It’s week 5 of the NFL season and the 1-3 Washington Football Team will be facing a 3-1 Rams at home in FedExField. For the first time this season, the Washington Football Team will be allowing a limited number of people into the stadium to watch the game, though attendance will be restricted to the family of players on the team.
The Rams have been a consistently good team ever since Head Coach Sean McVay took charge of the team. Although they were 4-12 the year before McVay joined, he led them to an 11-5 record the very next year and the Rams haven’t had fewer than 9 wins in a season since this change in leadership. McVay is known for featuring a dynamic offense that utilizes a lot of play action (the most in the NFL) and misdirection to scheme players open. Rams GM Les Snead has been criticized in some circles for handing out high dollar contracts to players like QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley (no longer on the team) as well as trading away two 1st round picks for CB Jalen Ramsey. Their roster somewhat resembles a “stars and scrubs” fantasy roster in terms of the value of player contracts, but Snead has managed to fill in roster holes by trading down and finding quality starting players in the middle and late rounds of the draft.
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Kenneth Arthur of Turf Show Times five questions about the state of the Rams and what to look for in this game.
1) The Rams have been managed by GM Les Snead since 2012. How would you describe his management style as well as his strengths and weaknesses? Are Rams fans happy with him as the GM?
Les Snead helped build a perennial playoff team with the Falcons in the early years of Matt Ryan’s tenure as a scout and then the director of player personnel from 2009 to 2011. He came from an organization and a front office that was trade happy, liked making big moves, such as trading up for Julio Jones in 2011. This mentality has continued over his eight years as the Rams GM, including the huge draft deal to land Jared Goff in 2016 and subsequent deals involving first round picks for Jalen Ramsey and Brandin Cooks, the latter of whom is now gone in a separate trade for a second round pick that was used on receiver Van Jefferson (we probably won’t see much of him this week). He was also the GM on the other end of a “Goff trade” when Washington moved up for Robert Griffin III in 2012 and he got 3 first round picks in return that time. The best way to describe him is “active” and probably the best GM for a franchise that would move to Los Angeles in 2016 and be featured on Hard Knocks twice in four years because “It’s Hollywood, baby!” The Rams seem to be making the news every other day for big news, whether it’s a contract extension, a trade or releasing Todd Gurley before his contract extension even kicked in.
That leads to the negative feelings about Snead, which are overzealous deals for players like Cooks and Gurley and perhaps Goff and the end result is that they had little money to spend this offseason (watching five or six starters leave in free agency) and are set to be way over the cap in 2021. There’s also something to the fact that even when targeting good players like Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and Cooks, these are also players that frequently change teams and so it shouldn’t be that shocking that from 2019 to 2020 they had to move on from all of those players. The preferred method would be to acquire players who can help get you to a Super Bowl .. and then keep helping for three or four more years. There’s some lack of foresight on Snead’s part with regards to some of these acquisitions and extensions.
On the positive side, the Rams are 3-1 and they haven’t posted a losing season since 2016. They have Aaron Donald (Snead’s pick in 2014, albeit the one he made AFTER selecting Greg Robinson at two) and Ramsey and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods and Andrew Whitworth and while I think Sean McVay is more responsible for their success, Snead’s aggressive nature helped get McVay what he needed. The organization extended both of them through 2023 and I think on this current path, fans will be happy with getting back to the playoffs. The “bad contracts” and expended first round picks will be fully in the past eventually and I think fans are hopeful that he’s learned from those deals. Getting Ramsey is worth two first round picks though.
2) Last offseason, Sean McVay fired Super Bowl winning DC Wade Phillips and replaced him with 37 year old LB coach Brandon Staley. What motivated the change, how has Staley changed the defense, and what do you think of the defense from a schematic/coaching point of view so far this season?
As fun as it is to think we might know something about a new player or coach after four games, the truth is that I don’t have a good answer for you at this juncture regarding how Brandon Staley is different from Wade Phillips. The truth about both of these new “coordinators” is that they work for Sean McVay and they have the same roster (mostly) as the last coaches did. The defense has a lot more to do with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey than it does with Staley or Phillips. Ramsey being another component that makes it difficult to judge how they are “different” from one another; Phillips coached Ramsey for barely half of one season. How would Phillips have changed with a full year to work with Ramsey?
Additionally, the team lost Dante Fowler Jr, Cory Littleton, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Clay Matthews, and Eric Weddle from the 2019 defense. They don’t have the same personnel, so the plan is different. Staley brought in Leonard Floyd to bring run defense and to soak up some of those blitzes that used to go to Matthews. He also had Ramsey playing in the slot for most of the last game, a new wrinkle that’s not been seen before. In those cases, Troy Hill and Darious Williams — a rising star on the Rams who could be much more well known by 2021 — play the outside. Andy Benoit broke down how the Rams used fire zone blitz against the Giants in Week 4 to help get Ramsey involved in a sack of Daniel Jones, who went down quite a few times last week. The Rams are playing a lot of zone and in general the defense has worked, they rank fourth against the pass by net yards per attempt. However, they are going to face some better quarterbacks than the NFC East as the year goes on and Josh Allen helped the Bills put up 35 points by eating breakfast, lunch and fourth meal in the middle of the field.
