Thousand Oaks, California. When Sean McVeigh chanted “run back” at the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl parade earlier this year, the coach had no idea where his team would play nine games in the 2022 season.
Los Angeles enters Week 11 against the New Orleans Saints 3-6 after suffering injuries all over the field, but especially on offense. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was not adequately defended due to a thinned offensive line and missed last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals because he was on concussion protocol.
When McVeigh was asked if things got better after the Super Bowl season ended, he chuckled.
“Not. It makes it easier to overcome falls, is that what you’re asking? McVeigh said with a smile. “Not.”
This team’s problems with the Rams may be related to last season’s Super Bowl winner. Los Angeles traded first, second and third round picks in 2021 to acquire Stafford and Von Miller, who have been key to this championship. The result of these aggressive moves: The Rams front office had to create a 2022 team without much draft capital or salary cap flexibility.
Of course, it was unlucky not only to deal with so many injuries, but also to get them at the same time at the same time, especially since the team was recruiting new players because of who they laid off in the offseason. But while the injury rate is unlike anything McVeigh has been through, the worst came in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp suffered a high ankle sprain that required surgery and is now on injury reserve.
McVeigh won’t use injuries as an excuse for the team’s poor performance. But how did the Rams go from a Super Bowl parade in mid-February to their worst season under McVeigh since he was hired in 2017?
While no one has a clear answer, Rams COO Kevin Demoff said it’s a combination of a “difficult and unusual” season and that the team needs to learn lessons.
“Our model was a top heavyweight team that has consistently been one of the least injured teams for most of the last five to seven years. So our luck with injuries wasn’t just luck, it was part of the system.” Demoff said. “What has changed this year? Have you played 21 games as a cause of injury this year? Have we missed warning signs in the off-season? Regression to the mean? I think this year we need to look at both external factors and our approach to better understand why this year is an exception on the injury front.”
IN SPITE OF The Rams came out victorious after winning the Super Bowl, there were questions about how the franchise built the team and key elements that couldn’t be brought back.
There were reports that McVeigh was chased to enter the broadcast booth. Aaron Donald, the face of the franchise and the player who made the stoppage that secured the Super Bowl win, was considering retirement.
Instead of losing both, the Rams did everything they could to keep their core, signing McVeigh, general manager Les Sneed, Stafford and Kupp to contract extensions, and reworking Donald’s contract to make him the highest paid defenseman. player in NFL history.
Following these deals, the Rams’ core of four players – Stafford, Donald, Kupp and defenseman Jalen Ramsey – makes up 47% of the Los Angeles total, according to the roster management system. This is the second most in the NFL among the team’s top four players; only the Chiefs — quarterback Patrick Mahomes, defensive end Chris Jones, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and defensive end Frank Clark — have a higher percentage of the team’s cap. It was important to Donald, he said as he signed the new deal, that the Rams continue to build and maintain that core. But on Thursday, Donald said that no one would have thought that this team would look from the outside for a place in the playoffs.
“No one expected you to be in the 3-6 position after just finishing the season we had,” Donald said.
“But now we’re here and there’s nothing you can do but keep playing and trying to control what you can control.”
One of the key members of the Super Bowl team who did not return was Miller, who chose to sign a six-year, $120 million contract with the Buffalo Bills. The Rams didn’t have high picks in the draft and didn’t prioritize their top salary to replace Miller, instead relying on the players they had in the building to lift that performance. His absence has been felt as the Rams have struggled to get consistent pressure with the exception of Donald and have 18 sacks, 25th in the NFL.
WHEN THE WORD The word “unprecedented” is being used to describe the situation in the Rams’ offensive line this season, and that’s no exaggeration. Los Angeles has used a different offensive line in all nine games this season. According to Elias, the Rams are the first team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to use a different starting five in the offensive line in each of their first nine games.
Do these 10 different offensive line combos after Chandler Brewer, who started at right back against the Cardinals, injured his knee and was placed on injured reserve. The Rams also placed AJ Jackson on injured reserve with blood clots and will sit out the rest of the season.
