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The path to Super Bowl LVI: Los Angeles Rams

By Stuart Dick

Published: 17:00, 8 February 2022

The Los Angeles Rams, headed by general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay, went all in on the 2021 season with a plethora of high-profile trades coupled with big-name free-agent captures.

Fair to say that so far the gamble appears to be paying off as the Rams prepare to battle for a Lombardi trophy in their home stadium this weekend.

The Rams may never have a better chance to win a Super Bowl – coming from a relatively weak NFC, with All-Pro talents on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball and a dynamic head coach who has earned rave reviews over his NFL career to date. McVay holds a 61-29 career record over six seasons.

Here is how the Rams put themselves in contention for a first world championship since 1999.

Key Moves

The biggest move of the off-season was to acquire long-time Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The move cost the Rams their third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and first-round picks in both the 2022 and 2023 Drafts – a handsome sum indeed. The Rams also sent the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, quarterback Jared Goff, to Detroit as part of the deal.

Snead made a further trade during the season to acquire future Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller from Denver for second and third-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. That added another pass-rushing threat alongside three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

Ten days after acquiring Miller, the Rams then added the mercurial talents of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had just been released by the Cleveland Browns.

The Rams had very few contributors from their 2021 draft class – LB Ernest Jones, a third-round pick, was the most prominent.

The Regular Season

You can split the Rams regular season into three parts – a 7-1 start followed by a trio of losses and then a five-game win streak to clinch a playoff berth and the NFC West title.

A trio of victories to start the season – over the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – were followed by an embarrassing home loss to the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.

The Rams bounced back with four consecutive victories over the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans. At the time though, many suggested that the ‘powderpuff’ schedule may have prematurely anointed them as Super Bowl contender. But with an average margin of victory at 14.75 points per game, few could doubt the manner of those wins.

Three consecutive defeats though followed at the hands of playoff contenders – the future AFC #1 seed Tennessee Titans, the future NFC #1 seed Green Bay Packers and divisional foe the San Francisco 49ers. Now, at 7-4 and sitting precariously in a strong NFC West, the heat was on for the Rams.

A bounce-back victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars was followed by in-division victories over Arizona and Seattle to lift the Rams at 10-4. The Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens were next on the schedule as the Rams defeated both to close in on the NFC West title.

A loss in Week 18 to the 49ers allowed San Francisco into the post-season, but the Rams still clinched the division as rivals Arizona lost to Seattle.

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Offensive Star – Cooper Kupp

Kupp was a triple crown winner at the wide receiver position – leading the league in receptions, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns. He continued his rise from underrated pass catcher to scintillating playmaker, helped by the acquisition of Stafford in the off-season. Kupp produced an astonishing stat line with 145 receptions for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns during the 2021 season.

However, when teams have been able to keep Kupp quiet, the Rams have struggled. In five regular-season defeats, Kupp scored just one touchdown. That compared to the 15 he produced during the Rams’ 12 victories.

Kupp has been as equally impressive in the playoffs, catching 25 passes through three games for 386 yards and four touchdowns. In total, he has recorded 19 90+ yard performances and six multi touchdown games.

With the emphasis the Rams have placed on the trade and free-agent markets, it sometimes easy to overlook their draft hits in recent years. Kupp certainly falls into that category, taken in the third round back in 2017.

Defensive Star – Aaron Donald

It always helps having a three-time Defensive Player of the Year to anchor your front seven, but Aaron Donald is arguably playing some of his best football at the age of 30. He is quite simply one of the greatest ever to play the DT position.

A 6”1, 280lb powerhouse, Donald has recorded double-digit sacks from the interior of the defensive line in six of his eight seasons in the NFL – including 12.5 in 2021. With the extra game on the schedule, Donald set career highs in combined tackles (84) and made 19 tackles for a loss.

Another interesting stat is that Donald has been named defensive player of the year for every year he has made the playoffs – although it is unlikely he will pick up the award in 2021. He has recorded 1.5 sacks so far in the post-season, and two tackles for a loss. With the weakness of the Bengals being the offensive line, Donald could yet feast on the grandest stage of them all.

Game of the Season – Arizona Cardinals 23-30 Los Angeles Rams (Week 14)

The Week 14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was one of the highlights of the regular season campaign for the Rams. At the time, L.A. sat at 8-4 with their NFC West rival boasting a 10-2 record.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray missed an open A.J. Green on the opening drive for a touchdown as Arizona was forced to settle for a field goal. The Cards then appeared set to extend their lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, but rookie LB Ernest Jones picked off Murray on the goalline.

A 10-play, 68-yard drive ensued as Stafford found Beckham Jr with a two-yard touchdown pass – followed midway through the quarter by a Matt Gay 55-yard field goal. James Connor punctuated a nine-play, 75-yard drive for the Cards to level the game at 10-10 before Gay and Matt Prater exchanged late first-half field goals.

The third quarter is where the Rams took control. Stafford threw a pair of touchdowns to Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp to extend the lead to 27-13. Despite a late James Connor touchdown, the Rams held on to move to 9-4.

Stafford threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns in the victory, with Kupp catching 13 passes for 123 yards and a score. On defense, Aaron Donald was a colossus as he sacked Murray on three separate occasions.

Route through the playoffs

  • Wildcard – Los Angeles Rams 34-11 Arizona Cardinals
  • Divisional – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-30 Los Angeles Rams
  • Conference – Los Angeles Rams 20-17 San Francisco 49ers


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