From Super Bowl to super holes: 2019 Rams had shortcomings

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams did not anticipate that their season would be cut short without a playoff appearance.

Not after a dominant run to Super Bowl LIII less than a year ago and not with a roster featuring three players who over the past two seasons have signed record-breaking deals -- quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Certainly not after adding cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whom the Rams acquired in October for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick and who is soon expected to earn a record-breaking deal himself.

But, after winning consecutive division titles, the reigning NFC champions will finish third in the NFC West, becoming the fifth team in the past 10 seasons to miss the playoffs the season after reaching the Super Bowl.

"It's all been disappointing," Rams coach Sean McVay said Sunday about last season's 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl and missing the playoffs this season. "They both hurt a lot."

The Rams will play a regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals at home on Sunday before entering the longest offseason in McVay's three seasons.

If there's any silver lining, it's that a win Sunday will allow the Rams to finish 9-7, earning them their third consecutive winning season for the first time since 1999-2001.

"It was just a bad year for us," Donald said. "We have to bounce back next year."

So with 2019 essentially in the books, here's a look at what went wrong:

Coaching

There's no question McVay experienced his greatest challenge in his third season. After turning a mediocre organization into a two-time division winner, McVay was forced to learn how to navigate a roller-coaster season.

McVay proved himself as a motivator through the ups and downs, evident by bounce-back performances after lackluster losses to the Steelers, Ravens and Cowboys. However, the 33-year-old McVay was unable discover the key to getting his team to consistently perform.

"I think there's been instances in all three phases where there's been some really positive things and then there's been some other instances where I don't think we've played up to our capability," McVay said. "That's all of us. That's coaches, players -- we're all in this thing together."

As the offensive playcaller, McVay often struggled to find and sustain a rhythm. The offense, a juggernaut in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers) and masters of play action last season, never developed an identity.

On defense, Wade Phillips' unit played dominant at times but also was prone to total meltdowns. The Rams' defense gave up more than 40 points in three losses.

"We had a lot of ups and down," Donald said. "When you come out flat some games, you're going to lose. We had to be more consistent."

The offensive line

The Rams rolled the dice entering the season with only three experienced linemen after left guard Rodger Saffold departed in free agency and the Rams declined the option on center John Sullivan's contract.

The impact of their departures can't be overstated.

A season after the line boasted the top pass block win rate in the league at 74%, this season's line ranks 23rd, winning their pass block at a rate of 56%, according to ESPN Metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.

Coaches expressed confidence that young players, specifically left guard Joe Noteboom and center Brian Allen, would be ready to step up. Noteboom and Allen, both first-year starters, showed their youth and inexperience, before each was put on injured reserve because of season-ending knee injuries.

However, it wasn't just Noteboom and Allen who performed below standard.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, in his 14th season, offensive guard Austin Blythe and right tackle Rob Havenstein did not consistently perform to the level they did last season.

In addition, when Noteboom, Allen and eventually Havenstein were injured, the Rams had to turn to rookies David Edwards and Bobby Evans, as well as second-year pro Austin Corbett, whom they acquired in a midseason trade from the Cleveland Browns.

The line showed improvement starting in Week 11 but did not have the experience or personnel to allow McVay's offense to operate smoothly.

Quarterback play

Goff was among the most inconsistent performers of the season. At times, the fourth-year quarterback appeared unstoppable. At other times, Goff did not appear to play the part of a franchise quarterback.

If anything was learned from Goff's season, it's that the former No. 1 pick, who signed a four-year extension worth $134 million last September, needs a strong supporting cast -- and a sturdy offensive line -- to have success.

Through Week 16, Goff completed 62.8% of his passes for 4,319 yards with 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His total QBR of 47.5 ranks him 25th in the league, a season after he posted a total QBR of 63.7, which ranked 10th.

Todd Gurley mystery

Coming off a disappearing act late last season, Gurley's situation was unsettled going into the season and created a dark cloud over the offense that never lifted.

McVay was asked weekly about Gurley's situation and he continually denied that Gurley was on a load management program and went so far as to label himself an "idiot" for not getting Gurley more involved.

But there's more to the Gurley story. McVay is no fool, and Gurley did not show the physical burst that made him a first-round pick and enabled him to perform among the NFL's best the previous two seasons.

After rushing for more than 1,200 yards in each of the past two seasons, Gurley has rushed for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games (inactive Week 6, thigh bruise). He does not have a 100-yard rushing game.

Defensive woes

In Phillips' third season as defensive coordinator, the Rams' defense became prone to too many momentary lapses and too many total meltdowns.

"We just didn't play consistently," outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Our consistency is probably the biggest message or the biggest thing that we would probably need to hit on in order to put us in a better position."

The momentary lapses were on full display last Saturday, in a 34-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, when the 49ers converted twice on third-and-16 to march down the field and kick a winning field goal.

The total meltdowns occurred in embarrassing losses to the Buccaneers, Ravens and Cowboys, when the Rams allowed each opponent to score more than 40 points.