The inconsistency in the line of attack manifested itself on the field. Los Angeles, which ended the 2021 season leading the NFL in scoring percentage, is 24th in scoring percentage this season. Even before all these injuries, the Rams were going through a transition in the offensive line. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth retired, while right guard Austin Corbett went free, signing a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers.
The Rams tried to use their draft capital to add some depth by using their top pick in the draft – a third-round pick – on defenseman Logan Bruce, who tore the ACL and MCL in preseason.
This season, the Rams have played three left-backs (Joe Noteboom, Jackson, Ty Nsehe), three left-backs (David Edwards, Bobby Evans, Coleman Shelton), three centers (Brian Allen, Shelton, Jeremy Colone) and four right-backs ( Shelton, Tremaine Ancherm Jr., Oday Abushi, Brewer). Right tackle Rob Havenstein is the only offensive lineman to play for the Rams in all nine games.
“Everyone was talking about the offensive line consisting of five people, one unit combined,” said offensive coordinator Liam Cohen. “Well, when you have injuries, you have a bit of a revolving door, it’s hard for everyone to get on the same page and do things as one, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
And not only are changes in the offensive line making it difficult for this offense to consistently move the ball, but it’s also been a challenge for Stafford to be without wide receiver Van Jefferson for six games, and now Kupp for at least four.
AFTER THE RAM after losing to the Cardinals, Donald went to look for Kupp in the locker room.
“I just went in there and hugged him and said I love him,” Donald said.
The Rams must replace not only Kupp’s game on the field, but what he means to this team.
“He’s a big spark, and not just in this crime,” Donald said. “To this team.”
Kupp accounted for 34% of the Rams’ receptions this season, the highest in the NFL. According to Sportzshala Stats & Information, Kupp entered the Rams’ Week 10 game with 72 catches, allowing him to rack up 153 catches in a 17-game season. The single-season NFL record is 149 set by Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas in 2019.
The Rams will use a “committee” approach to replace Kupp’s workload, Cohen said Thursday, and he feels good “about Brandon Powell, Ben Skowronek, Van Jefferson, Allen Robinson, those guys who come in and make an impact.” .
“As well as [we’ll] look what Lance McCutcheon and these guys, Tutu Atwell – we have a committee of guys who really need to step up.”
Kupp had ankle surgery on Wednesday and will be out for at least four weeks, although McVeigh mentioned that the “tightrope” procedure that was performed on Kupp usually has a recovery time of five to six weeks. Unless the Rams change drastically this season and are in contention for a playoff spot in six weeks, it may not make sense to bring Kupp back on the field for the last few games.
At 3-6, Sportzshala The Football Strength Index gives the Rams a 4.3% chance of making the playoffs and a 0.5% chance of winning the NFC West, where Los Angeles is currently in the bottom.
For now, the front office may be looking ahead to the 2023 draft. The Rams will be in line for a top-10 draft pick, but their 2023 first-round pick will go to Detroit in the trade that brought Stafford to Los Angeles. The team currently has six picks in the 2023 draft, although four are in the sixth or seventh rounds.
Despite the big odds, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris reiterated twice on Thursday that he doesn’t consider this season over and won’t be until the Rams are out of playoff contention.
“[Other NFC teams] If we win and we lose, there won’t be much time, right? Morris said. “So everything is decided on that basis.”
But even though the Rams didn’t make it out of the playoffs, McVeigh said he was forced to focus on more than wins and losses, instead trying to find “some of those little wins” this season.
“Do we want to go out and win every game based on the amount of work and how important it is to so many people?” McVey said. “Of course. But I think you have to be able to be process oriented so as not to let that three hour window completely take over your ability to move forward.
“You have to remind yourself of this. So it was difficult, but that’s the approach you take.
“I believe that when you look back, it will lead to a lot of growth, which will hopefully be useful in the coming years.”