Los Angeles Rams 2021 Team Study

Part 29 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 28 here: Las Vegas Raiders. Part 30 now available: San Francisco 49ers.


Eff. RatingAdj. RatingRank
Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and yellow) v. opponent average allowed (grey).
Pass EPARush EPAAdj. Pass Rate

Sean McVay finally got his quarterback. Matthew Stafford came into an established scheme with two skills that Jared Goff lacked: reading defenses and throwing deep with confidence. McVay needed a quarterback who could react to what defenses put on the field, both before the play and while the play developed. Those who have actually watched the Lions play over the years expected Stafford to thrive. And that’s exactly what happened.

Despite spending a lot of time in the pocket letting plays develop deep, the Rams allowed the 2nd-lowest pressure rate in the NFL. The offensive line deserves some credit for this, but pressure rate is also significantly impacted by the quarterback and the scheme. For example, when a quarterback sees before the snap where the pressure could be coming from, he can switch up protections to give himself more time. And a good coach will give the quarterback these options in each formation. The Rams passing offense was simply well-executed at each level.

Their run game was awful. They had the biggest gap between passing EPA/play and rushing EPA/play in the league. Fortunately, running doesn’t win championships in today’s NFL so they overcame this weakness. They also were more of a downfield passing team than a catch-and-run team. As a result, they didn’t play quite as well against teams that gave up a log of yards after the catch. Chart A shows the Rams’ offensive Adj. Eff. Rating by each opponent ranked by its yards after the catch per completion allowed on the season. Their quality of performance trended negatively against teams that gave up a lot of yards after the catch.

Chart A

Outside of the run game, the Rams had two weaknesses on offense. First, Stafford’s aggressiveness led to some negative plays. He got away with one against the 49ers in the playoffs when Jaquiski Tartt dropped an easy interception. But his turnovers were costly earlier in the year too, most notably in an ugly 28-16 loss to the Titans. This is an acceptable trade-off in the long run, because this aggressiveness is what allowed the Rams to succeed in the first place. But it did lead to some inconsistency and risk.

Second, the offense was reliant on its top two wide receivers. Cooper Kupp absolutely smashed, and they were fine as long as they had either Robert Woods or Odell Beckham, Jr. on the other side. But things got dicey in the Super Bowl after OBJ went down, and it raises concern about what would happen if Kupp got hurt. They lost OBJ and Woods permanently now, but replaced them with Allen Robinson. If Robinson and Kupp can stay healthy, there is no reason to anticipate a drop-off for this offense. It is the type of passing game that can sustain success. But if one or both get hurt, the floor could be low.

For this reason, it would help the Rams if they improve their run game. With Cam Akers healthy there is a chance, but they’ll need better blocking. If they don’t improve the run game, the offense will likely resemble what it was last year, which is a good thing provided the key pieces stay healthy. With Sean McVay running the show and Stafford orchestrating the offense, the potential to run it back is definitely there.


Eff. RatingAdj. RatingRank
Defensive Eff. Rating (blue and yellow) v. opponent average allowed (grey).
Pass EPARush EPABlitz RatePressure Rate

The defense also did its job in 2021, as the Super Bowl champions were one of only two teams who finished top-5 in both offense and defense on the season. The defense was not the dominant unit it was in 2020, but it was still very strong. Built around getting interior pressure with Aaron Donald and letting Jaylen Ramsey do his thing in coverage, the Rams excelled against both the pass and the run.

Once again, the Rams pressured opposing quarterbacks at an unimposing rate (25th in pressure rate), yet converted those pressures to sacks at the 4th-highest rate. These numbers are consistent with last year and reflect the benefits of (1) exerting interior pressure and (2) having tight coverage. When pressure comes up the middle, quarterbacks have a much harder time evading it compared to edge pressure, which just flushes a quarterback to one side. And when a quarterback’s primary read is covered, it’s harder to make those throws under pressure. So the low pressure rate ultimately was not a problem for the Rams.

They were also very stout against the run. The strength of the defensive line and strong coverage that freed up linebackers allowed them to bottle up opposing run games. They gang tackled effectively and trusted each other to do their jobs. This predictably led to teams struggling to generate yards after the catch as well. The Rams just made it tough for ball carriers and pass catchers to create big plays with the ball in their hands.

To combat this, you either had to have an elite run game or you had to be able to throw downfield aggressively. When every first down is difficult, it actually benefits teams to take chances downfield. If you fail, you punt. But if you succeed even a handful of times, you make those big plays that lead to instant touchdowns. In the Super Bowl, all it took was one misstep for the Bengals to get back in the game with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Higgins. Better to punt a few times and get a touchdown than try to churn first down after first down against a defense that tackles quickly and effectively.

The Rams did benefit from getting Von Miller partway through the year as a temporary addition for the Super Bowl run. He has already moved on, and they lost Darious Williams as well. These likely won’t be losses that cripple the defense, but it is the second straight year that saw Rams defensive players leave. With a decent scheme and the two studs still anchoring the team, they should still be a great defense. But I think their path to dominance is an uphill fight. Much like the offense, the upside is still there. But the floor is uncertain.  

Key Takeaways

When to bet on the Rams: When teams cannot run well but lack the type of difference-making quarterback who can make plays downfield, things can get ugly against the Rams. They also stay aggressive even with the lead, so you don’t need to shy away from them laying a big spread if the situation is right.

When to fade the Rams: With a high-variance passing attack, the team can become undervalued or overvalued based on individual results, depending on the outcome of that variance. When they get an impressive win that involves a high rate of success on downfield passes, you can try to catch some value in the ensuing weeks.

Evaluating the off-season: Losing Darious Williams and Von Miller could impact the defensive cohesiveness, and even though Allen Robinson fills a gap at wide receiver, the team was not able to increase its depth due to draft capital and cap space constraints. This makes them a little vulnerable to injury regression.

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