WELCOME BACK: Greatest Show on Turf. This new edition is on grass—and in Los Angeles, not St. Louis. But the Rams have elite receivers for the first time since Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce performed their high-wire act (1999--2007). The Show's new star is BRANDIN COOKS, acquired from New England in April for the 23rd pick in the draft. Cooks, 24, is not only one of football's fastest receivers, but he also has outstanding throttle-down ability, a lethal skill for a speedster. On third downs expect coach SEAN MCVAY to line him up alone on the weak side, where he's most able to influence coverages. If a safety comes to help against Cooks, that will set up ROBERT WOODS and COOPER KUPP on the strong side for the intertwined routes that McVay excels at designing.
JARED GOFF is the right quarterback for this system. The third-year player relies on timing and rhythm, which suits a scheme that emphasizes play-action. Goff has the potential to be better than McVay's QB in Washington, Kirk Cousins, because Goff has the skills to function when plays break down. There's room for improvement, though: His footwork can falter under pressure, and he's not consistently comfortable making throws with bodies around him.
L.A. uses its backs in the passing game as well as anyone. Having TODD GURLEY helps (a lot). He's sensational in space. To take advantage of his skills, McVay emphasizes backfield screens and routes to the flats.
The Rams acquired MARCUS PETERS from the Chiefs and AQIB TALIB from the Broncos this offseason, and it will be exciting to watch a pair of high-risk playmaking corners operate, especially on a defense that has tackles AARON DONALD and NDAMUKONG SUH pushing upfield. But who will close the pocket? The Rams lack edge-benders, and if the rush doesn't get home, the gambles of Peters and Talib can backfire.
Donald is the NFL's best 3-technique, but it's hard to see how a tackle on a unit that ranked 30th in yards per rushing attempt could win Defensive Player of the Year so handily. The ranking isn't all on Donald, but it explains Suh's one-year, $14 million free-agent deal.
2017 RECORD 11W 5L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 10W 6L
10th @RAIDERS [Monday]
27th VIKINGS [Thursday]
19th CHIEFS [In Mexico City]
In Mexico City
AFTER THE additions last year of left tackle ANDREW WHITWORTH, center JOHN SULLIVAN and O-line coach AARON KROMER, the Rams did anything they wanted schematically. Left guard RODGER SAFFOLD'S mobility is a screen-game weapon.