Rams out to prove their fiscally friendlier offense can yield big returns
The centerpiece of the Rams’ offense the last three years now lines up in the backfield for the Atlanta Falcons. The deep threat that opened up the passing game is running routes for the Houston Texans.
But at what price to this season’s offense?
The Rams will find out Sept. 13 when they open in their new SoFi Stadium home against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Can’t wait to see it come to life,” coach Sean McVay said in a phone interview, “and see if we can do some good stuff.”
McVay, his coaches and his players said throughout training camp that they do not anticipate a drastic philosophical change in an offense that ranked among the NFL’s best in 2017 and 2018 before slipping last season.
The Rams ranked seventh in yards per game and 11th in scoring, but finished with a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons under McVay.
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Immediately afterward, McVay remade his coaching staff. On offense, he hired Kevin O’Connell as a nonplay-calling coordinator, and tabbed Thomas Brown to replace Skip Peete as running backs coach.
O’Connell, 35, will fill a role that had been vacant on McVay’s staff since 2017, when Matt LaFleur served as the titled offensive coordinator. McVay remains the play-caller, but O’Connell will help formulate game plans and also serve as quarterbacks coach for Jared Goff and backup John Wolford.
“It’s just a constant revolving role where one week it may be one thing and the next it might be something completely different,” O’Connell said of his coordinator’s responsibilities. “But it’s whatever helps assist Sean in his capacity as a play-caller, as well as making sure we’re organized and able to make the most out of every opportunity we get.”
Goff begins his fifth NFL season looking to bounce back from a statistically subpar 2019, when he passed for 22 touchdowns, with 16 interceptions.
Running backs Malcolm Brown, Cam Akers are expected to share carries that went almost exclusively to Gurley. Josh Reynolds and perhaps rookie Van Jefferson will be utilized as deep threats in place of Cooks.
And McVay and Goff are expected to rely more heavily on multiple tight ends in the running and passing game.
Success will depend on the play of an offensive line that has regrouped after being ravaged by injuries last season.
Veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein, who is coming off knee surgery, said the offense will be “obviously different” without Gurley and Cooks.
“That just creates another opportunity for guys to come in, step up, show what they got and put their own sprinkle on kind of what they can do,” Havenstein said. “It’s going to be a little flavor difference, but we’re still going to be the Los Angeles Rams.”
Goff still has weapons to work with. Receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods each had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season, and Goff has said he aimed to have three 1,000-yard receivers in 2020.
Reynolds, a fourth-year pro, started two games in 2019 and played most of another after Cooks suffered concussions. Jefferson, a second-round draft pick from Florida, appears ready to contribute in several roles.
“We’re not like the flashiest group of receivers, but we’re just up there with production, up there with the best if not the best, as a group and as a unit,” Woods said. “We’ve got to keep the explosive big pass plays over 15 yards, is our goal.”
As he did in the latter half of last season, McVay appears intent on utilizing tight ends more often.
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Tyler Higbee emerged as a dynamic pass-catching threat, accumulating more than 100 yards receiving in four of the last five games. Gerald Everett has shown play-making skills in his first three seasons, and McVay has said he was committed to getting Everett more involved. Johnny Mundt is a dependable blocker at the line of scrimmage and, occasionally, from the backfield. And the Rams used a fourth-round draft pick to select tight end Brycen Hopkins.
Barring a setback in the final week of preparation, the Rams will open the season with a line that features veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Joe Noteboom at left guard, Austin Blythe at center, Austin Corbett at right guard and Havenstein at right tackle. Second-year pros David Edwards and Bobby Evans started 10 and seven games, respectively, last season.
“We had a group last year that, in a good way, a ton of people got to play,” said Whitworth, a 15th-year pro. “In a bad way, unfortunately, we were really young and maybe not as efficient as we wanted to be, but got better and better as the year went.
“So, I think we’re excited.”
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