What's left of the 2021 Super Bowl champions?: Seaside Joe 1646
Is it because the Rams play in a basketball city that makes people believe that they can thrive with only three players?
I don’t fault the Rams for their bold moves after moving back to Los Angeles, starting with the Sean McVay hire and spending spree in 2017, then culminating in a Super Bowl championship in 2021. What they should be criticized for is not the headline moves that everyone obsesses over — trading first round picks has proven to be a great idea sometimes — but instead for the poor depth and stripped down 53-man roster that comes with bad day two and three drafting, plus bad contracts that rewarded stars who were past their prime.
The Seattle Seahawks were guilty of the same mistakes after their two Super Bowl runs. And who knows, maybe the Seahawks did a better job of surviving their rough patches than the Rams have done more so because of ERA than any specific ERRORS.
I just know that you can’t get by with only three players, not even if you’re playing NFL Blitz.
Matthew Stafford has seen this before
Which of these teams do you think could be better:
The one with a 24-year-old Matthew Stafford, a 27-year-old Calvin Johnson, and a 25-year-old Ndamukong Suh OR one with a 35-year-old Stafford, a 30-year-old Cooper Kupp, and a 32-year-old Aaron Donald?
I’ve noticed that people talk about the 2023 Rams as if there’s some precedent for NFL teams being good when they only have three stars. Even if they were the best three players at their position in the league. You could argue that the Chiefs are propped up heavily by a QB, a TE, and a DT, but a) I’m not going to put Stafford on the same pedastal as Patrick Mahomes and b) Kansas City had way more proven talent last season than what L.A. has this season and it’s not close.
Going back to the question above, the 2012 Detroit Lions had Stafford, Megatron, and Suh that season. A fun core of players, right? Suh was a Pro Bowler and Megatron had 122 catches for 1,964 yards, which set an NFL record that year.
That Lions team went 4-12.
They also had players like Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, DeAndre Levy, Dominic Raoila, Stephen Tulloch, and an experienced offensive line. I would never argue that they were “good” and that’s kind of the point: That Lions team had three stars, one of them set an NFL record, they had proven talent, and they tied for the third-worst record in the league.
Why would anyone expect an older Stafford to carry an older Kupp (who is already injured) and an older Donald (who hasn’t participated in many practices this year) with a worst supporting cast to the playoffs? Which is something I hear people — “smart people” at all the “major networks” — cite as a possibility.
Yes, I get the same sense that you do…”Man, Seaside Joe is setting himself up to potentially look like quite a fool if the Rams make the playoffs!”
Yeah, I guess so. But what are we doing here if not trying to assess the most likely and least likely outcomes? It’s like if everyone predicts the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl this year but instead they get knocked out as a wild card team for whatever reason, nobody was “fooled” because everyone is fooled. Yet, if you say that a team sure looks terrible and then they surprise people, it’s “bulletin board material”?
Let it be that then. I just can’t see any scenarios in which the Rams are doing anything other than paying the check for winning the Super Bowl and being completely fine with it if they get the number one pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
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Why? Since I don’t really see the media saying anything about the Rams except “Well, aren’t the coaches too good to fall on their faces?” let’s break it down phase-by-phase:
The Rams coaches
Give Sean McVay credit for leading the Rams to two Super Bowls in his first five seasons at the helm and no losing seasons. That’s as impressive as any first-five year resume in league history, setting aside how young he is and how unusual that part is too. There’s simply no argument to be made though that he’s “too good” to fall on his face because the Rams went 5-12 last season and they REALLY TRIED VERY HARD to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
McVay can be a great coach and the Rams can have a terrible roster at the same time. This happens to coaches. It’s ridiculous to say that McVay is “too good” to have a record as bad as the one he just had last season. If L.A. lost 12 games because of injuries and bad depth, fine…what’s changed? Injuries can still happen (already has with Kupp) and not only is the depth worse, the starters are worse too.
Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was fired from the New York Jets in January after two seasons. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris hasn’t done anything in his career yet to merit any reputation as a guru, but even if he was, no D.C. is dealing with a roster as inexperienced and cheap as this one.
The Rams offense
Everyone conveniently forgot that only two years ago, Matthew Stafford went to the Lions front office after a five-win season and said, “Trade me, I don’t want to be a part of a rebuild at this stage of my career.” That was only 2.5 years ago, meaning he’s also 2.5 years older. The only reason that Stafford is on the Rams right now is that his contract was not trade-able before June 1st.
If Stafford misses any time—he’s missed half of a season in two of the last four years and is 35—rookie Stetson Bennett might be the worst backup in the NFL. He threw four interceptions in about six quarters of preseason action and he had about four more that were dropped. As for his protection…
The offensive line will feature one proven player, right tackle Rob Havenstein, with new starters at left tackle (UDFA), left guard (rookie), center (UDFA), and right guard (7th round pick in 2020 with one career start). The combined number of starts for those other four players is 22, with 15 of those being center Coleman Shelton, and 13 of his starts came at guard.
