Los Angeles Rams 2019 Season Preview
By Jesse Pierson
Special to Pro Football Guru
The 2018 Rams rode an explosive offense and a takeaway-prone defense all the way to the Super Bowl, coming up short in a slugfest against New England. Todd Gurley led the league in total touchdowns (21) while Aaron Donald set the pace with 20.5 sacks, enough to garner NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. Several key pieces of last year's roster departed in free agency, but a young nucleus is still in place to keep the Rams at or near the top of the NFC in 2019. Will Sean McVay be able to stave off a Super Bowl hangover?
Offense: Much is riding on the health of Todd Gurley's left knee. After putting up a combined 45 yards on 14 carries in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, one can only hope that Gurley will be fully recovered following an offseason of rest and recovery. In order to replicate last season's success, Gurley will be relying on two new starters up front; Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom are replacing John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold at center and left guard, respectively. Also noteworthy is four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who will turn 38 in December. A backslide along the O-line is certainly possible this year. On the bright side, Jared Goff still has Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and a healthy Cooper Kupp. Tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett are nothing to sneeze at, either.
Defense: Aaron Donald lost his running mate in Ndamukong Suh, who signed with Tampa Bay in May. However, Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews bring extensive veteran leadership to offset the loss. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib return on the perimeter, hoping to lock receivers up long enough for Donald, Matthews, Dante Fowler Jr., Samson Ebukam and/or Michael Brockers to get pressure on the opposing quarterback. Rookie safety Taylor Rapp (the team's first draft selection in April at No. 61) should see the field in sub packages as well. His positional versatility surely enticed general manager Les Snead and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Ultimately, though, this defense will go only as far as Donald can take them. That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering his peers voted him as the best player in the league on NFL Network's Top 100.
Special Teams: Kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter Johnny Hekker, and long snapper Jake McQuaide are all back for another go-round, while JoJo Natson will be given first crack at returning both kickoffs and punts. Natson has speed to burn, but he must prove that his fumbling woes are behind him, lest he end up in John Fassel's doghouse (or the unemployment line).
Prediction: Gurley's uncertain health and a difficult schedule cost the Rams early on, and they will have to make up ground in the second half of the season. Fortunately, they have a bye week in the exact midpoint of their schedule, which allows them to regroup and right the ship for a playoff push late. Don't be surprised if this team struggles to gain traction for a while—a 1-4 start isn't entirely out of the question. This should still be a playoff contender, and a few lucky breaks could even keep the NFC West crown in Los Angeles for the third straight year.
Record: 10-6 (2nd place, NFC West, Wild Card playoffs)
Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) is a former teacher and high school football coach who has written about the Colts for over a decade. He loves football, dogs, food, and comedy, and you can follow his work on his Facebook page, Jesse Pierson, Mediocre Writer.