clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Never too early for an NFC West concession speech

New, comments
NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Aaron Donald, quarterback toss gold medalist, at work
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Rams on winning the 2018 NFC West, five and a half months before Week 1.

We all know that copious free agent spending and bold trades lead directly to wins. Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh are guaranteed to fit right in, come together as a defensive unit, as free agents always have with their new team.

It also has recently become evident that Sean McVay has re-invented offensive football. He will automatically be mentioned henceforth in the same breath as Bill Walsh. If Walsh is lucky. McVay’s schemes and tactics are so far ahead of the rest of the league that before he has bothered to win even a single playoff game, defensive coordinators everywhere have already cried “Uncle!” Or “Nephew!” (That’s a clever joke about McVay being just 32, you see.)

Forget all about the so-called Greatest Show On Turf, and its multiple Super Bowl blowout victories spearheaded by the dynamic and dynastic Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. That shit is so passé. There is no stopping the New West Coast Offense, as led by league co-MVPs Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, for whom a passer rating north of 100 is the new normal. Or the new baseline! After all, the sky* is the limit now

*or 158.3, technically

Looking back, one of the underrated factors that pushed Los Angeles over the top this coming season was their players’ continued good health. It’s a shame the Seattle Seahawks suffered so many injuries again, harming their ability to keep pace with the charmed Rams. Well, what can you do when the injury bug spares a team like LA, again? Good luck is just part of their identity now. No reason that should ever change.

So, congratulations, Rams, you did it. The sorry rest of us in the division will sit in our poopchairs of mediocrity and pine/hope/pray for better days ahead. What other option do we have? Besides wait for the next decade maybe, if it all breaks right for us and our second- or third-rate franchises. Am I right, fellow resigned fans in San Francisco and Phoenix?

Spoiler: I am not right

Sure, fine, yes. All kidding aside, it is #Not #Good for Russell Wilson, for our Seahawks, or for our group ulcers, that the Rams boosted their already dominant defensive line. The job of winning the division just got a little harder, probably. Somehow, watching Seahawks-Rams got even a little more annoying, which didn’t seem possible. Look: it sucks that Suh joined a d-line on which he is not the best player. I wish it had not happened.

It is never pleasant to watch a division rival add talented players, former All-Pro-level players, potential play-wreckers and game-changers, especially not when you spend weeks wondering which of your own team’s stars will return at all.

But. (And it’s a very nice but.) The concession speech above is full of holes so big that if it were a colander, all your noodles would be down the drain. Sad.

There’s a reason Talib was available, a reason the Chiefs dealt Peters, a reason Suh never got an extension from the Lions or the Dolphins. All three men are immensely talented. And all three men were unwanted by their previous teams. That means something. Either they played their way out of the team’s budget, or out of their front office’s hearts, or their age scared a GM off. Talib is 32, Suh is 31. Peters clashed with coaches, reportedly.

If titles were won with splashy free agent acquisitions and blockbuster trades for cast-off still-great and once-great players, the 2015 and 2017 Seahawks would have had parades. Say, remember when the Seahawks got Sheldon Richardson for Jermaine Kearse and a draft pick? The resulting Seattle defensive front was supposed to be unstoppable. It was not. Shit happens.

Say, remember the last time the Rams had a stacked defensive line? That would be the years of 2012-2017. Where does the series stand between them and the Seahawks since 2012? Tied at six victories apiece.

To get back to the Rams’ leadership: McVay is a good coach, judging by his first year. His offense led the league in points at 29.9, his play design and play calling both draw plenty of compliments, but he’s also going to get figured out. The league will scout McVay like their jobs depend on it. Because, yeah. 31 defensive coordinators and their staffs wil work 120-hour weeks to develop counters to his scheme. The read-option was unstoppable, until teams started containing it with smart adjustments.

Now Goff is a bit of a wild card moving forward. He probably isn’t as bad as the 54.6 percent completion, 5-7 TD-INT mark, 5.3 YA and 63.6 passer rating of his rocky rookie year. (Yeesh.) But at the same time, he also probably isn’t as good as his 28 TD and seven interceptions suggest from last year, and he probably won’t lead the league again in ANY/A at 7.72, which by the way matches the 7.73 Wilson put up during his MVP-caliber year of 2015.

