Our 2022 NFL Preview stays in the City of Angels for the second leg of this pigskin doubleheader, as the Rams look to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. After coming up short year after year, Los Angeles finally saw their star-studded approach pay off with the franchise’s second Lombardi Trophy and their first since relocating back to Los Angeles in 2016. We all know that Hollywood loves a blockbuster sequel, and with so many of their leading performers returning to run it back, will the Rams make it a dynasty in a city that is no stranger to them? Let’s take a trip to LaLa Land, shall we?
Act One: The Offense
The biggest change from 2020 to 2021 for the Rams occurred on the offensive side of the football, where (Pro-Bowl Quarterback) Matthew Stafford arrived via a rare blockbuster trade with the Lions to ignite an explosive passing attack. (Head Coach) Sean McVay (more on him in a bit) grew tired of (former no. one overall pick) Jared Goff, and sent him packing to Detroit along with a pair of future first-round picks in exchange for a passer seven years his senior. Prior to Stafford’s arrival, the Rams averaged 23.3 points on 387.5 total yards including 261.4 yards through the air, with Goff accounting for twenty touchdown passes and thirteen interceptions. A year later and they churned out 27.1 points on 386.0 total yards, including 287.8 yards via the pass as Stafford finished second in the league with a whopping FORTY-ONE touchdowns. Competing deep into the playoffs for the first time in his career, the 34-year-old has reportedly suffered from what McVay has termed as a “unique kind of arm elbow fatigue”, with that soreness in his right elbow keeping him from participating in offseason activities. Returning to see that the attack stays on track is (All-Pro Receiver) Cooper Kupp, who led the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947), and touchdown catches (16) en route to earning Offensive Player of the Year honors. As lethal as that combination proved to be, LA also added (former All-Pro) Odell Beckham Jr at the midseason mark, with the mercurial Wideout playing a key role in their trek to the Super Bowl, before unfortunately tearing his ACL in that same affair. Not one to sit on their hands, McVay and (General Manager) Les Snead signed (former Pro-Bowler) Allen Robinson in free agency, making up for the loss of Beckham, who despite being a free agent himself, will according to reports be pursued to return to the franchise as he progresses through his rehab. Needless to say, adding Robinson to the fold is another big get for the club’s brain trust, who have made a habit of hunting stars; Robinson has played with some less than inspiring Quarterbacks over the course of his career, though has nonetheless remained productive with three 1,000-yard seasons and forty career touchdowns. Youngsters such as Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, and Ben Skowronek are all expected to vie for reps in OBJ’s absence as the third option behind Kupp and Robinson. Concerns over his elbow aside, there is no question that Stafford will have ample of weapons at his disposal once more.
Act Two: The Defense
While the Offense evolved into a big-play machine last season, the Defense underwent a change in identity itself under (Defensive Coordinator) Raheem Morris, who took over the NFL’s leader in both points allowed (18.5) and total defense (282.0) in 2020. Though Los Angeles certainly regressed from the proverbial mountaintop, ranking fifteenth (21.9) and seventeenth (344.9) in those particular categories last season, they still managed to come up big when they needed to, particularly in their final two victories of their championship run. Of course, this were (perennial All-Pro Defensive Tackle) Aaron Donald (pictured) made his presence felt, with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year wreaking havoc late in both playoff games en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Following the championship parade, there was talk that the 31-year-old would actually retire, though he would eventually commit his future to the franchise that drafted him thirteenth overall back in 2014. And it’s a good thing he did, for there isn’t a more impactful player on the defensive side of the football; Donald has had new fewer than eleven sacks in each of the last five years, while amassing a staggering NINETY-EIGHT in 127 career games, with the attention he draws from opponents frequently opening up opportunities for his teammates. That, though, is where the concerns lie; the Rams lost (veteran Edge-Rusher) Von Miller in free agency after basically renting his services for half a season, while (emerging Cornerback) Darious Williams left in favor of a lucrative contract from the Jaguars. However, McVay and Snead added another veteran with championship experience to their ranks, signing (veteran Linebacker) Bobby Wagner, who despite not a pass-rusher remains one of the most productive players in the league at his position. Oh, and did we fail to mention that (All-Pro Cornerback) Jalen Ramsey is still roaming the boundaries at SoFi Stadium? The outspoken Defensive Back is the definition of complete, and will continue to be counted upon to lead a Secondary that lost at least one starter for the second year in a row.
Act Three: The Brain Trust
While conventional wisdom tells you that in order to build a champion, you must do so the old-fashioned way via the NFL Draft, the Rams have long subscribed to a far more NBA-esque approach in acquiring premier veteran talent, oftentimes at the expense of their draft cache. Now, for most General Managers, draft picks are precious building blocks, but for the aforementioned Snead, they are simply bargaining chips to win NOW. Over the past three seasons, Los Angeles has exhausted their draft capital in exchange for a number of All-Pro talent. Stafford (firsts in 2022 and 2023, along with a third in 2021), Ramsey (firsts in 2020 and 2021, along with a fourth in 2021), and Miller (a second and third in 2022) were costly operations to say the least, leaving the club without a first-round pick until 2024. In fact, McVay (pictured) hasn’t enjoyed a pick in the first round since he took over back in 2017. Above all else, the Draft is where teams build their depth, and as this roster has become increasingly top-heavy, their depth has become worryingly thin. Sure, most teams are screwed if they lose one or more franchise players to injury, but for the Rams it could prove to be particularly disastrous. In the meantime, McVay and Snead must make the most of the picks that they have left in the mid to late rounds, while scouring the free agent marketplace for solutions, which is something that they’ve proven quite adept at doing. Both Leonard Floyd and A’Shawn Robinson were excellent acquisitions on defense in free agency two years ago, while the aforementioned Robinson should see that the passing game remains a strength in 2022. With that said, the question is how much longer McVay and Snead can mortgage the team’s future and flexibility in an attempt to win now? Of course, winning a championship means a great many things, including never having to apologizing for the path taken to get there.
Projected Finish: 10-7
In winning their first Super Bowl since the turn of the century, the Rams proved that you could in fact win a championship the unconventional way, though it’s unlikely that their methods will lead to a repeat this February. Without the opportunity to supplement their depth in the Draft, it has become all the more imperative that the likes of Stafford, Kupp, Donald, and Ramsey continue to play at a high level and remain healthy in the process. While their star power will likely keep them in the playoffs, their lack of depth is more glaring than ever before, making their margin for error worryingly thin as they get set to face a rather hellacious schedule.