The Eagles and Rams have played each other just four times in the past ten years, and haven’t faced each other in the playoffs in over 20 years. For such infrequent opponents, they are fairly intertwined with each other. In 2016 they kickstarted the trend of drafting a QB high and building a veteran laden roster around the rookie QB contract when they traded up for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The next year the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and the year after that the Rams reached it, confirming the concept as viable. And then both showed that after building a Super Bowl roster around a QB, you can change out QBs and remain a Super Bowl contender, with the Rams winning the Super Bowl two years ago and the Eagles reaching it last year with new QBs.
Tomorrow they meet in different states of existence. The Rams won’t go full rebuild, not while McVay is still the head coach, but they aren’t a true contender either, they’re in a sort of purgatory, which in NFC can get you into the playoffs. Though it is the Rams that are looking up at the Eagles in the standings, it’s the Eagles who could probably learn a lesson from the other.
The almost no-name defense
Pop quiz hot shot: name two defenders on the Rams who aren’t Aaron Donald. Don’t worry if you can’t.
13 Rams have played at least a third of defensive snaps, five of them are in their first or second year in the NFL. They have a player named Cobie, and a player named Kobie. They also have “Russ Yeast” which is an NPC name. 12 of the 13 most used Rams defenders were either drafted by the Rams or signed by them as an undrafted free agent. Other than Aaron Donald, none of them were high picks, taken at 77, 89, 103, 117, 142, 199, 212, and 253 in their drafts. Of the nine non-Donald non-rookies, four played at least a third of snaps in their rookie seasons, and seven played at least that much in their second season.
It’s working. At the least it’s not not working. The Rams are 15th in points allowed and 9th in yards per game allowed, though they are 24th in DVOA (but closer to 20th than they are 28th) in part because they have just two turnovers. They are 2nd best on 3rd down, 2nd best in completion percentage against, and 7th best in yards per passing attempt against. No one will mistake this for a great defense, but it’s keeping them in games, their two losses were by a combined 10 points.
The Rams do some weird things with their roster building. Their stars and scrubs philosophy gives them a thin margin for error when injuries happen, as we saw last year. But their draft defenders in bulk approach (26 of their 48 draft picks since 2019, 54%, have been on defense) is a reasonable way to go for a team with so much invested in their offense. Year to year offensive performance is more stable than defensive performance, so spending the best resources on offense and then casting a wide net on defense has logic. No team spends less of their cap this year on defense than the Rams, just $51.7M, $26M of which is Aaron Donald’s cap hit. Their secondary costs just $11.3 against the cap this year.
The Eagles are in a position to take this type of route if they want to. Most of the offense is set for the next few years, but on defense there are several long term questions. Howie Roseman likes to go star hunting when he can, but with a star QB contract hitting soon, he’s going to need to change his approach. He shouldn’t emulate the Rams in full, but he can certainly take a page from them.
Witness to history?
They say that records are meant to be broken. One that feels like it may come down sooner rather than later is receiving yards in a season. The record is held by Calvin Johnson, 1,964 yards in 2012. In 2021 Cooper Kupp nearly broke it, finishing with 1,947. A 2,000 yard receiver is just a matter of time, it “only” takes 117.7 yards per game to break it, in a 16 game season that would get a player 1,883 yards, which has been done 5 times.
Currently two players are on pace to break that threshold, with a third just below it. Unsurprisingly the leader is Justin Jefferson at 135.8 yards per game, who the Eagles gave up 159 yards to, and 3rd is Tyreek Hill at 117.5 yards per game, who they face in Week 7. In between them in both the receiving charts and the Eagles schedule is the Rams’ Puka Nacua, the 177th pick in the 2023 draft and the newest “who is this guy?!?!” to hit the scene. Nacua leads the league with 39 receptions, his career high in college was 48, he is on pace to top that before the game ends on Sunday. He’s currently at 125.3 yards.
If someone breaks the 2k record this year, they’ll have the Eagles to thank. You’re welcome in advance?
To derail Nacua from his 2k pace, the Eagles need to hold him to 86 yards. That actually feels possible because Cooper Kupp returns this week, and the two can’t really co-exist. Nacua, for now, feels like an excellent system player, but a system player nonetheless. A return to Earth is inevitable, and Kupp eating up targets and playing time will accelerate it. Assuming he can do either, because Cooper Kupp is a 30 year old with a hamstring injury who claims he feels fine, you can totally trust him to be 100% and productive, right?
Results do matter to the process
The cliché, which is largely true, is that the NFL is a copycat league. The Rams drafted 14 players this year, and 17 over the previous two. None were in the first round, and just four were in the top 100. This is not a team brimming with talent, but they are a challenge. Their draft in bulk and develop approach helped win them a Super Bowl and has them in the mix for the playoffs this year despite limited star power. It’s clearly an approach that can work. But can work and will work are not the same thing. You have to identify players that fit your system, which even the Rams have failed at, taking Cam Akers 52nd overall. And then you have to develop them. And then you have to win.
And that’s the catch: they did win the Super Bowl. What if they hadn’t? They won three straight playoff games in that Super Bowl run by 3 points. In another universe they don’t win those, they don’t even get to the NFCCG, and Sean McVay is out of a job and the Eagles are playing a rebuilding team that no one wants to emulate. The margins in this league are so thin.
College Football Watchlist Week 6
Early - Oklahoma vs Texas
Is Texas back?!?!? They might be.
Texas has three potential draft picks on their DL: DT T’Vondre Sweat #93, DT Alfred Collins #95, and DT Byron Murphy #90, while Oklahoma has three potential picks on their OL: RT Tyler Guton #60, LT Walter Rouse #75, and C Andrew Raym #73. That’s the matchup in this game I’m watching.
Late - Channel surfing
Night - Kentucky at Georgia
For Georgia, the entire team given the last two Eagles drafts, but with their struggles this season the Eagles may want to draft from other teams in April. The next game Georgia starts well this season will be their first. For Kentucky, was RB Ray Davis #1’s breakout game against Florida his star is born moment or just the result of an underwhelming Florida team getting manhandled?