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NFL Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Rams

Credit: Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

The Los Angeles Rams finished the season 11-5 and will look to capture their second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

The Los Angeles Rams and their top-ranked scoring offense (29.8 points per game) enter the playoffs looking to complete a turnaround season from a year ago with a Super Bowl win. First-year head coach, Sean McVay has guided last season’s 4-12 Rams team to an 11-5 record and an NFC West title.

MVP candidate Todd Gurley and sophomore phenom Jared Goff will attempt to continue their impressive run, as the Rams play host to the Atlanta Falcons, who secured the final Wild Card spot in the NFC with a commanding 22-10 victory over the playoff-bound Carolina Panthers. Los Angeles will need their dominant offense to maintain their level of play if they wish to hoist the Lombardi trophy for the first time since 2000.

Key Players

Offense: RB Todd Gurley, QB Jared Goff  

The improved play from these two players has been the driving force in their journey from the last-ranked offense (14.0 points per game) just a year ago to the top of the league this season. After an underwhelming 2016-17 campaign, in which he rushed for just 885 yards on 278 carries (3.2 yards per carry), Gurley severely elevated his play, as he led the NFL in total touchdowns with 19, while pacing the league with a whopping 2,093 yards from scrimmage.

Along with Gurley’s MVP-caliber level of play, second-year Quarterback Jared Goff also impressed. After struggling mightily in his rookie season, not many expected the jump that Goff took to finish the season with 3,804 passing yards, while throwing 28 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. Look for these two to anchor the Rams’ high-powered offense against a stingy Carolina defense.

Defense: DT Aaron Donald, LB Alec Ogletree

The 28th-ranked rushing defense (122.4 yards allowed per game) will need to step up in the playoffs and will have their work cut out for them against the Panthers’ fourth ranked rushing offense (131.4 yards per game). Nevertheless, the Rams’ streaky defense did have some playmakers, including Donald and Ogletree. One of the most consistent pass-rushers in the NFL, Donald continued his dominance in his fourth season, leading Los Angeles with 11.0 sacks, while finishing second in the league in forced fumbled with five. Donald provided constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks week in and week out to lead the Rams’ defensive line.

Meanwhile, another member of Los Angeles’s front seven in Alec Ogletree has a solid year. The fifth-year man out of Georgia was a presence all over the field, as he led the Rams with 95 total tackles, while recording two sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. These two will look to lead the Rams defense in an attempt to slow down Cam Newton and the dynamic Panthers’ offense.

Best Win and Worst Loss: 

Best Win: 26-20 over New Orleans Saints (Week 11)

In a game that featured two of the top teams in the NFC, both sitting at 8-2, the Rams used solid defense and four Greg Zuerlein field goals to take down the Saints. It was a good all-around performance, as Los Angeles’s defense held Drew Brees to just 96 yards passing through three quarters, while Jared Goff picked apart the Saints’ secondary en route to 354 passing yards and two touchdowns.

Furthermore, playing without wideout Robert Woods, rookie Cooper Kupp stepped into his role and delivered an impressive stat line, hauling in eight passes for 116 yards. This win gave the Rams their first non-losing season since 2006 and firmly established them as a legit playoff contender.

Worst Loss: 16-10 to Seattle Seahawks

Although at the time, Seattle had most of their starters available on defense and were still considered a playoff threat, the Rams were gifted with several opportunities, Thanks to solid defense, the Rams weren’t able to capitalize on them; the last one being the most frustrating. 

Even with all the missed opportunities, they still had a chance to come out with a victory, as Jared Goff attempted to lead Los Angeles on a game-winning drive; however, Goff missed a wide-open Cooper Kupp on a potential touchdown pass, which he followed up with an incompletion to seal the loss. This loss questioned the Rams’ ability to perform in clutch situations.

Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams

Week 6: 27-17 Win at (3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 11: 7-24 Loss at (2) Minnesota Vikings
Week 12: 26-20 Win vs (4) New Orleans Saints
Week 14: 35-43 Loss vs (1) Philadelphia Eagles
Week 16: 27-23 Win at (5) Tennessee Titans

Positives: The Rams were able to secure three wins out of the five playoff teams they faced, with their only two losses coming against the top two seeds in the NFC playoffs. They only had one bad loss against the Vikings and their top-ranked defense (15.8 points allowed per game) and they played the top-seeded Eagles, with a healthy Carson Wentz for most of the game. Winning three games against quality playoff teams, while letting one get away from them bodes well for their Super Bowl chances.

Negatives: In their five games against playoff teams, the Rams’ defense gave up an average of 25.4 points per game. Their defense showed a lack of ability to deliver against tough, playoff-bound opponents. Moreover, Los Angeles was unable to grab a win against either of the top two seeds in the NFC. This could spell trouble for the Rams’ Super Bowl hopes, should they get matched up against the Eagles or Vikings in the NFC Championship.

Performance Leading into the Postseason:

The Rams concluded the season having won four of six, with their last game, a loss against the 49ers, coming with several key players being rested for the playoffs. During this stretch, they averaged 29.2 points per game; Todd Gurley was a big key to this late season success, averaging 175.4 total yards per game, while amassing eight touchdowns in the games he played. Although only three of the six games came against playoff teams, Gurley and the rest of the Rams’ offense still displayed their ability to score at will.

Defensively, however, they weren’t as sound, as they surrendered 23.8 points per game over their final six; this is an increase from their season average of 20.8. If Los Angeles continues to struggle with limiting their opponents’ scoring, their playoff run could be limited.

Level of Contender: High

The Rams have as good of chance as any team to come out of the NFC and advance to the Super Bowl. Their high-powered offense led by MVP-candidate, Todd Gurley, combined with Jared Goff’s high level of play presents a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. I like them to defeat the Falcons at home, and if their defense can be consistent in the playoffs, they can very well challenge anyone for the NFC Championship.

Edited by Brian Kang.

Who led the Rams in receiving yards this season?
Created 1/4/18
  1. Sammy Watkins
  2. Todd Gurley
  3. Cooper Kupp
  4. Robert Woods

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