Don’t be offended, be offensive
When the Minnesota Vikings decided to hire former LA Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach, O’Connell wasted no time at all in hiring former LA Rams tight end coach Wes Phillips as his new offensive coordinator. That has meant better times for the Minnesota Vikings, but much leaner times for the LA Rams.
O’Connell was the glue of the Rams’ offense, the go-between guy who grounded the LA Rams offense from spinning off into this five-eligible fantasy, and ensured that the plays made sense based on what the players were seeing on the football field. It was not only O’Connell’s ability to get the most out of offensive players that made him the ideal candidate to hire on with the Rams, but also his ability to customize an offense to optimize the talent on the roster, and give players a real chance of succeeding.
It was quite clear in both 2020 and 2021, at different points in the season, that the Rams needed to include the running game in order to field a successful offense. Without that balance, the Rams’ offense has wobbled all season, falling from the eighth-ranked scoring offense all the way down to the 28th-scoring offense. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings have already matched their 2021 win total, and appear to be well-positioned for post-season play.
Rams tight ends suffering from the loss of Wes Phillips
But perhaps the greatest positional coach lost is Wes Phillips. Phillips was a solid tight-end coach, and he was quite capable of coaching up players to optimize their skills in this Rams offense. He helped the Rams in 2019 when a pair of Rams tight ends named Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt almost single-handedly willed the Rams to a successful season by playing lights out in December of that year. That allowed the team to finish with a 9-7 record.
Since Phillips has gone, you could argue that the entire tight-end group has regressed. Formerly dependable tight end Tyler Higbee, whose 2021 boasted 61 of 85 for 560 yards and five touchdowns, is only putting up 48 of 73 for 430 yards and 0 touchdowns this year. Tight end Brycen Hopkins, who flashed in Super Bowl LVI by catching all four passes thrown his way for 47 yards, is just one of three this season for 11 yards. Tight end Kendall Blanton, who was just two receptions of his two targets for 35 yards, has been cut by the team twice. Worse yet, no young tight end has made any impact on this offense this season.
Injuries? That is certainly part of the problem. But there is more to it in 2022. This team seems to have lost the ability to develop and promote younger players into contributing roles. And perhaps some of that is due to the fact that the Rams have lost very talented positional coaches. In fact, that could be a more significant contributor to the Rams’ struggles this season than we realize.