The Rams made a dramatic move to reverse their offense’s two-year decline by trading for a new quarterback last January, but Matthew Stafford’s strong arm alone won’t lift the Rams back to Super Bowl heights.
Stafford might be the one part of the offense from which the Rams know exactly what they’re getting this season. Changes in the running backs and receivers – and little change on the offensive line – leave some questions. The answers will determine whether this unit is more like 2018, when it ranked second in yards per play, or 2020, when it fell to 19th.
Here’s what to expect from the Rams’ offense heading into the 2021 regular season, which opens Sunday night at SoFi Stadium against the Chicago Bears:
Quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
Stafford will make throws that Jared Goff never attempted, allowing McVay to expand his playbook and leaving the coach with no excuses if this isn’t a more interesting offense.
One interesting item to watch, not necessarily in a good way, is the early-season learning curve for Stafford and his receivers after Rams starters were held out of preseason games.
Stafford has played the full regular-season schedule in nine of the past 10 years. Wolford’s late 2020 experience is reassuring if he’s forced into action. With Wolford a free agent next winter, Perkins is worth keeping if the Rams can spare the roster spot all season.
Running backs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
Hope that the running game would pick up where it left off in 2020 vanished when Cam Akers tore an Achilles tendon this summer.
Henderson’s own durability is a question. That’s one reason general manager Les Snead made a good trade to get Sony Michel from the New England Patriots in August. How those two will divide carries should become clearer once Michel learns the playbook.
Funk, a seventh-round draft pick, impressed coaches in the preseason but should see most of his action as kickoff returner.
Wide receivers: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek
Signing DeSean Jackson can bring back a deep dimension to the passing game. But the 34-year-old three-time Pro Bowler averaged less than 10 games over the past six seasons with Washington, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The Rams tailored his practice schedule to have him healthy for the opener.
Kupp and Woods should remain the bread and butter, and Jefferson can improve on his rookie numbers.
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Atwell will be worth watching whenever the Rams’ top draft pick (second round) is on the field, but that’s likely to be mostly as punt returner.
Tight ends: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Brycen Hopkins, Jacob Harris
Higbee, who played through injuries in 2020, must bounce back to his form of two years ago, when his 69 receptions ranked sixth among NFL tight ends.
Higbee is especially valuable since the Rams lost Gerald Everett to free agency. It remains to be seen how many of Everett’s 30-40 catches per season can be replaced by Johnny Mundt, who’s better known for his blocking.
Harris, a fourth-round pick like Hopkins, has a future. But it’s unclear if it’s at tight end or wide receiver, where he played at Central Florida.
Offensive line: Andrew Whitworth, Rob Havenstein, David Edwards, Austin Corbett, Brian Allen, Joe Noteboom, Bobby Evans, Coleman Shelton, Alaric Jackson, Tremayne Anchrum
Only one member of this largely unchanged crew has been an All-Pro or Pro Bowler, and left tackle Whitworth’s last such honor came in 2017.
Injuries are a particular worry. Whitworth turns 40 in December and is coming off a knee injury. Allen, back at center, will be playing in his first game since his November 2019 knee injury.
The Rams kept 10 linemen in anticipation of potential free-agent departures next year. But proven depth for this season drops off quickly after Noteboom, who filled in for Whitworth last season. The wrong injury could be devastating.
Coming Thursday: Analysis of the Rams’ defense.