November 30, 2021

Is the Los Angeles Rams' All-In Super Bowl Plan Already a Failure?

Right after the 2021 NFL Trade Deadline, the Los Angeles Rams appeared to be in the driver's seat of the NFC. They were 7-1 and just acquired star edge-rusher Von Miller from the Denver Broncos in order to solidify a weak spot of their defense. Even one week after the team had lost to the Titans 28-16, the Rams recovered by signing Odell Beckham Jr. to fill in for the newly injured Robert Woods.

The star-heavy, asset-barren approach by Rams general manager Les Snead has made him a unicorn in today's asset-hoarding NFL. Teams are willing to trade impactful veterans for late-round picks without blinking, and often trade down for mediocre mid-round picks instead of capitalizing on more valuable draft slots. The Rams have chosen to rely on stars who can elevate their peers over gambling on unproven younger talent.

The idea is brilliant in principle. Maximize the possibility of winning big by acquiring high-earning but impactful pieces. However, some of the reasons that talent was available were due to their flaws. And the last three games, all losses, have highlighted this.

Matthew Stafford, despite stuffing a stat line that will likely be the best of his career, has thrown for just five touchdowns and five interceptions in that span. His notably reckless decision-making and inconsistent accuracy have suddenly sprouted while the Rams have proven incapable of having a solid running game to take the pressure off their franchise passer. 

The offensive line issues can only be mitigated so much by coach Sean McVay's scheme. The biggest reason for Jared Goff's failures are now becoming an issue for Stafford. The Rams have neglected the offensive line in favor of stacking expensive stars elsewhere.

Odell Beckham and Von Miller haven't been around long enough to be major difference makers. Beckham has quickly accumulated 99 receiving yards and one touchdown on seven catches, and would've had more if not for misses by Stafford. He's now dealing with a back injury that could limit him. And Miller has added just eight tackles and one quarterback hit in two games as he's coming back from an ankle injury.

The Rams' decision to acquire both Beckham and Miller for next to nothing shouldn't be questioned, but rather the mindset to enter the season with Troy Reeder as the team's leading linebacker and a slew of limited defensive linemen around Aaron Donald should be. The Rams lose in the trenches far too often on both sides of the ball.

The proof has been on the field. Surrendering 28, 31, and then 36 points, respectively, in three games over the course of four weeks is a miserable set of performances. Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and to a lesser extent Miller have simply not been enough to carry an inconsistent defense.

Every roster will have weaknesses that the best teams will work hard to exploit. When evaluating the best overall rosters in the league, the Rams come up short against their peers. Donald, Ramsey, and Cooper Kupp are easily the team's best players, followed by the flawed Stafford and the injured, limited Beckham and Miller. The only other noteworthy offensive player at this time is 39-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth.  

The 7-4 Rams don't have much reprieve coming after this coming week's game against the Jaguars. Upcoming battles against the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49erswill be difficult. I'd consider the only sure-wins are this week and in Week 15 against Seattle. That should be enough to get the Rams into the playoffs.

However, that's not enough for this franchise since Jared Goff could have gotten them that far with the right protection around him. The Rams have a tough road, and must get back to the level of play displayed against Tampa Bay in Week 3. The question is whether their injured veterans are on the mend, and if the drop in quality at defensive coordinator is too massive to overcome with just six regular season games remaining. It's not a good sign the Rams were dominated by Aaron Rodgers right after a bye week.

The Rams aren't quite teetering on failure yet, but their path to reaching the Super Bowl is looking more like an uphill battle with each passing week. There are few ways to overcome limitations across several layers of positions. Those groupings must take advantage of the position the team's stars are creating for them.

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration