The Los Angeles Rams’ obvious Achilles Heel last season was their putrid passing attack, statistically the worst in the entire NFL. They only gained 175.3 yard per game through the air for a league low 74.1 passing rating (a full 13 rating points lower than the next team, the Vikings). While the Rams are built around a stout young defense and proficient run game, that is simply not likely to get them deep into the playoffs alone.
The league isn’t what it was the last time the Rams called Los Angeles home. According to the data crunchers, winning the battle of passing yards has a remarkable correlation with a team’s record and playoff success, as opposed to teams that have primarily focused on rushing success. While this reality may be hard to accept for those who grew up watching teams smashmouth their way to trophies in the 80s, the numbers don’t lie. Primarily due to passer-friendly rule changes, this modern reality simply can’t be ignored by the Rams’ brass if they want to make any serious noise in today’s league.
The Rams will be looking for a jump-start at the quarterback position this offseason. They entered the 2015 season with high hopes that quarterback Nick Foles would be able to regain the Pro Bowl form that he achieved with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia in 2013. Unfortunately, after a couple decent games, Foles fell apart and was plagued by interceptions and inaccuracy. While it must be acknowledged that the Rams young offensive line provided far worse protection early in the season than it did down the stretch, there were plenty of inexcusable gaffes on Foles’ behalf. At 6’5” and 244 lbs, Foles appears to be a prototypical NFL quarterback, but he’s going to have to regain the confidence of the staff to be in Los Angeles for more than one more season.
Quarterback Case Keenum, despite height and arm strength limitations, actually did a nice job for the Rams, closing the season with a 3-1 record as a starter (nearly 4-0 if not for an overtime loss to the 49ers in Santa Clara). While nobody is banking on Keenum to be the Rams’ long-term solution, he’s a gritty player that can extend plays. That’s an attribute that translates into extending drives, just ask the folks in Seattle, where Russell Wilson does a masterful job in at eluding the pass rush just long enough for his rather average receiving corps to break free.
Keenum is certainly not Wilson, but he may be the Rams starter for a while, especially if they select an undeveloped quarterback high in this year’s draft. Should the Rams dip into the free agency pool and sign a player like Brock Osweiler or trade for Robert Griffen III, that would likely return Keenum to the art of clipboard toting, at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, the Rams are thin at wide receiver. As elusive as any player in the league, wide receiver Tavon Austin is a fascinating player, who the Rams use in the slot and the backfield. The goal of getting the ball in Austin’s hands by any means necessary will be high on offensive coordinator Rob Boras’ to-do list in 2016. Unfortunately, the Rams lost Austin’s old West Virginia teammate Stedman Bailey after a shooting incident in Florida during the offseason. While fans and teammates continue to pull for a full recovery, no one is banking on Bailey hitting the field anytime soon. Also likely gone will be Brian Quick, notably picked ahead of Alshon Jeffery in the 2012 draft. He is currently an unrestricted free agent who, based on playing time, fell into Jeff Fisher’s dog house last season.
That leaves Kenny Britt and the flowing dreadlocks of Bradley Marquez to line up with Austin on the outside. Look for the Rams to pursue a receiver or two in the draft. This year’s free agent crop is somewhat weak at receiver, but names like Marvin Jones have been rumored as potential targets.
The Rams may also be in the market for a tight end after cutting the highly-paid Jared Cook, which leaves Lance Kendricks as the current starter. Don’t be surprised to see the team pick one up in the middle of the draft or in free agency.
Finally, the Los Angeles backfield is in considerably better shape than their receiving corps. Todd Gurley was already becoming a star before arriving in Hollywood, and he appears to be the next great Rams running back. Although he missed several games early in his rookie season while completing his comeback from an ACL tear suffered at Georgia, Gurley quickly showed his big play ability. He has a knack for finding seams and hitting them with a powerful burst before breaking into a stylish upright stride for long gains. The Rams offensive line is built to runblock, so expect Gurley to put up prolific numbers this season. Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham carried much of the load before Gurley’s arrival and are competent backups. Cunningham is a restricted free agent.
The Rams offense was dismal for stretches last season, and it will need to achieve some semblance of balance to turn things around. Expect plenty of new faces next season as the Rams try to build on what Austin and Gurley provide. If the Rams can at least achieve average offensive production next season, it would provide a wonderful complement to their talented young defense. If they don’t, look for the currently euphoric Rams fans in L.A. to begin grumbling as Jeff Fisher’s captain seat becomes increasingly toasty.