Are the LA Rams a 2020 NFL Playoff team?

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29: Los Angeles Rams fans attend the game against the Arizona Cardinals after the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29: Los Angeles Rams fans attend the game against the Arizona Cardinals after the game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

The LA Rams missed the 2019 NFL Playoffs. Looking ahead, are they a 2020 NFL Playoff team?

The LA Rams have one of the richest and most lauded histories in the NFL. But any NFL team is only as good as “what have you done for me lately”, right?  In that context, the 2019 Rams are disappointing, as they failed to follow up their Super Bowl 53 appearance with a playoff appearance this season.

What kept the team out of the playoffs?  How bad is it?  Actually, not as bad as you might think.  The Rams finished the season at 9-7. That is the best record for a non-playoff team this year. That sets the stage for tweaking this team, rather than rebuilding.  So where to start?

Well, there are two ways of looking at the cause: overall season statistically or game by game. Let’s break down both methods, starting with the overall season statistics.

The difference between an NFL Super Bowl contender and a non-playoff team boils down to three things: Stay healthier, make fewer mistakes, and score more points than your opponent.  To no surprise, comparing the  2018 13-3 version to the 2019 9-7 version, the Rams plummeted in all three categories. The 2019 season found the Rams riddled with injuries, netting turnovers from +11 to 0, and dropping from a +143 point differential to +30.

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Game by game cause effect analysis

Reviewing the game by game approach, the  Rams seven losses each had the following characteristics:

In six of seven losses, the Rams running game was held to fewer than 100 yards rushing.  In fact, the team averaged only 60.4 yards rushing in their seven losses. In the turnover department, the Rams averaged 2.0 giveaways per game, and only recorded 1.1 takeaways. And of course, most LA Rams fans recall some of the lopsided scores suffered in losses last season.

In the rear view mirror analysis, the losses arose from the offense failing to move the ball on the ground, and forcing QB Jared Goff to carry the team, wounded and all, to a win through his passing.  The results were a 12 percent uptick in passing attempts, but a 33 percent uptick in interceptions. Despite completing 30 more passes, Goff’s passing yards actually dropped from the previous season.

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Answer the question, please?!?!

Okay, enough analysis. Can the LA Rams return to the NFL playoffs in 2020?  Of course, as long as the team is able to get back to what they do best.  That means, running the ball. So how easy is that?

Well the first step is to hire a proactive running backs coach.  Not only will it be their role to restore running back Todd Gurley to his previous production, but to help develop running backs Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson Jr. in both the rushing and passing offenses.  Whomever the Rams bring onboard, they will need to quickly assess the quality of running backs on the roster, plus any low hanging talent available in free agency.

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Next, the Rams need to shore up the offensive line. While the line faces the loss of OT Andrew Whitworth and C/G Austin Blythe, the team did manage to stabilize the offense by inserting some bench players into starting roles.  Now with a full training camp, the line should improve with healthy players returning and reinforcing via the 2020 NFL Draft. Getting one or two OL veterans in free agency would allow the Rams to place existing players in their natural positions.

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Division winner or wild card?

Right now, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks both have fairly impressive teams. But  both will play a tougher schedule next season, and the 49ers draw top teams and Seahawks draw 2nd best teams from the NFC North and AFC South divisions.

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The Rams should be able to split with each team next season with a more balanced offense. If that happens, the Rams should have enough to win a playoff spot at the minimum.  After all, the team will begin play at Sofi stadium this season.  And they could win as many as 11 games when looking at the 2020 opponents.

Yes.  The LA Rams should be able to claw their way back to the 2020 NFL Playoffs. As long as they hire wisely, sign free agents frugally, and draft successfully, that is.