After Kupp, the L.A. Rams don’t have a single proven receiver that would start for most other teams. Kupp is 30, had a serious injury and tight rope surgery earlier this year. He’s probably going to miss at least Week 1.
The Rams unsuccessfully tried to trade running back Cam Akers in the middle of the 2022 season, so he returned to the active roster and now he’s starting.
Matthew Stafford is the only player on the entire offense who was drafted in the first round and that came back in 2009.
The Rams defense
Aaron Donald has never played on a defense like this one, not even when the Rams went 4-12 in 2016 and fired Jeff Fisher midseason. I would be so interested to hear his inner thoughts on having to carry players like the ones now surrounding him on L.A.’s defense, but Donald skipped OTAs, mandatory minicamps, and almost two entire weeks of joint practices during training camp. If he’s mentoring these inexperienced players, it is way behind closed doors.
Like Stafford on offense, Donald is the only player on the Rams defense who was drafted in the first round, which came back in 2014.
There are no first round picks from the last nine drafts who are on the 2023 L.A. Rams.
The Rams have the cheapest defense in the NFL, with Aaron Donald personally accounting for $26 of the $52.5 million that is being allocated to that side of the ball. So 50% of the Rams defensive budget goes to one player and L.A. ranks 32nd in defensive spending by over $8 million. That’s partly because the Rams have $75 million in DEAD MONEY this year, which is salary cap space that goes to players who the team had to cut or trade. That includes $50 million to defensive players, like Jalen Ramsey ($19.5m), Leonard Floyd ($19m), and Bobby Wagner ($7.5m).
The second-highest paid defensive player on the Rams is safety Jordan Fuller, a former sixth round pick still on his rookie contract who has a $2.8 million cap hit.
The second-most experienced player on defense is safety John Johnson, a player who stayed on the free agent market until signing a couple of weeks ago to return to the Rams. The third-most experienced is former Seahawks corner Ahkello Witherspoon. He’s been in the league since 2017, but has only made 11 starts in the last three years. He’s L.A.’s number one corner. The next most experienced is linebacker Ernest Jones, a former third rounder who was relegated to a part-time role in the second half of last season.
But basically every player on defense except for Donald is getting an opportunity to start that they probably wouldn’t get for most other NFL teams because L.A. just doesn’t have the budget to do anything else. Why a team would focus on containing any player on the Rams defense besides Aaron Donald this season, I have no idea.
The Rams special teams
L.A. was going to go with a rookie kicker, but they cut Tanner Brown after a poor preseason and signed veteran Brett Maher. Maher has been let go by nine different teams since 2017.
The Rams also have a rookie punter, a rookie longsnapper, and a rookie special teams coordinator.
Essentially because of budget cutbacks, the Rams are just spinning the wheel on special teams and seeing who can keep their job for longer than a few months. We’ve already found out that their first two choices at kicker didn’t make it that long.
Don’t consider this as “bulletin board material” or “overlooking an opponent”. We’re fans, we’re writers, we are allowed to overlook opponents. That’s part of the fun! We can’t jinx teams; if I have any power over the outcome of games because of what I write, that’s too much power for Seaside Joe.
The Seahawks host the Rams in Week 1 and they rematch at SoFi Stadium in Week 11 coming off of a bye week.
Playing any team in Week 1, there’s the danger of being caught off guard. But I just don’t see how there’s a road that is anything but “constant uncertainty” for a Rams team that is entering a season not knowing if at least 15 of the 22 guys that McVay picked as starters are actually starters. There should be a lot of change and an evolving depth chart, whereas Seattle hopes that they got through most of that evaluation last year and that continuinty is next.
If the Seahawks are going to be Super Bowl contenders then they need to be better than the Rams. Whether they will prove to be or not is up to me.
What’s up to me is what I see and what I see on the Rams is a changing of the guard that is not nearly complete, with several more significant transactions on the horizon. How can anyone else not see that?
Previous NFC West previews: Tank you Cards
Previous NFC West previews: Are 49ers in trouble?
It occurs to me that people might see a Seahawks writer put “Are 49ers in trouble?” and “Rams, Cardinals are tanking” and assume that there’s a bias permeating throughout these previews. No bias. I think the 49ers are probably going to be a good team and definitely a difficult win for Seattle again. I’m just assessing that objectively speaking, Brock Purdy is unproven and the offensive line is in far worse shape than others are pointing out. That’s not me PREDICTING that the 49ers will be bad.
I am, however, predicting that Arizona and L.A. will be bad. That’s objective. Remember, just last offseason I predicted that the Seahawks would be bad. That’s not bias. And it was also (mostly but not entirely) wrong.