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How the Rams’ Super Bowl repeat bid was undone by their own mistakes

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Rams don’t have the depth to compete this year, and that’s the result of their own process.

The sequels are rarely as good as the original.

Lion King 2 was never going to surpass Lion King, reboots of Boy Meets World and Teen Titans can’t touch their original predecessors.

And the 2022 Los Angeles Rams are nowhere near the quality of team that won the Super Bowl last year.

The Rams now sit at 3-6 following a loss to the Arizona Cardinals and are all but out of the playoff picture as of now. QB Matthew Stafford didn’t play due to a concussion, and near the end of the game star WR Cooper Kupp suffered an ankle injury that could keep him out for an extended period of time.

However, even before their loss to the Cardinals, this Rams season was headed in a bad direction. Their offense is dead last in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play, and through Week 9 Stafford was pressured on 24.3% of his dropbacks, fifth highest in the entire league.

Schematically, the team remains the same. The script is still written by mastermind director Sean McVay. The cast of characters, well, let’s just say not everyone made it to the sequel. Andrew Whitworth is now doing commentary on Thursday Night Football, Austin Corbett is a Panther, and Odell Beckham Jr. is still waiting to be signed. Trying to replace him with the combination of Joe Noteboom and Ty Nsekhe, Matt Skura and Allen Robinson just hasn’t worked, and therein lies the problem.

The mantra “F*** them picks” is cool and looks good on t-shirts, but everyone has to pay the piper eventually. If you’re going to trade away opportunities to get younger and more quality depth for proven starters, you have to hit in both free agency and in the later rounds of the draft. The Rams this offseason have done neither, and it’s coming back to bite them.

These are the Rams draft picks since 2020, and among them there are only few who are consistent contributors to the team. The Rams are just now using Tutu Atwell, and Cam Akers has been in trade discussions since the season started. While trading away draft picks is fine when you can get guys like Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller, but you have to hit on the chances you get to throw at the dart board that is the NFL Draft.

This lack of depth due to poor drafting and free agent misses has shown up this season, especially on the offensive line. The Rams have started nine different offensive line combinations in nine games, according to The Athletic’s Jordan Rodrigue. This has led to the Rams being 24th and 30th in ESPN’s pass block and run block win rate, respectively and Stafford has been sacked 28 times, fifth in the NFL. Sure, injuries are a bit fluky, but not being prepared for life after injuries is on the coaching and roster construction.

Which brings us to the director and producer of this movie sequel from hell: Sean McVay and Les Snead. This is not a call for them to be fired. However, a lot of this roster construction, and the issues coming from it, is their own fault. You have to hit on the picks that you do have, and the Rams haven’t done that at all. If you’re not going to hit on the picks, you have to hit in free agency.

In the offseason, the Rams signed LB Bobby Wagner and WR Allen Robinson, while retaining OLs Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen and WR Brandon Powell. Robinson has almost been nonexistent; his 41 targets through nine games is the lowest through nine games since 2018, and his one yard per route run is also his lowest since 2018. Not only has he been MIA, he’s been ineffective in the targets he does get. Wagner has been fine, but when you look at the contract he received, you wonder how that money could’ve been repurposed elsewhere. Noteboom has been lost to injury, but Brian Allen has been one of the worst centers in football. Their free agent class has largely been a bust.

Fixing it is going to be another massive problem. The Rams are about $500,000 over the cap for 2023 and don’t control a first round draft pick until 2024. In addition, the core centerpieces of this Rams team aren’t getting younger. Aaron Donald has already flirted with retirement, Stafford is going through multiple injuries and even Sean McVay has been in retirement rumors.

For a season that was supposed to be a sequel to a Hollywood story last year, it’s looking like a horror movie, with no end in sight for the foreseeable future.

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