Four under-the-radar moves that helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl

Rams coach Sean McVay talks with quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Rams coach Sean McVay talks with quarterback Matthew Stafford during the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Doug Benc / Associated Press)

The Rams made plenty of blockbuster trades and other headline-grabbing moves en route to earning a spot in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

But they also made several significant lower-profile moves. Decisions that, directly or indirectly, proved important to helping them win the NFC title and reach the Super Bowl.

Four moves that changed the trajectory of the Rams’ season:

Oct. 25: Rams trade linebacker Kenny Young to the Denver Broncos

Rams linebacker Kenny Young celebrates.
Rams linebacker Kenny Young celebrates after stopping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on fourth down in the third quarter at SoFi Stadium on Sept. 26, 2021.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Young was acquired from the Baltimore Ravens in the 2019 trade that sent cornerback Marcus Peters to the Ravens, a deal that opened the door for the Rams to trade for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Young became a starter in 2020, and he started the first seven games this season.

But after a loss to the Arizona Cardinals in their fourth game, the Rams decided it was time to begin working rookie Ernest Jones into the defensive game plan and eventually make him a starter.

On Oct. 25, the Rams sent Young and a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Broncos in exchange for a 2024 sixth-round pick.

The move created salary-cap space and — perhaps more significantly — no doubt spurred discussion between Rams general manager Les Snead and the Broncos’ George Paton about other players. A week after the Young trade, the Rams sent their second- and third-round picks in this year’s draft to the Broncos for eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller.

Miller, the MVP of Super 50, had five sacks in eight regular-season games with the Rams. He has two in the playoffs.


Jones started for the first time against the Houston Texans and intercepted a pass. He suffered an ankle injury in a Dec. 26 victory at Minnesota, but in his first game since coming off injured reserve, he made two tackles in the 20-17 NFC championship game victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

The Oct. 31 game against the Texans also marked the first time that nose tackle Greg Gaines started in place of the injured Sebastian Joseph-Day. Gaines developed into a force — he has 4 ½ sacks.

With Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., the Rams suddenly find themselves among the top NFL teams in terms of celebrity star power. We rank the top 10.

Nov. 12, 2021

Nov. 2: Rams release receiver DeSean Jackson

Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson walks back to the locker room after a game.
Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson walks back to the locker room after a game on Oct. 3, 2021, at SoFi Stadium.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

It initially looked like the homecoming story of the season.

Jackson, one of the premier deep-threat receivers in NFL history, had signed with the Rams in March. And he showed that he still had speed when he caught a 75-yard touchdown pass in a victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium.

But Jackson was disillusioned with his limited role in an offense that featured receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, and also included second-year receiver Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler Higbee. He sought opportunity elsewhere, and after the trade deadline passed, the Rams released him and he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders.


Had Jackson remained with the Rams, coach Sean McVay almost certainly would have been interested in acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. after he was released by the Cleveland Browns. But would Beckham have been interested in joining a receiver-heavy Rams team that already included the speedy Jackson?

The day after the Rams signed Beckham, Woods suffered a season-ending knee injury during practice. Beckham instantly became a starter and caught five touchdown passes in eight regular-season games. He has 19 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.

Nov. 5: Rams sign Brandon Powell to the practice squad

Rams wide receiver Brandon Powell carries the ball.
Rams wide receiver Brandon Powell has been a threat as a return specialist.
(Stacy Bengs / Associated Press)

When special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was hired, he said the Rams needed to find a kick returner who could “ring the bell and drop the ball over the goal line.”

After 11 games, they still lacked one. Second-round draft pick Tutu Atwell was not the answer, and there was no obvious sign that Powell, an undrafted free agent who had played for the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons and spent time with the Buffalo Bills, fit that billing. The Rams used star receiver Cooper Kupp as the punt returner — and fans held their breath every time the ball descended toward him, fearing he would be injured by an opposing special teams gunner.


But a month after he signed with the Rams, Powell made his debut and returned the opening kickoff against the Jacksonville Jaguars 65 yards. Perhaps the Rams had something here.

On Dec. 26 at Minnesota, Powell returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown, keying the Rams’ victory.

In the Rams’ 30-27 divisional-round victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Powell’s 33-yard punt return helped set up the Rams for a scoring drive.

Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowls with the Patriots and one with the Buccaneers, announced his retirement on social media Tuesday.

Feb. 1, 2022

Dec. 5: Sean McVay decides to get physical

Rams running back Sony Michel runs the ball.
Rams running back Sony Michel runs the ball during the first half against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

In August, the Rams traded for Sony Michel, a proven power running back who rushed for 91 yards and scored a touchdown for the New England Patriots against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.


Michel was acquired as insurance because Cam Akers had suffered an Achilles tendon injury before training camp, and the Rams were concerned about oft-injured Darrell Henderson’s durability.

Michel spent most of the first 11 games backing up Henderson, who suffered a thigh injury in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, a defeat that extended the Rams’ losing streak to three games.

Michel moved into the starting lineup against the Jaguars and — with McVay deploying tackle Joe Noteboom as an extra tight end in so-called heavy formations — he rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown in 24 carries in a 37-7 victory. Michel averaged nearly 100 yards rushing as the Rams won five games in a row.

Akers returned for the season finale against the 49ers. Michel started that game and the wild-card victory over the Cardinals, but McVay started Akers against the Buccaneers — Michel got only one carry — and last week against the 49ers.