The narrative heading into this game is obvious: it’s Carson Wentz versus Jared Goff. The first two picks from the 2016 NFL Draft are set to square off. If Goff is still starting by Week 14, that is.
Goff was really, really bad as a rookie. It’s not like Wentz was perfect, either, but the Eagles’ quarterback at least showed flashes of excellent play. Goff, meanwhile, was just downright dreadful.
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick went 0-7 in seven starts while completing 54.6% of his passes for 1,089 yards (a paltry 5.3 yards per attempt), five touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 63.6 passer rating. Yikes.
The hope in L.A. is that new head coach Sean McVay will be able to fix Goff. Kirk Cousins developed into a worthwhile quarterback in Washington under McVay, so maybe there’s hope for Goff. Or maybe he’s just really bad and the Rams will feel bad for not picking Wentz.
Even if the Los Angeles struggles to be productive against the Eagles’ defense, the Rams could still prove to be a challenge. The Rams could have a tough defense under one of the NFL’s best defensive coordinators, Wade Phillips. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has the potential to wreck games. The Eagles will need their interior offensive line to step in this game for Wentz to have a chance.
Travel note: The Eagles will go straight from Seattle to Los Angeles instead of flying home to Philadelphia in-between their Week 13 and Week 14 games. We’ll see if minimizing the travel distance makes any difference.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the Rams from our SB Nation associates over at Turf Show Times.
Notable free agent additions:
LT Andrew Whitworth, WR Robert Woods, CB Kayvon Webster, OLB Connor Barwin, RB Lance Dunbar, C John Sullivan, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
Notable free agent departures:
TE Lance Kendricks, DE Eugene Sims, C Tim Barnes, RB Benny Cunningham, QB Case Keenum
2017 NFL Draft: Second-round pick (#37) & fifth-round pick (#149) to Buffalo Bills for second-round pick (#44) & third-round pick (#91). Fourth-round pick (#112) to Chicago Bears for fourth-round pick (#117) & sixth-round pick (#197). Fourth-round pick (#141) & sixth-round pick (#197) to New York Jets for fourth-round pick (#125).
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
TE Gerald Everett, WR Cooper Kupp
The Los Angeles Rams were without a first-round pick as a result of the 2016 trade with the Tennessee Titans in which the Rams moved up to #1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft to take QB Jared Goff. So without an obvious headliner, the Rams’ draft class is populated with potential quality starters and role players. Everett, the Rams’ first pick of the draft, should couple with second-year TE Tyler Higbee to allow tight end-schooled Head Coach Sean McVay to run some two-TE sets with more aggression and sincerity than in previous years. And Kupp was a statistical powerhouse at Eastern Washington with nearly 6,500 career receiving yards and 73 receiving touchdowns. In a remade Rams WR corps that could boast six potential members either in their first or second season as a Ram. That kind of open-ended depth chart could allow Kupp to slide toward the top.
Biggest offseason addition: Andrew Whitworth
The Rams’ offense under former Head Coach Jeff Fisher was always a poor unit, but 2016 was historically bad. A large part of the reason why was the offensive line. Fisher, and General Manager Les Snead, avoided using much draft capital on the offensive line for two years. In Year 3, they used the #2 overall pick to take Greg Robinson; a year later, the Rams went all in on drafting new offensive linemen (the exact strategy they needed to avoid) taking five in the 2015 NFL Draft and even using a 2016 NFL Draft fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Supplemental Draft to take OT Isaiah Battle who played exactly 0 snaps in the last two seasons and is now a Kansas City Chief. Suffice to say, the process has been flawed.
To begin undoing it, the Rams sought out Whitworth in free agency. Asking a 35-year old to protect your 22-year old franchise QB is generally a less than sound idea, but the Rams put themselves in this position. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The hope is that Whitworth can continue to play at the level he has for the last five years (in which he’s been to the Pro Bowl three times as one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles) for a season or two to both allow the Rams’ new coaching staff led by Head Coach Sean McVay to turn Goff into an acceptable product at the sports’ most important position and (b) allow the Rams time to find a version of Whitworth who is about 15 years younger in the next draft or two.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp:
The new offense under new Head Coach Sean McVay.
The Rams’ offense in 2016 was the worst in the NFL by a wide, wide margin. The other 31 teams in the NFL all gained more than 4,900 total yards. The Rams barely cleared 4,200. They started the season with Case Keenum. Through nine starts, he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Over his seven starts thereafter, Jared Goff was worse. Much worse.
Despite the lack of a first-round pick, Rams fans are expecting McVay to find improvement (and for many fans, overwhelming improvement) out of the offensive side of the ball. While there has been significant roster turnover, much of the attention in camp will be paid to the holdovers from the Fisher era. They’re already enjoying less job security under a head coach who wasn’t around when they were drafted and will have much less allegiance to their playing time should poor play continue.
So, much attention will be paid to many of the 2016 offensive players like Goff, RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and the offensive linemen still in the mix (Greg Robinson would have made this group, but he’s now a Detroit Lion). Should they falter, the calls for replacements will be frequent and loud. That could well begin in camp.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:
#FightForLA. A year ago, more than 10,000 people showed up to Day 1 of training camp, the first since relocating back to Los Angeles from St. Louis. A year later following a poor 4-12 showing and now with the Chargers in town, how much pull will the Rams have in LA? The first evidence we have of the novelty wearing off was the call for an increased pool of individual game tickets thanks to a drop-off of season ticket holders from last year rumored to be of “significant” size. Should training camp host a smaller contingent of fans, it would only accelerate concerns of a diminished fan base, concerns brought on in greater measure when the Rams decided “Well, actually” they don’t want to fill their home stadium in 2017. So with a joint practice with the Chargers scheduled for August 5 three weeks before they face each other in their third preseason game, the hashtag for the rivalry the NFL is trying to manufacture is going to get even more popular.
Notable injuries heading into training camp:
WR Tavon Austin. Austin underwent wrist surgery in early May, and was unable to participate in the offseason program. Perhaps no wideout is under more pressure than Austin, so suffice to say his absence hasn’t helped. A consistent underperformer, Austin received a wildly unearned contract extension a year ago that has him set to be the third-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL in 2017 a year after posting a 106 target-58 reception-509 yard line. Should Austin continue to underwhelm, McVay could easily move on personnel-wise with seven first- or second-year Rams as well as contract-wise.