The 2019 NFL season is just weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Los Angeles Rams, who finished 13–3 and first in the NFC West last year.
The ground game expands. Twenty-five-year-old Todd Gurley is still a quality runner, but the Rams will give chunks of his touches to third-round rookie Darrell Henderson to combat wear and tear on Gurley’s much-discussed left knee. The explosive Memphis product brings more dimension to the screen and misdirection games—and L.A.’s updated scheme, in turn, presents more dimension for the backs. Head coach Sean McVay remains committed to his outside zone foundation, which not only works in and of themselves, but propagates the team’s lethal play-action game, where QB Jared Goff is at his best. However, the Bears and Patriots last winter showed that outside zone can be hampered by heavy, condensed defensive fronts, and to combat these increased looks that the Rams are sure to get, McVay installs a few wrinkles, lending more unpredictability to his rushing attack. The only question is whether the well-coached but suddenly youthful interior O-line can keep up, as second-year pros Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen are new starters, and ascending right guard Austin Blythe is still a work in progress.
Robert Woods swims in praise. Brandin Cooks is the Rams’ most dangerous receiver, but Woods is their best. His route running is pristine, and his blocking, along with Cooper Kupp’s, is vital to the ground game’s success, as receivers in L.A.’s uniquely condensed formations are relied upon to combat defenders in traffic.
L.A.’s defensive scheme expands. Freshly acquired 13th-year safety Eric Weddle provides new dimensions of disguised coverage, which innately build on the hybrid man-zone concepts that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips employs. The Rams’ updated defensive profile has more of a matchup feel, but this doesn’t become a pure man-to-man defense, in part because right corner Marcus Peters is markedly better in zone concepts.
Aaron Donald erupts again. It’s unfair to project any player to have over 20 sacks, but with the schematic expansion including more diverse fronts and designer pass rush tactics to better feature the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, what else can we expect?
John Johnson breaks out. The unassuming third-year safety can effectively fill in run support and, more importantly, cover tight ends in man or zone. In fact, one of the many battles he won last season was against Rob Gronkowski in Super Bowl 53.
BOTTOM LINE: The Rams are every bit as potent as a year ago, but defenses are more familiar with their M.O. This team’s success hinges on its ability to evolve.
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