Losing Fisher won’t stop the losing
The Rams suck. They suck for a multitude of reasons. Just off the top of my head, they employed Gregg Williams for two seasons, they allow lazy sportswriters to always claim that they are “up and coming”, and, the biggest reason of all, they keep beating the Seattle Seahawks. Hopefully, the firing of Jeff Fisher will render the voodoo spell he had over the Seahawks null and void. Let’s look at their chances for the 2017 season.
Where They Were
The Rams entered 2016 without much fanfare. Seattle and the Arizona Cardinals were clearly better teams and LA had just traded up to 1.1 to snag Jared Goff and then told the NFL world that they weren’t going to start him. The Rams got obliterated by the SF Niners to start the season, but then would rattle off three consecutive victories. Then Jeff Fisher remembered that he is a bad coach and LA lost their next three games. They were sitting at 3-4 after Week 7. They would never reach .500 for the remainder of the season. Fisher was fired one loss short of setting the all-time record for most losses by a head coach. His record stands at 173-165.
The last time the Seahawks had a point differential of at least -170 was 25 years ago. Not since 1992 (RIP Cortez Kennedy) have Seattle fans been forced to witness atrocity on the scale of the 2016 LA Rams. Interestingly, both the 1992 Seahawks and 2016 Rams had a dominant pass-rushing DT. At least their special teams were good, but, unfortunately for LA, special teams are less important than offense and defense.
What They Gained
In free agency, the Rams made two moderately sized splashes. They signed Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth to a $33.75 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. Whitworth is undoubtedly an upgrade to the OL, but he is also 35 years old and has more than $5 million in dead cap if he is cut before next season. The pros definitely outweigh the cons here as it is tough to poke holes in the signing, because he has been both good and durable for his career. Of course, the Rams also made a stupid move because they are the Rams. They signed receiver Robert Woods to a 5-year, $34 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. I am looking at his stats and he seems to be a slightly better Jermaine Kearse. Kearse has a $4 million cap hit this season, Woods has a $7 million cap hit. They also extended their placekicker, but other than that, the rest of the signings are just filling out the depth chart.
In the draft, their first selection came at 2.44 (more on that in a minute). They selected TE Gerald Everett, who I had never heard of. Their most intriguing selection was receiver Connor Kupp at 3.69 (nice). The Eastern Washington WR tore up the competition in the FCS division, but he also had some great games against FBS competition (Sorry Cougs fans) and could very well be a nice weapon in the NFL, but I’m always skeptical of small school guys (which also applies to Everett).
What They Lost
On the other side of the FA ledger, they lost their best WR in Kenny Britt and mediocre TE Lance Kendricks. I would guess that their loss hurts the Rams on offense a bit, but not significantly. Plus, it’d be tough for the offense to get any worse.
This section would be incomplete without discussing the Goff trade. The Rams traded 1.15, 2.43, 2.45, 3.76, and their 1st and 3rd in the 2017 draft for 1.1, 4.113, and 6.177. Per Chase Stuart’s draft value chart, LA paid approximately 170 cents on the dollar. That is bad enough, but that isn’t accounting for Thomas Bayes. Who the heck is Bayes? He was a mathematician and
theologian (No religion!) who laid the groundwork for the study of probability that bears his name. The crux of his insight was that probability can be conditional. For example, it rains (or snows) in Seattle about 40% of the time. Therefore, it would be a reasonable assumption that the probability that it rains in Seattle tomorrow is 40%. However, if I add some information, like that it is July, the probability changes. The probability that it rains in Seattle tomorrow, given that it is July is different than it would be if it were December. The failure to account for this difference was the Rams’ biggest mistake in trading up to select Goff.
LA paid an exorbitant premium to draft Goff. They had to be certain he would be good in order to justify it. However, the actual success of first round QBs (or QBs drafted in the top 16 or QBs drafted after a trade up) needs to be accounted for. For example, QBs in drafted in the top 15 have about a 60% chance of being good (Sam Bradford is the least successful ‘good’ QBs, for reference). Thus, even if the Rams FO was 99% sure that Goff was going to be great, this needs to be informed by the 60% chance that QBs taken early are good. Spending 170 cents on the dollar for a 99% percent chance of getting Peyton Manning 2.0 makes sense. Spending 170 cents on the dollar for a 60% chance that you get a QB at least as good as Bradford … does not.
What Comes Next
For as much crap as the Rams get for being bad recently, they have only the 6th worst record in the NFL since 2012. They’ve been better than the Jags, Browns, Titans, Bucs, and Raiders (whoa). However, they squandered the king’s ransom they got from Washington for RGIII (before trading up fro Goff). I don’t know how GM Les Snead still has a job after failing to turn LA around at all. When he took over the team in 2012, they ended up with a 7-8-1 record. That has been his best record as an NFL GM. But first, three people that will be critical to any success the Rams have next season.
With a half season of starts under his belt, Goff may be ready to lead Los Angeles to a wild card berth. I also may be going on a date with a supermodel tomorrow. (Neither of these things is happening). 590 QBs have thrown 200 or more passes in a season since 2000. 577 of them threw for more yards/attempt than Goff. The list gets smaller when we only use seasons from the first three years of the QBs career. Goff’s ranks 8th worst of 182 seasons. I won’t dwell too long of Goff, because Football Outsiders wrote a great summary of why he is probably not going to develop into a franchise QB.
While judging a head coach by his first season is likely to be folly, it will be interesting to see if Sean McVay can eke any sort of offensive success from the Rams. McVay was hired on January 12 and became the youngest head coach in NFL history. I don’t get it. McVay has been with the Washington NFL team for the last seven seasons, working his way from an offensive assistant, to TE coach, to offensive coordinator in 2014. I have no idea if this is a particularly rapid series of promotions — as an OC his offenses were good, but far from spectacular. Here is a chart of the basic statistics of his three offenses.
Only 2016 seems to be anything special, when they were third overall in yards, but declined to 12th overall in points scored. He does seem to be able to develop passing games, as the passing Net Yards/Attempt has been in the top 10 in each of his seasons as a coordinator. However, how much of that is due to the QB talent? None of these numbers screams ‘wunderkid’ to me, but maybe he had a hell of an interview.
When the Rams drafted Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald with their first round picks in 2014, it was the nightmare scenario for Seahawks fans. Robinson was pretty damn terrible, but Donald has been an absolute terror as a pass rushing interior defensive lineman. He has the 6th most sacks since he entered the league and is perhaps the best defensive player in the NFL. I wouldn’t mind triple-teaming him every single play against LA. I don’t see any reason for him to be less dominant this season as he is just 26. However, it takes more than one
good great incredible defensive player to make a good defense. The Rams haven’t finished in the top quartile of points allowed since Donald was drafted. Their best finish was last year at 9th. By DVOA, they haven’t fared much better, ranking 9th, 7th, and 15th since 2014. Unless Donald goes Super-Saiyan and elevates his game to an previously unseen high, I don’t see him carrying LA to glory this year.
The Rams went 4-12 last season and did not to much to improve. A new head coach could shake things up in all the right ways and get them to 8-8, but he could also be woefully inexperienced and damage his team’s already-low chances. I think they are a four win team, but because predicting no change is boring, I guess they will improve to 5-11. I am, however, going to be even more bold and predict that they won’t win against the Seahawks now that Fisher has taken his black magic into retirement.