The Los Angeles Rams found their new home in familiar digs in 2016, returning to the market they left after the 1994 season. The results were oddly similar to the last time they called California home.
The 2016 Rams matched the 1994 Rams with a 4-12 record, putting forth an anemic offense and a defense that backslid enough to eventually cost Jeff Fisher his job.
The team is not devoid of talent, however. Aaron Donald is one of the league’s best defensive linemen and the offense, with RB Todd Gurley and second-year QB Jared Goff, at least has some pieces.
So what will it take for new coach Sean McVay to bring this team and market success? We asked Andrew Hogan, who previously founded a website called Bring Back our Los Angeles Rams and now heads up FearsomeFootball.com, to share his thoughts.
Zoneblitz: You were heavily involved in lobbying for the return of the Rams – what was it like having football back in LA in 2016?
Hogan: At the beginning, it was completely and totally surreal … I had been to hundreds of college football/baseball/hockey games but only to two NFL games in my life and I had no real rooting interest in those games. To have a team to actually cheer for — and for it to be Los Angeles’ true NFL team—was, again, totally surreal.
As the season wore on, however, I got into my typical midseason form: complaining about everything. As a Cal football fan, you would think that I would be used to football mediocrity, but somehow, I still find myself extremely annoyed after every loss (and indeed some wins).
Looking at the 4-12 record, it is easy to say that the return to LA was a failure, and it certainly did not help bring in the fair-weather fans, but having over 80,000 tickets sold on average and over 70,000 in actual attendance (with the smallest actual crowd being around 68-70,000), I would say that Los Angeles proving itself to be a phenomenal football market was a rousing success.
Zoneblitz: What went wrong with the Jeff Fisher era and was his firing the right move?
Hogan: The failure to even moderately improve on the offensive side of the ball did Jeff Fisher in, it is as simple as that. There was no way that the higher ups in the Rams organization were going to allow the team to continue to flounder under Fisher, so a change absolutely had to be made. Firing Fisher was most certainly the right move—my only issue with the firing was why it took so long to finally pull the trigger.
Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on the Sean McVay hire?
Hogan: I originally wanted Kyle Shanahan (unless we could, by some miracle, get Jim Harbaugh), but the more I heard about McVay, the more I liked (also after the play calling in the Super Bowl, I was even more confident in the Rams’ decision to hire McVay).
Also, the fact that he brought Wade Phillips along is really comforting because not only will our defense not have a drop off after we hired an offensive minded coach, but with Phillips in the fold, the defense is likely to get better. So far, I have been extremely encouraged by the staff that he has assembled.
In many ways, the assistants are more important than the head coach. Just a few weeks ago, when Cal fired and then hired a new coach, a fellow alum made a comment that “A” coaches hire other “A” coaches and “B” coaches hire “C” coaches — “A” coaches are not intimidated by those that are equal or even better coaches than themselves. I see McVay as an “A” coach in this regard; he is hiring top-notch assistants.
Zoneblitz: Two of the key offensive cogs for the Rams were less than stellar in 2016 – what caused Todd Gurley’s down season and what do you see in the future for Gurley and now second-year QB Jared Goff?
Hogan: Oy. That offense was downright putrid. Because I am a Cal alum and season ticket holder, I have seen Jared Goff at his best and I am still cautiously optimistic that he will end up as one of the better QBs in the league. He has all the talent in the world, he just needs proper coaching and experience (and some protection would be nice).
As for Gurley, as much as I think that he could be a special talent in this league, this past season reinforced the idea that you should never take a RB in the first round. They are a dime a dozen and their success depends more on the offensive line than their talent.
Zoneblitz: What’s your assessment of the Rams’ offensive line situation?
Hogan: Young and maybe talented? The Rams’ offensive line woes are not for a lack of trying, but, for whatever reason, the unit continues to be subpar. It is my hope that the Rams go out and get some veteran free agents to help shore up the OL that also teach the rest of the unit by example.
Zoneblitz: The Rams nearly gave up 400 points for the first time since 2011. What went wrong on the defensive side of the ball?
Hogan: I think the problems on the defensive side of the ball stem from ineptitude on offense rather than some intrinsic problem on the defensive side. If you look at the first half of the season, when the Rams were still technically in the thick of things, the defense was as good as some of the top defenses in the league.
After the Miami game, however, things started to fall apart as the prospects for the season became more desperate. Up to the Miami game, they gave up, on average, 18.7 points a game and after that, they gave up 34.5 points per game on average. If they had continued the defensive performance from the first 10 games into the final six, the Rams would have finished fifth in points given up instead of 23rd.
Long story short, I am not overly concerned about the defense (especially with Wade Phillips on board), because it seems to me that the defensive performance in the final 6 games has more to do with the hopelessness of the season rather than some sort of dearth of defensive talent.
Zoneblitz: Aaron Donald is a beast. What are the strengths and weaknesses around him on defense?
Hogan: The strength of the defense, clearly, is the defensive line and that is partially thanks to Aaron Donald. The most glaring weakness, however, is the secondary—and I fully expect the Rams to address some of the issues in the secondary this offseason. That said, I believe the Rams’ defense is serviceable and is certainly not the reason why the Rams, yet again, failed to post a winning season in 2016.
Zoneblitz: What does the Wade Phillips hire mean for Donald and the rest of that unit?
Hogan: Wade Phillips joining the Rams coaching staff has removed all fear that they might take a step back from 2016 to 2017 and made me feel confident that they will, at the very least, be able to replicate their performance that we saw in the first ten games of the 2016 season. With Phillips reputation as a defensive genius, I have no concerns with that side of the ball. I also really like this hire, because he can help Sean McVay with some of his head coaching duties — I believe that having veteran players can go a long way in helping solidify a team, and there is no reason to think that that cannot also be said about the coaching staff.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Rams do in the draft and free agency, particularly minus the first-round pick?
Hogan: Where the draft is concerned, it is easy to scream “OFFENSE” at the top of my lungs, because of the woes on that side of the ball in 2016. I am, however, a big believer in taking the best player that is available to you, so if we can get a potential pro bowler on the defensive side of the ball, I expect them to go out and get him.
That said, their draft board should, at the very least, should have an offensive slant because of the glaring problems on that side of the ball. In free agency, the Rams need to go out and get a few veterans to help not only shore up the team in the short term but help teach the young guys. Just look at the impact a veteran like Alex Mack made in Atlanta this past season.
Zoneblitz: How far off is this team?
Hogan: I actually do not think that they are that far off. If the offense could simply be mediocre, and the defense performs on par to how they did in the first 10 games of the 2016 season, there is no reason not to think that they could compete for a playoff berth in 2017. 325-375 points scored was around average in the NFL in 2016, and if we get into that range, the Rams could easily win around 10 games.
If you look at the first 10 games of the 2016 season, they were in every game (expect for the inexplicable turd on opening night in Santa Clara), and with even a slight uptick on the offensive side of the ball, we win our fair share of them and have an extremely different outlook going into the final six games. I expect there to be improvement on the offensive side of the ball (it could not get any worse, right?) and the defense, at the very least, match their first half 2016 performance—if they do that, they could very easily be in the thick of things in 2017. If the offense fails to improve, and/or the defense takes a step back, however, things could get ugly and fast.
Zoneblitz: Anything else you’d like to add?
Hogan: The carpetbagging Chargers need to return to San Diego…this market should only have one team (the Rams), and the NFL massively screwed up allowing a second team to come here. That said, I look forward to the Chargers failing in Los Angeles.
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