The LA Rams made a concerted effort to improve their dismal special teams’ play in 2021. According to the NFL analysts at Lineups.com, special teams play can be tracked in 17 different categories, and they do so for all 32 NFL teams. So why reinvent the wheel? So we’ll analyze the Rams special teams’ play through their lens.
After appearing among the Top-5 ranked units in 2017 and 2018, the Rams special teams’ performance has been in a bit of a backslide. In 2019, the LA Rams ranked 20th in the NFL on special teams’ play, weighted down with their 30th-ranked kicking coverage unit. In 2020, the Rams plummeted to the 31st-ranked special teams unit in the NFL. The Rams were hammered at poor play from coverage units, a multi-month search for a starting placekicker, and a surprising lapse from punter Johnny Hekker.
But 2021 would be different. The team hired a new and very sharp Special Teams Coordinator, Joe DeCamillis, after his release from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Rams focused their draft efforts upon very athletically gifted prospects who had solid work on special teams in college. But perhaps most of all, the organization was emphasizing special teams play throughout OTAs and training camp.
For the most part, that emphasis is a great place to start. But fixing the years of neglect and decay for special teams won’t happen overnight. The Chicago Bears proved that, racking up 106 yards on four kick returns. That wasn’t good enough to help them win against the Rams. But it is good enough to help a very good team win against the Rams.
Of course, like any ‘ranking” algorithm, Lineups.com can only measure what happens in the game. The Chicago Bears punted once for just 36 yards. That is due to the fact that the Bears had two turnovers, and gave the ball up on downs four times. That one 36-yard punt, per Lineups, was as good as the Rams one punt for 50 yards with a three-yard return. I’m not sure I agree with that. And that three-yard punt return currently has the Rams punt coverage unit as the 30th-ranked NFL team among 32 teams?
But I do agree that the Rams coverage on kickoffs needs work, a lot of work. But based upon the first game and the fact that the Rams can score a touchdown from 75 yards away in just over a minute, I think that the kickoff coverage unit will get a lot of work this year.