When Les Snead and the Los Angeles Rams brass signed Jeff Fisher to a contract extension after a 4-8 start while losing seven of their last eight, Ram fans everywhere – wait a minute, football fans everywhere about fell out of their seats. Laughingstock, that’s what the Rams were becoming (assuming they weren’t already there). Thank goodness for self-preservation. What are the chances that Snead would survive another abysmal Fisher season?
In a league where offenses are continually resetting the passing record books, the Rams built an offense more suited for the 1960s, and Snead finally decided to separate himself from Fisher. And who can blame him for saving his own skin? The ship had crashed into an iceberg and there was only one piece of floating wood.
offense (undeserving of the capital letter, italics, or bold print normally reserved for headings)
The Rams finished the 2016 season roughly 180 yards and 20 points a game behind the league leaders. To add a little perspective, the Rams ended the season about 700 total yards behind the 31st ranked offense (49ers…uuuuuuuuugh!), and two and a half points a game behind the Cleveland Browns (I know, what’s two and a half points? But it’s the Browns, come on). Well, the Rams can’t fall off the floor. They entered the 2017 offseason on a mission to shore up the defense, and score more points than the Browns. Here is a look at how they did:
Sean McVay – Without a doubt the gem of the winter. One major concern is that the Rams could find a loophole in the McVay contract, relieve him of his duties, and rehire Jeff Fisher for one final run (he always finds a way). The other concern was set to rest when McVay went out and made the second best move, hiring Wade Phillips. That speaks volumes. One of the greatest young offensive minds in football checked the ego at the door (sans Mike Martz) and got a guy he could lean on to help him navigate through some of the unforeseen pitfalls of being a head coach. Not to mention McVay pulled a Houdini and grabbed one of the top defensive minds in the game (well, we can close the book on Gregg Williams – thank God). The one downfall to McVay is we won’t see as many ill-advised fake punts as we did in the last five years.
Andrew Whitworth – Now we’re talking. Bring in a vet to lead the young line, keep the blind side clean for Jared Goff, and get Gurley back to being Gurley. Sure, he’s a little long in the tooth and who knows how many good seasons he has left, but Utah, Gimme Two! Additionally, trading Greg Robinson closes the book on that story.
Kayvon Webster – Another great addition. You don’t think Wade Phillips had a little say here? Webster showed well in a crowded defensive backfield in Denver, and aside from helping right away as the nickel, chances are he’ll beat out E.J. Gaines if he can’t return to his rookie form.
The Draft – With the struggles on offense, it was evident McVay went into the draft with a plan: get some playmakers. Insert Gerald Everett, Cooper Kupp, and Josh Reynolds, thank you Les and Sean. McVay is definitely building his vision. Kupp should come right in and be the Rams’ best receiver. It’ll be a welcome sight to see the ball sticking to some hands for a change. Couple these moves with Tavon Austin and Tyler Higbee, and the Rams might just be building some support across the middle for a young quarterback. Reynolds and Everett may take some time, but the playmakers are now in place.
Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone to stretch the field right away. I’m praying Josh Reynolds can give us some Chris Givens moments, but the polish is dull. We’ve already seen the short to intermediate passing game fall on its face by encouraging corners to jump routes, draw safeties close to the line, and plug the minimal holes the offensive line creates for Gurley.
There have been rumblings that Austin might move to the outside. I hope those are just rumors. McVay may be the guru, but Austin is no DeSean Jackson. He doesn’t adjust well to deep balls, doesn’t create separation on developed routes, and often fails to catch the ball with his hands. McVay will soon realize Austin will need to stick to being a poor man’s Cole Beasley.
I have mixed emotions on the trade down in the second round. Loved getting an additional third rounder and adding a defensive back (John Johnson), but passing on Forrest Lamp might be a regret. He would have been a plug and play and definitely would have helped the woeful offensive line.
Robert Woods – A curious signing to say the least, the Rams certainly threw a lot of money and years at a player who’s been an average No. 2 at best. Hope I’m wrong on this one, but the Redskins signing of Terrelle Pryor for 1-year, $8 million would have made some sense here. And with what the Rams did in the draft, it seems someone who can stretch the field would have been a welcome addition.
Lance Dunbar – I don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, Dunbar may be a decent third down back and change of pace to Gurley. But why sign him for a cap hit of roughly $1.5 million while Benny Cunningham signs with the Bears for a hit of about $700,000. If you watch the Rams play at all, you love Cunningham. He just does whatever you ask and although he’s not spectacular (especially on kick returns), he’s a good backup who provides a spark. So the Rams brought in an injury-prone replacement for double the price. Disgusting.
Definitely still question marks on offense and a few questionable moves (Woods, Dunbar, and no Lamp), but the Rams made a play at something intriguing. Higbee and Everett could get really interesting. With what McVay did with tight ends in Washington, there’s room for excitement. The defense will be solid instead of high variance and the offensive line will be improved (don’t we say that every year?). It’s been 17 years since the Rams have had a winner at the helm (Dick Vermeil). The piece at the top is now in place. Caution, look out for a decrease in bonehead penalties on the defensive side of the ball on third and long.
Alex Ball is a sportswriter from Bakersfield, California. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on twitter @aball31 and on instagram at iknowfunny31.