Last season the Rams were one of the best teams in football. They finished 11-5 with a resurgence new head coach Sean McVay and coordinators Matt LaFleur and Wade Phillips. Even going 11-5 and winning the NFC West, the Rams figure to be even better this year.
Top receiver Cooper Kupp is back but he will have a new starter across from him in Brandin Cooks who replaces Sammy Watkins. Cooks had nearly double the yards last season of Watkins, so that figures to be an upgrade for an already potent offense that features Todd Gurley and Jared Goff.
Most of the additions, however, come on the defensive side of the ball. Wade Phillips has been like a kid in a candy story this offseason. They brought in two All Pro former AFC West corners in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and added Ndamukong Suh to the defensive line. Then they got NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald locked into a new long term deal.
Head coach Jon Gruden on facing defensive front with Suh and Donald next to each other?
“That’s a big challenge, no question. They’ve got some young guys that we need to learn about on the outside. Robert Quinn is not there, Connor Barwin is not there, they have a new inside backer, [Alec] Ogletree is not there. They’ve got two new corners that are also there. That’s why you can’t really watch last year’s tape to help you get ready for this game. They didn’t play them in the preseason more than half a dozen plays. We’re going to see where they are and they’ll see where we are.”
What Gruden is talking about with regard to the young guys is a host of unknowns who will be tasked with replacing the departed Quinn, Barwin, and Ogletree. So not every new player on that Rams defense is considered an upgrade. Some are a bit of a mystery.
Even middle linebacker Mark Barron, who started 14 games last season looks unlikely to play Monday as he is missing practice while dealing with an Achilles injury. That leaves the Rams — much like the Raiders — with a completely new linebacking corps.
Formerly undrafted linebacker Cory Littleton is expected to start after having started just five games in his first two seasons. While on the outside, Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam who could start. With three combined career starts between them, the Rams could field an entire linebacking corps with 8 combined starts.
On one hand, that says they could be ripe for the picking. On the other hand, it doesn’t reveal a lot of tendencies on tape to exploit for Gruden and Derek Carr.
What is clear, however, is with a lot of new faces on the Rams defense, and therefore some unpredictability, it should be easy to predict the defensive line and secondary is going to be stout and going after the linebackers will be the best plan of attack for this Raiders offense.
Oh, and don’t let Brandin Cooks do to the Raiders new group of corners what he did to their predecessors in the 2016 season opener.