Three moves the Rams should make to boost their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl in 2019
L.A. is up against the cap but could use some depth on the edge and at guard
The Los Angeles Rams went all in for the 2018 season, and their boldness paid off. The Rams were one of the best teams in the NFL from wire to wire, and eventually represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. They came up short in that game and did not exactly shower themselves in glory with their performance, but they'll return much of the same core in 2019 and they should be expected to once again find themselves among the inner-circle contenders for the Lombardi Trophy.
Given that they have one of the best and deepest rosters in the league, and the majority of the players on it played significant roles on last year's squad, the prescription for the Rams to get back to the Super Bowl is largely about improving on the margins. Anything they can do to put guys like Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Eric Weddle, and John Johnson in position to succeed is a good idea.
Here are three ideas we've got.
1. Sign Nick Perry to add depth on the edge
The Rams have the best interior pass rusher in the league in Aaron Donald, and a strong secondary rush man on the interior in Michael Brockets. They brought back Dante Fowler Jr. on a one-year, $12 million deal, and also brought Clay Matthews over from the Packers on a one-year deal.
But Matthews will be 33 years old this season, Fowler sandwiched his eight-sack 2017 with four sacks in 2016 and 2018, and recorded only two sacks in eight games with the Rams last season, and there is not much in the way of depth behind those guys. Matthews seems likely to spend at least some of his time playing inside linebacker, with Samson Ebukam acting as the rush man off the edge opposite Fowler.
He missed much of last season due to injury, but recorded 18 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, and 18 tackles for loss in 2016 and 2017. With the Rams having only $6.6 million in cap room, according to Spotrac, they cannot afford to go big-game hunting, even now that signings don't affect the compensatory pick calculations. So taking fliers on low-money, moderate-upside guys is the fix here, and Perry fits the bill.
2. Sign Shawn Lauvao to provide interior OL insurance
Apart from the game-wrecking abilities of Donald, the real strength of the Rams over the past two seasons has been their offensive line. They got a boost for 2019 when star left tackle Andrew Whitworth decided to forego retirement and return for another year, but they took a(n expected) hit when guard Rodger Saffold left for a four-year, $44 million deal with the Tennessee Titans, and they also let center John Sullivan leave in free agency, declining to pick up his option.
Now, the unit that last season ranked sixth in Adjusted Sack Rate and first in Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders, is down two important starters. And the starters along the interior of the offensive line are set to be Joseph Noteboom (a third-round pick who played 78 snaps last season), Brian Allen (a fourth-round pick who played 36 snaps last season), and Austin Blythe (a former waiver pickup who was the weakest member of last year's line, but is pretty serviceable).
That's not exactly the dominant group they had a year ago. The Rams are, as mentioned, up against the cap, so signing a big free agent here is likely out of the question. But bringing in Lauvao, who has experience playing for Sean McVay from their days in Washington, would be a nice move to add some depth and potentially a starter inside. Like Perry, he missed a bunch of time due to injury last season, but he has started 90 games in his career and could provide some value inside.
3. Diversify the offense
Last season's Rams operated almost exclusively out of 11 personnel. When they had all their best players healthy, they were damn near impossible to stop. Every play looked the same right up until the moment it wasn't, and all the shifts and motion and fakes took defenses a while to figure out, and it led to Gurley scooting up the middle or around the edge untouched, or Goff firing bullets into absurdly wide windows that allowed Cooks and Woods and Kupp to make hay after the catch.
But then Kupp got banged up. Gurley got banged up. Kupp came back, and then tore his ACL. Gurley stayed banged up. Teams stopped reacting as strongly to the shifts and motion and fakes and suddenly the running lanes weren't as open and the throwing windows weren't as wide. It took the Rams a bit to get their offense back on track.
They'd do well to come into the 2019 season with a slightly more diversified attack. First of all, changing formations would help keep guys like Kupp healthy, by not having him play quite as many snaps. It'd also give the Rams a chance to create some advantageous matchups with their tight ends, Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee, like they did in that shootout against the Chiefs. Similarly, they could rotate Gurley out of the game and let rookie Darrell Henderson get some burn. Or even put them on the field together.
McVay's offense is all about creating tiny tweaks on familiar looks in order to make the defense confused about what's coming. It worked remarkably well with the Rams relying on one formation to the exclusion of almost all else. It will work even better if they can run the same stuff out of 12 or 21 or 20 personnel, forcing the defense to think and account for even more than they already had to last year.
Pick Six Newsletter
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The Ravens defensive tackle took responsibility for reporting to minicamp out of shape
The bar is set insanely high, but here's who's set up the best to reach it
It's difficult for a backup quarterback to leave a lasting impressing, but Josh McCown did
Bowlen passed away last week after a long battle with Alzheimer's
Rodgers has historically had freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage but LaFleur's system...
Gurley missed the final two games of the 2018 season and played sparingly in the playoffs