready to compete in the NFL. Fisher started Keenum instead and that didn’t work due to his arm limitations. The Rams did start off strong at 3-1, but they lost too many close games after that. It was becoming blatantly obvious that Keenum wasn’t the answer, but Fisher stuck with him until Week 11 when Goff took over against the Miami Dolphins.
Fisher also didn’t give 2015 third round draft pick Sean Mannion an opportunity to start, despite performing well during the preseason, and has more upside than Keenum. Goff didn’t impress in the seven games he started. In fact, not once did he pass for over 250 yards. He finished the season with a lackluster 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Of course, not all blame is on Goff. He was forced to run for his life behind a subpar offensive line. Speaking of which…
A big portion of the problem was the offensive line and the coaching. There were far too many examples of the Rams running up the middle against eight in the box followed by short passes near the line of scrimmage for easy three-and-outs. Defenses didn’t have to adjust much at all, which made running back Todd Gurley useless. Over time, it was evident that Gurley lost his confidence because his footwork became atrocious and his drive wasn’t there anymore. It didn’t help that there were some injuries on the offensive line, and tackle Greg Robinson began looking like previous draft busts like Alex Barron and Jason Smith. Taking away the power running game is all a team needed to do to stop the Rams offense.
Goff’s stats can be misconstrued, while he wasn’t the “savior” fans were hoping he could be, there were times that the receivers simply did not catch the football. Extended drives were lost, touchdown passes were taken away and even turnovers were created thanks to the awful hands of the receiving corps. No doubt the MVP of the offense was receiver Kenny Britt, but he dropped his fair share of passes as well. Still, he did surpass 1,000 yards, which is something no Rams has done since Torry Holt. Brian Quick started the year strong, but disappeared later in the season like he usually does. Tight ends Lance Kendricks and Tyler Higbee didn’t perform to expectations either.
One of the few bright spots on the team was the defensive line. Aaron Donald remained a beast and is arguably the best defensive lineman in football. Donald finished the year with eight sacks and continuously altered offensive game plans. Nagging injuries hit the line, but it still performed well overall. Guys like journeyman Cam Thomas stepped up, especially as the season moved forward.
Quite possibly the busiest defender was linebacker Alec Ogletree as the Rams went with a bizarre defensive scheme. It’s understandable to a point since Mark Barron is a hybrid linebacker, but Ogletree would be the only true linebacker out on the field at times. When you’re asking the secondary to step up and tackle, some of these running backs in the league will simply run them over. The Rams did discover that they may have acquired a steal in rookie Josh Forrest, who showed potential before sustaining a season-ending injury. Still,the question remains why did the Rams cut Akeem Ayers? The linebacker position was a weakness due to this lack of depth.
The Rams lost Janoris Jenkins and replaced him with Coty Sensabaugh in the offseason. That experiment failed quickly and he was cut early in the season, despite signing a 3-year contract. To fill the void, the Rams brought in undrafted free agents Troy Hill and Michael Jordan. Not all the secondary was poor; some of the safeties stepped up. Maurice Alexander and Cody Davis improved from last season.
Special teams shined
One of the reasons special teams coach John Fassel was named interim head coach was because of the excellent job he did with the special teams. Kicker Greg Zuerlein improved from last season, successfully kicking 86.4 percent of his field goals, increasing his percentage by 20. One of the Rams’ top three players was punter Johnny Hekker. He set a league record of consistently punting within the opposing teams’ 20-yard line, and had a 78-yard punt against the New York Jets. It might be a testament of the Rams’ unsuccessful offense, but nobody can deny the potential weapon that Hekker can be for the Rams.
End of the Fisher era
One thing many Rams fans are grateful for is the end of the Jeff Fisher era. There was no sign that the Rams were improving under Fisher, which was blatantly evident during the Rams’ 42-14 humiliating loss to the Atlanta Falcons at home in Week 14. He was fired shortly after that. Kroenke and general manager Les Snead is currently assembling a new coaching staff that features former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay as the team’s new head coach and former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Here’s hoping for a much better 2017 season.