Los Angeles Rams 2020 Season Recap

aaron donald

Sean McVay and the 2020 Los Angeles Rams recovered from the Super Bowl hangover they’d suffered a year earlier. The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019 after losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII but returned to the postseason thanks to a 10-6 finish.

These Rams were a little different than the group that lost to the Patriots. McVay’s offense was no longer explosive, with the unit taking a back seat to a smothering defense. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey were stars. Yet first-year coordinator Brandon Staley coaxed exceptional performances from Chicago Bears castoff Leonard Floyd, Jordan Fuller, and Morgan Fox. Their defense allowed the fewest points and yards, numbers Staley parlayed into the head coaching job with the Los Angeles Chargers. The bigger question is how McVay’s offense will fare in 2021. Specifically, can McVay and Jared Goff co-exist? The coach has sounded lukewarm about the man under center, but at least rookie running back Cam Akers proved a hit.

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What Went Right

Staley replaced a true legend on the defensive side of the ball when he took over play-calling duties from Wade Phillips. Rather than be overwhelmed, Staley expanded the Phillips blueprint and gave playmakers like Donald more opportunities to make plays. The defense sparked the late run to the playoffs by beating up on Cam Newton and New England in Week 14. Two weeks later, they knocked Kyler Murray out of the game and nullified DeAndre Hopkins to beat the Arizona Cardinals, despite a hamstrung offense led by Goff’s backup, John Wolford. Staley’s unit swarmed all over Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round. The Rams sacked Wilson five times but couldn’t get near Aaron Rodgers during a 32-18 loss a week later.

What Went Wrong

Goff’s development has stalled. That’s no longer a hot take, it’s a depressing reality for the Rams. He’s supposed to be the franchise quarterback, but Goff threw for 686 yards less and two touchdowns fewer than he did in 2019. The dip in production wasn’t due to a lack of weapons. Akers, Darrell Henderson, and Malcolm Brown formed a productive rotation on the ground. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods continued to exploit holes in coverage. McVay needs more production from tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, while rookie wideout Van Jefferson struggled. The problems with Goff still go deeper than personnel. He’s lost his comfort level in McVay’s scheme.

Team Award Winners

MVP – Aaron Donald

Nobody else came close to matching Donald’s importance in 2020. He was the catalyst for defensive dominance thanks to 13.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Those numbers are pretty standard stuff for a generational talent like Donald, but he was also helped by Staley’s creativity. Donald moved up and down the line more often in 2020, often being shifted to find the best matchups.

The only blot on Donald’s copybook was the rib injury he suffered against the Seahawks in the playoffs. It rendered him a shell of his usual self in Green Bay.

Donald will put the disappointment behind him and continue his role as the primary playmaker for one of the NFL’s toughest defenses.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Cam Akers

The Rams made Akers their top pick in 2020, but he still exceeded expectations as the 52nd player selected. Akers rushed for 625 yards, a modest total, but he came on strong late in the season as his best game was against the Patriots when he turned 29 carries into 171 yards. While his production tailed off during the final weeks of the regular season, Akers was sensational in the playoffs as he bullied the Seahawks with 131 yards on the ground. Akers’ 90 yards in Green Bay came in a losing cause, but few Packers defenders wanted any part of the bruising runner.

Akers can be the focal point of a new-look offense for McVay in 2021.

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jordan Fuller

Fuller was a steal as a sixth-round pick who started 12 games at free safety. He turned those starts into five pass breakups, three interceptions, and 60 tackles. More than his numbers, Fuller lent extra flexibility to the defense. His partnership with John Johnson allowed Staley to play split safeties in the secondary and disguise his coverage looks.

Those disguises helped the Rams mix zone with man coverage and surrender the joint-fewest passes over 40 yards in the league.

Biggest Surprise – Leonard Floyd

Floyd looked like a draft bust when he registered a mere 18.5 sacks in four seasons after being selected ninth overall by the Bears in 2016. Staley was on the staff in Chicago in 2017 and 2018, so he must have seen a reason to believe Floyd could do more. Floyd justified the faith by finishing second to Donald with 10.5 sacks. He had three games with multiple sacks, including taking Wilson down three times during a 23-16 win over the Rams’ NFC West rivals in Week 10.

Biggest Disappointment – Van Jefferson

Jefferson never gave McVay’s passing game the vertical element Brandin Cooks provided during 2018’s Super Bowl run. The second-round pick contributed just 19 receptions for 220 yards and a single touchdown. His struggles made it easier for defenses to focus on Woods and Kupp. The postseason offered Jefferson a second chance, one he seized when Kupp missed the defeat to the Packers. Six catches for 46 yards and a score might have been enough to convince McVay Jefferson can still make the grade. He’ll need to with Josh Reynolds headed for free agency.

One Burning Question

Will Jared Goff Keep his Job?

McVay hasn’t offered a convincing endorsement of Goff since the latter’s injured right thumb gave Wolford a chance. NFL Network’s Steve Wyche described the fraying rapport between coach and quarterback:

The people I’ve spoken to said basically at this moment the relationship with Goff and McVay: not great. They need marriage counseling is what one person said to me.

Goff hasn’t taken enough strides during the past two years, but it’s also fair to say McVay’s offense has become predictable. How this disparity resolves itself will go a long way toward determining the Rams’ success this year.

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