Goff isn’t as good as Wilson. But he’s better than Jimmy Clausen. 2018 will tell us a great deal about which of those two opposite quarpterbacking poles he gravitates toward.

At last, time to address the injuries. Oversll roster health drives success and failure in the National Football League more than any other external factor.

The brilliant minds over at footballoutsiders.com run an annual statistic called “Adjusted Games Lost,” which measures the toll injuries took on each team. The lower the number, the healthier the team remained in 2017. Take a wild guess which squad avoided injury more than any other? (Hint: we’re talking about them a great deal today, and in this post.)

The Rams weren’t just the recipients of good fortune on the injury front last season — they were twice as healthy as the healthiest team from 2016. Which happened to also be the Rams. I would never wish injury on any particular player or team, but there is literally nowhere for the franchise to go but down in 2018. Probability demands it.

A quick 2017 AGL rundown:

1. Rams 15.8

2. Falcons 16.3

3. Titans 27.6

4. Steelers 30.5

5. Cowboys 37.2

...

22. Seahawks 88.2

...

32. R*dskins 121.0

I’m not forgetting 42-7 at the Clink. That happened. The Rams had their way with the Seahawks in the biggest game of the year, in Seattle, Week 15, division on the line, everyone’s chips pushed all-in. That result notwithstanding, a lot of things had to go right for Los Angeles to finish atop the NFC West. Are we really so sure they’ll be quite as fortunate in 2018?

The List of Do’s

Besides, there are five transactional things a team must do well to win consistently. And none of them are “go out and splurge on the fanciest players out there.”

A) Draft well. The Rams haven’t selected poorly recently, but there are definitely three stages to their drafting in the last decade.

2007-2010: Zero Pro Bowlers, which seems barely possible.

2011-2015: Some All-Pros — Todd Gurley, Robert Quinn, Greg Zeurlein, and of course Donald — and some supporting pieces. A lot of big hits, a lot of big misses.

2016-2017: Jared Goff (at 1.1) and not much else, maybe Cooper Kupp and we’ll see about Pharaoh Cooper and John Johnson. Tyler Bigbee might become something but isn’t yet. Like other teams, LA will need to draft well in 2018 to keep its good thing going.

Seahawks fans know a bad draft can sink a team, and a couple consecutive subpar drafts can wreak havoc on even a great roster. We saw Tim Ruskell lose his touch as the last decade sputtered to an end; we saw John Schneider come away from the 2013-14-15 drafts with a grand total of five decent players: Justin Britt, Frank Clark, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Luke Willson. Only three remain Seahawks.

B) Manage the cap with competence. Committing only one year to Suh keeps them out of trouble in 2019, but will they make more good decisions than bad when it comes to paying Donald, Goff and others? Attracting and paying talent is easy when you’ve got a QB on a rookie contract. It’’s not so easy in 2019, when the big extension comes due.

C) Trot out a franchise quarterback. Speaking of the QB one last time. LA is either set well into the next decade like Seattle, or about to make a Joe-Flacco-sized error, or about to enter QB purgatory, a place with which Andy Dalton and his Bengals are very familiar. You know, where your quarterback is good enough to get you a winning record, but not good enough to take you deep in the playoffs — but you feel like you have to pay him anyway because the alternative is going back into the draft, whre busts await. The possible outcomes are treacherously divergent.

D) Trade with more good outcomes than bad. You must trade. But trade wisely. If it’s football immortality you’re after, sometimes you gotta pick up the clinky chalice of clay and drink from that one, instead of choosing the shiny golden one encrusted with gems. In other words, make the small moves too. So often it’s the little things that matter.

E) Get lucky. To enjoy a special season, it is imperative that you get a kick to bounce in off the upright, or a fumble to playfully squib your direction once or twice, or a drive-killing penalty flag to remain unthrown, while the injury gnome steals some other team’s keys to victory. Especially the last one. Six teams lost fewer than 40 adjusted games. Five of them made the playoffs. That’s not a coincidence.

I can’t guarantee that the Seahawks will hit A) through E) this season. But I can guarantee that the Rams will whiff on something up there in the list, maybe even multiple somethings. Which would be easily enough for them to regress into a 9-7 or 8-8 result. Then, if they do win the division anyway, it was meant to be from the start.