I think the change was sparked by the Rams peaking at a “just above average defense” for three years under Phillips and McVay wants to find an elite defense if the team is going to be paying Donald and Ramsey over $20 million per year. He’s called Staley his “own McVay.”
3) The Rams recently hired former Washington OC Kevin O’Connell. What impression do you have of him as a coach and have you seen anything new from the offense since he was brought on?
I have virtually no insight into what amount of control O’Connell has with the offense and the team. McVay’s history with OCs is that he had Matt LaFleur in 2017 and then he went to the Titans for one year and then became the Packers head coach and is 17-3. In 2018, McVay turned some duties over to Aaron Kromer as run game coordinator and Shane Waldron as pass game coordinator. They still have those duties and Kromer is also the offensive line coach. Jedd Fisch served as “assistant offensive coordinator” in 2019 and is now the QB coach with the Patriots. And now there’s O’Connell. It seems like most teams obviously have “AN OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR” and you can easily talk about their style and what they do and how the plays are called and this and that and the other thing, but not with Sean McVay. I don’t fully understand how all four of those people — McVay, O’Connell, Kromer, Waldron — “coordinate” every practice and game but here’s what I feel I do know:
- The Rams run the most play action in the NFL. O’Connell’s lack of play action experience with Washington may have contributed to Ron Rivera choosing Scott Turner, but he’s getting a lot of work with Goff in that area. I think working with Goff is O’Connell’s main job.
- Sean McVay calls the plays. He let Waldron do some playcalling in the 2019 preseason for practice but there was no 2020 preseason so nobody else could practice McVay’s offense.
- McVay is the best “screenwriter” in the NFL. They’ve scored a touchdown on three of their first four opening drives. Against the Eagles, they scored a TD on their first three drives.
- Goff has cut down on his mistakes and bad throws. I see a more conservative and more efficient Goff this season and that could have to do with O’Connell, to some degree.
- I don’t think O’Connell will last long. He seems more on the LaFleur and Zac Taylor (Rams QB coach in 2018) path.
4) The Rams have already played our division rival Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants this season. What impression did you have about those teams from your matchups with them and what do you think their season will be like going forward?
Pardon my brevity on this question but after the last three, I’ll make it quick: they all suck.
Like, the Giants really, really suck. The Cowboys could have been okay if they had La’el Collins, Tyron Smith and Leighton Vander Esch all healthy, but they still would have sucked; you can’t tell me a team’s entire success hinges on the tackles and an off-ball linebacker. And the Eagles pretty much suck a lot. That’s my evaluation. I don’t do predictions but I think I’d like to see Washington find a way to win the division after all the hate and skepticism they’ve received this year.
5) If you were Washington, how would you gameplan to beat the Rams on offense and defense?
I’m not much of a game planner and I can’t tell my Xs from my Os, but simply put the Rams offense comes apart without successful outside zone runs and we saw that in Week 4 against the Giants. Like Washington, their team strength is on the defensive line and that showed up with Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown unable to get anything going in the run game. McVay said leading up to the game that it was a pain to plan how to run against New York and then it all came true. He said after the game that the Rams struggled to run inside and outside, so that’s why they only put up 17 points and were never able to get going. Rookie second round running back Cam Akers will return this week and I expect to see him get a few touches. Maybe more if he’s the hot hand.
Defensively, the Rams have their biggest weaknesses at linebacker. Micah Kiser is a first time starter and he’s had his ups and downs, winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 2 but missing seven tackles in Week 1. He was hurt last week but it’s not supposed to be serious. Troy Reeder, Kenny Young, Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnio Okoronkwo and Floyd round out the group, with Floyd as the only regular contributor other than Kiser. Teams have also thrown a lot at Troy Hill because Ramsey and Williams are so good and those passes have been successful. But Hill plays better on the outside, so maybe we’ll see more of Ramsey on the inside this week. I imagine his assignment is Terry McLaurin, but the Rams might trust Hill or Williams with that assignment too. Also, if you can’t stop Donald the pass rusher, teams will attempt to run around those issues. If you can run around Donald, that may open up more things in the passing game down the line. Good luck running around Aaron Donald and not finding a consequence though.
Thanks again to Kenneth Arthur for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Rams.
As of right now, Vegas has the Rams as 7 point favorites over Washington. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Rams win by more than 7 points
Rams win by 7 or fewer points
Washington wins outright
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 46.5 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
47 or more total points are scored (both sides combined)
Fewer than 47 total points are scored (both sides combined)