1. Jared Goff’s rookie season should be analyzed with a few grains of salt. He wasn’t ready to play, but with practice time so limited in today’s NFL, he had to play in order to get the first team reps. He was operating in a bad offense for a coaching staff that knew it probably wasn’t long for L.A. (and it wasn’t). The circumstances were horrible. That said, Goff must throw better than he did. Plain and simple. He was inaccurate on too many routine plays. On passes 11 to 20 yards downfield, his rating was 27.9. But here’s the positive: despite his circumstances and paucity of help from his O-line and receivers, Goff still willingly played from the pocket. Early on he tended to take his eyes off the field and look at the pass rush, an ultimate no-no for a pro QB, but he got past that as the year progressed. He knew the hits were coming and still stood in there firmly. That is a critical, encouraging sign.
2. The offensive line has been reshuffled drastically.First time head coach Sean McVay and his offensive line coach, 17th-year assistant Aaron Kromer, got rid of left tackle Greg Robinson, who took the art of mental mistakes to new heights. In Robinson’s stead is 35-year-old Andrew Whitworth, who can still play. Blind side solidified. The Rams also signed brainy 10th-year pro John Sullivan to direct traffic at center. Over on the right side, they slid 2015 second-round tackle Rob Havenstein to guard, where he should play with better balance. And they moved backup guard Jamon Brown to tackle, where they love his strong hands and feet. It’ll be a better front five . . . as long as everyone stays healthy. The one concern is depth. There isn’t any.
3. With a revamped O-line, Todd Gurley should be better. But understand: Gurley held some culpability for his poor showing in 2016, it wasn’t all his blocking. He didn’t see the field with the same clarity that he did as a rookie.
4. When McVay was designing plays as the offensive coordinator in Washington, he had the game’s best pure receiving tight end, Jordan Reed. In Los Angeles, McVay has second-year man Tyler Higbee, who did very little as a rookie, and athletic second-round pick Gerald Everett, who will likely have a rookie’s learning curve.
5. There isn’t a single mismatch-making piece in the passing game. Some might see Tavon Austin that way, but there’s a reason the 2013 first-round pick has averaged 410 receiving yards a year. Austin can get lazy on deep routes, and as a slot man he hasn’t shown the necessary nuance and patience to win underneath. At this point, he’s a gadget player.
6. Know this about Los Angeles’s defense: it has a lot of speed at all three levels.
7. Wade Phillips is as respected as any defensive coordinator in football, but one whisper about him across the league is that he can be predictable in coverage against untraditional two-receiver formations. In Denver, offenses would get Phillips’s linebackers in unfavorable man coverage scenarios against running backs and tight ends. But maybe it won’t be a problem in L.A. Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron are both ex-college safeties who can run. They’re more equipped to cover than Phillips’s Bronco ’backers were.
8. Don’t worry about Aaron Donald transitioning to a new position in Wade Phillips’s “3-4.” It’s not really a 3-4; Phillips plays what amounts to an aggressive “4-3-under” scheme out of a 5-2 structure. That means one-gap assignments for most players. It’ll be interesting to see how often Donald aligns as a three-technique and how often he aligns as a five-technique (the position J.J. Watt played for Phillips in Houston). On passing downs, Donald can play all over. (Last season, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams even used him regularly as a nose tackle in 3-3-5 nickel fronts.) Donald’s initial movement is too explosive, no matter where he aligns.
9. It’s a big year for Robert Quinn. He was the most dynamic edge rusher in the league in 2013 and ’14. But injuries have since tolled, and Quinn hasn’t consistently shown the same bendability and speed. Quinn will play on the weakside edge—the same spot DeMarcus Ware played for Phillips.
10. The secondary will make or break this defense. Trumaine Johnson is just past the line of demarcation for a true No. 1 corner. But what will the Rams get from their No. 2 spot? They’d like to see Kayvon Webster, Phillips’s former No. 4 corner in Denver, fill this role. Webster is equipped to play along the boundary. In the slot, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Lamarcus Joyner are capable cover guys and two of the best blitzing DBs in football. Robey-Coleman likely gets the nod so that Joyner can become a fulltime free safety. His speed can correct the centerfield range that this secondary lacked after losing Rodney McLeod in free agency.
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