Damage done, LA Rams must pivot from win now to future focus
By Bret Stuter
The LA Rams have been in ‘win now’ mode for quite some time. Of course, managing to remain above .500 for each of the past five NFL seasons will do that to a team. It’s been a bane of riches, as the Rams seemed to possess the Midas Touch with every transaction. From coaching changes to drafting to signing and extending veteran players, the Rams seem to have held the ability to get it right each time.
But in 2022, the wheels fell off the cart. The harsh reality is that it was likely overdue.
Over the course of time, the Rams had to make decisions that face every NFL team. Those decisions were whether to commit to players who could help the team today or commit to developing players who could help the team win tomorrow. The Rams typically favored the present over the future.
As long as the Rams’ coaching staff and roster remained the same and healthy, it makes sense. But that was not what the team experienced in 2022. In fact, this team has faced almost every bit of adversity an NFL team can face in a season. Suddenly, all the gambles to win now that paid off last season are losing gambles this year.
The Rams gambled and lost this season
The Rams shorted the roster on running backs, offensive linemen, and backup quarterbacks, believing that if the team had to rely on running the football, on starting backup offensive linemen, or starting a backup quarterback, the season was either already lost or the need would be of such short duration that it really didn’t matter.
The decisions? The LA Rams allowed their best rusher to walk away uncontested in the 2022 offseason, instead committing the entire running attack on the legs of injured players who were returning to health this season, and one rookie who was small but feisty according to NFL standards.
The Rams constructed the starting offensive line for 2022 with two players, Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen, who have had a history of durability concerns over their careers. While that may have worked out, the team then opted to shave the number of offensive linemen on the active 53-man roster to a frightening light eight players. Due to injuries, the Rams blew through eight offensive before the mid-point of the season. The Rams expected to have a healthy roster, as it had in both 2020 and 2021, so it would not matter.
The Rams roster suffered too many injuries too quickly
Well, this season it did matter. The LA Rams’ strategy to skew the roster with impact players at the expense of depth paid off handsomely in 2021. But the bill came due in 2022, and the Rams have struggled to adopt adequate measures to regroup and catch their breath. After three consecutive losses in 2021, the Rams had the ability to place the ball in veteran running back Sony Michel’s hands and let him carry the load.
The result was a five-game winning streak, a streak in which Michel carried the football 108 times for 497 yards and three touchdowns. That allowed the entire offense to catch its breath and sort everything out in time to win all four playoff games. But more importantly, it placed the ground game on the map for defenses once more, forcing opponents to respect the Rams’ play action.
Blanket statements suggesting that the LA Rams need to ‘fix the offensive line’ are tough to accomplish because the reality is that the team has nine versions of the offensive line. Now the question is as much about continuity as it is about talent. So adding rookie offensive linemen in the 2023 NFL Draft resets the continuity long before any upgrade kicks in. Adding rookie running backs to a team that is dead last in rushing attempts fixes nothing either.
The Rams have enjoyed instant success, and have done a great job of sustaining that wave of success to the top of the NFL. But that was then, this is now. Whether or not the LA Rams can bounce back in 2023 may not be the most important answer right now. This team has finally had to face the chaotic results of no succession plan. Who takes over as the Rams’ elite players retire, start to lose a step from old age, or simply become too expensive to extend?
The LA Rams are 3-6. At some point in time, the LA Rams must pivot from winning now to future development. This team has taken the win-now mode as far as it could, far longer than many other NFL teams could. But now the time has come to focus on 2023. And in keeping with the Rams’ mindset since 2017, there is no time like the present.