Defending champs look less than Super in season opener

Defending champs look less than Super in season opener


Buffalo looked more Super Bowl contender than the defending champs
Photo: Getty Images

The NFL has the longest offseason in American sports. Thursday’s season opener was 207 days after the Rams won Super Bowl LVI. The hype surrounding Los Angeles entering the 2022 season was palpable. According to Caesars, the Rams have the fifth-best odds to repeat as champions at +1100 with Buffalo. Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Green Bay are ahead of them. Facing the championship favorites on opening night, the reviews are in. The Rams’ chase to repeat will be turbulent, if not nonexistent.

That’s right. Sorry to dash half of Hollywood’s hopes but the woes for the City of Angels will continue to return this fall and winter. Inglewood’s squad looks promising and didn’t lose much momentum from last year’s team that reached the mountaintop. Thursday’s 31-10 loss to Buffalo inspired no confidence for the team moving forward, getting blasted in the same venue where LA won the Super Bowl. The win-or-bust mentality that brought Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville to the West Coast and Eric Weddle out of retirement to win his first ring is already developing a murky sequel.

Rams’ coach Sean McVay flirted with hanging up the headset at only 36 after becoming the youngest head coach to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory in league history. His former starting offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who retired this offseason, is four years McVay’s elder. LA did retain its coach for his sixth season with the franchise since leaving his post as Washington’s offensive coordinator. Plenty changed around McVay in the coaching ranks, however. Kevin O’Connell left his post as Rams’ offensive coordinator to become the Vikings’ head coach, taking two fellow LA assistants with him to Minnesota.

O’Connell’s departure, like Brian Daboll’s exodus from Bills to the Giants, will be under-the-radar consequential moves of the offseason. The mastery of Matthew Stafford going from decent veteran to champion, and some stupidly bringing up whether he’s a Hall of Famer, happened in a few months. LA’s run game didn’t have a true shine to it, leaving its elite group of wide receivers to carry the load, something they did willingly. And it worked. Cooper Kupp should’ve been league MVP, not Aaron Rodgers. A supporting cast of Van Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Robert Woods gave Stafford plenty of targets at any time. Among that quartet, only Kupp and Jefferson remain.

Kupp’s role in the Rams’ offense is unchanged. Even with defenses knowing what’s coming, the former Eastern Washington receiver was the only LA player to put up spectacular stats last night. His 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown against a stout Bills defense are a phenomenal sign for those who choose him in the first round of their fantasy drafts. There’s no way in any reputable league he fell outside the top six selections. His tip-toe touchdown catch was Los Angeles’ only trip to the end zone of the evening. That reception was spectacular, one only a few other receivers in the league could’ve made with a split second to haul in the pass and get both cleats to the turf in bounds.

What else from last night’s performance gives Los Angeles any thoughts of coming close to repeating as champions? The Rams brought in Allen Robinson, who’s a nice stabilizer for the wideout corps. After Kupp’s exploits last season. having another first-team All-Pro season isn’t out of the question, but putting up Jerry Rice-like stats? That can’t happen despite how well he did last night. He’ll draw so much coverage from opposing defenses that’ll dare Stafford to beat them with someone else. Why would any defense in the league not give him double coverage on any play moving forward?

Defensively, the Rams looked alright. They’re more of a question mark because most defenses would look like shit if they faced Josh Allen every week. Troy Hill and Bobby Wagner looked like solid additions in their debuts but not much else looked great. Aaron Donald was lucky to avoid suspension for swinging his helmet during a practice fight with the Bengals and the whole defensive line didn’t do enough to trip up Allen. How about the opening touchdown of the season where Allen faked out everyone and found a wide-open Gabe Davis?

It’s safe to say for any NFL team that it can’t win without solid quarterback play. And Stafford’s four turnovers last night won’t cut it for any type of postseason contention. It’s harsh to react so negatively after four quarters of a guaranteed 68 in an NFL season per team. In a division with a floundering Seattle squad, an unsure 49ers team, and the Cardinals, who could win the NFC West, the Rams have some guaranteed wins. Thursday showed they’ll take some lumps this year too. 



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.