The New York Jets visit the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Kenneth Arthur of Turf Show Times was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2020 Rams. Many thanks to Kenneth for his responses.
1. Jared Goff has always seemed like an average-ish quarterback. In year five, do Rams fans share that assessment? Is Goff good enough for Rams fans to think of him as the long term answer at quarterback, or is there sentiment he may need to be replaced if he doesn’t develop further?
I can’t really speak for every Rams fan on anything, but especially when it comes to Jared Goff. There’s always been divisiveness there, as I believe there is with most quarterbacks, even good ones. I am sure that there are probably a number of Jets fans out there who would say that the team should keep Sam Darnold and others who would be excited to draft another QB in the top-3 again. Especially someone like Trevor Lawrence, who football fans have been drooling over for three years, and it is rare to see any prospect maintain that level of NFL admiration from his freshman year to his first year of eligibility. Which leads me back to Goff. I do not think that when Goff was drafted, he had the same level of awe as players like Lawrence, Joe Burrow or Andrew Luck, to cite a few examples from the previous decade. I believe a lot of people, Rams fans included, have recognized that Goff came into the league with something to prove and has yet to sink the “prove-it” shot. And that’s okay for a number of reasons, including that he did demonstrate that he can serve the offense well enough to reach the Super Bowl, that he is only 26 and that the strength of the Rams does not have to be at quarterback. No team’s strength has to be at quarterback in order to be successful at the highest levels. The position has become overrated and the focus on quarterbacks needing to be this imaginary “elite” is tiresome.
2. Aaron Donald is disgustingly, outrageously great. Is there any way to neutralize this guy? Has any Rams opponent been at all effective in doing so over time? If so, what have they done to accomplish the feat?
I suppose the answer to that question lies somewhere in the design and talent of your offense. There are certain teams that appear to “neutralize” Donald, but those teams don’t necessarily run the types of plays that a player like Donald will naturally thrive against. What I mean by that is that Donald didn’t have any stats against the Bucs, but Tom Brady gets the ball out quick and he’s playing behind a good offensive line in Tampa. The Seahawks “neutralized” Donald, but allowed six sacks to his teammates in doing so. LA won both of those games and the Rams are 6-3 when Donald gets a sack, 3-1 when he doesn’t. I think if the mindset is “We need to stop Donald, we need to stop Donald, we need to stop Donald,” then a team has already lost, in some way. Because for one, let’s say Donald gets 30 pass rushing snaps against your left guard and/or your center and/or your right guard. Out of 30 snaps, the best player in the NFL might go ahead and win 2-3 of those. He might even win 7-8, if the offensive line isn’t good. And that may not result in eight sacks, but it could result in two sacks, four QB hits and two hurries. Right? And your offensive line still “won” 22 snaps in the WORST case scenario. The point isn’t to necessarily take Donald out of the game. To me, the point is, what did you do on those other 22 snaps? What did you do on those 25 run plays? Most teams will lose a few battles to a player as good as Donald. Could you win your matchups against Darious Williams and Leonard Floyd and John Johnson though?
3. The Rams defense went from sort of middle of the pack last year to arguably the best defense in the NFL this year. What has been the reason(s) for the big jump?
I always start with personnel before coaching, so I’ll start there. I think LA’s offseason losses on defense turned out to be mostly beneficial. Inside linebacker Cory Littleton could still be thriving with the Rams but he’s struggling in his first year with the Raiders. Dante Fowler had 11.5 sacks playing for Wade Phillips but he has two with the Falcons this season. Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews passed their prime 30 or 40 miles ago. Then there were some internal improvements. The Rams got an unexpected upgrade at safety with sixth round rookie Jordan Fuller replacing Taylor Rapp alongside John Johnson, who returned after missing 10 games in 2019. Staying in the secondary, LA got full seasons at cornerback from Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams, which is a significant upgrade as compared to where they had been at the tail end of the Marcus Peters-Aqib Talib duo. And Leonard Floyd’s been okay most weeks, great a couple of times after signing a one-year deal in free agency to rush the quarterback. The other thing would be Phillips being replaced by Brandon Staley at defensive coordinator and given the success on that side of the ball, I expect to hear his name in coaching interviews. He might even be near the top of the list. That’s deserving but I still point to the fact that this team has Donald, Ramsey and a few notably talented players between them.
4. If you were responsible for gameplanning to beat the Rams, how would you go about things on offense and on defense?
I am a terrible gameplanner and I would probably mix up my Xs and Os with my Ps and Qs. Stop the run and take Goff’s play action and opportunity to get on the move out of LA’s offensive game plan. Protect the football. Win the turnover battle, because the Rams have turned the ball over at least once in all 13 games. Even the Jets have only turned the ball over in 10 games this season. Make your field goals. Call your parents and wish them a “happy holidays” (in case you don’t know what your parents celebrate.)
5. The Rams haven’t picked in the first round of the draft since they chose Jared Goff 1st overall in 2016. The Rams have had a lot of success since then, but not surprisingly given the dearth of premium draft picks, their draft choices have not had a huge impact. Cooper Kupp and John Johnson in the 2017 draft have become big contributors, and there have been a few others along the way, but overall this Rams team has not been built on the last four drafts. One of the consequences is a team that Overthecap.com estimates is currently about $20 million over the estimated 2021 salary cap. Do you think this is a sustainable business model? Do you think the Rams will make a priority of holding on to their premium draft assets in the future?
Not that anything in 2020 makes any sense, but do those numbers at Overthecap make sense to you? Because I am also there every single day and I am also not sure how it is supposed to work that 13 teams are projected to be “over the cap” (so to speak) in 2021 and another five are meant to be within $10 million of the cap. Does that mean that 18 teams are meant to be cutting players instead of adding players? Forget about the Rams, is that a sustainable economy for THE NFL? You have to be careful citing overthecap’s estimates with impunity. Let’s take a look at why they’ve come up with a $176 million projected cap for 2021, which is significantly lower than the 2020 salary cap. The last report I see about the 2021 salary cap says that the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed that the floor for the 2021 salary cap will be $175 million. And: “If revenues are better than expected, the 2021 salary cap could be higher. This year’s salary cap will remain at $198.2 million.” Because the NFL has been able to play every game this season, and it seems that will continue onto the Super Bowl, I imagine that OtC will eventually be raising that by as much as $25 million. By a snap of the fingers, LA’s projected cap will go from $20-$25 million in the red to basically dead even. At that point, I would expect LA to be able to maneuver their cash around in some way to retain a player or two and to maybe have essentially the same offseason next year that they had this year. That was enough to re-sign Michael Brockers and bring in Leonard Floyd, then they extended Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Jalen Ramsey. The Rams expect to be in the same position in 2021 that they were in 2020 and I think that’s reasonable, because the Rams are a pretty good team right now. I never try to look more than three years down the line (most teams will look so much different in three years) and when you’re successful, I don’t tend to look past the current season and then maybe next season. By 2022, LA can be well below whatever the cap is by then. But as to the 2021 salary cap, we’ll need to wait and see how the NFL and NFLPA respond with a solution because they aren’t going to allow a league that doesn’t pay its players on an upward slope, which is exactly what we’ve continued to see with recent deals.