Remember just over a year ago when the Rams were making all kinds of acquisitions?
Marcus Peters. Aqib Talib. Sam Shields. Brandin Cooks. Ndamukong Suh.
The names all rightfully garnered headlines, since all were big-time playmakers, and all of them had postseason experience. For Peters, Talib, Shields, and Suh the thought was creating a defense that better fit how coordinator Wade Phillips schemes the backend and the front seven.
And with Cooks, former wide receiver Sammy Watkins signed with the Chiefs in free agency — leaving a fairly significant void in terms of production. No, Watkins didn’t have the most yards, but he did have a team-high eight touchdown receptions in 2017.
On Wednesday, general manager Les Snead met with members of the media for a roundtable and was asked about all of those five names and whether all those moves paid off.
“I would say at some points in the season they’ve all been a part of making a play — a big play,” Snead replied. “So, the answer is yes.”
It’s true — you can go down the list and see where each one made a significant contribution. Peters’ pick-six to begin the season in Oakland. Talib’s long fumble recovery against the 49ers. Shields has been instrumental on punt coverage, and he’s converted more than one fake punt — including one in the NFC Championship game. More than just big plays, Cooks set a career high in yards receiving in 2018. And Suh picked up sacks on back-to-back plays during the NFC title game, too.
“[A]ll those guys, and along with everyone else, those are the new," Snead said. "[B]ut it’s the guys that were here that maybe weren’t the sexy new toys, they spent this offseason wanting to get better and improve to get us to this point.”
Snead specifically pointed out Shields and the way he’s performed at a high level in his role given his story — being out of football essentially for two years after suffering a number of concussions, and then coming back to excel in Los Angeles.
“My bubble went to, you brought up Sam Shields — and what a story,” Snead said. “He sits out of football. He loves the game. He can’t live without it. He’s one of those kids, I could have easily, you know, moved onto the next chapter but there was that itch inside. But I think back to the [multiple games] where he made [great plays] to pin the punt at the goal line. The other day he comes back for a ball and he’s three yards from the first and he makes a guy miss — moves the chains, gives us momentum.”
But going back to March of 2018, many of the headlines suggested the the Rams were going “all in,” that they were creating a season that was truly going to be “Super Bowl or bust.”
Really, though, every team in the NFL feels that way. And while it wouldn’t be accurate to say the Rams weren’t thinking they could compete for a championship, it wasn’t as simple as just adding a piece or two.
“I always say, when you’re in this position you’re never irrational enough to think you’re one or two players away from, let’s call it, the Super Bowl,” Snead said. However, “After winning the division last year, after contending last year, we sat back and said we definitely feel like we can do this — and we could do this consistently for a little while.
“But, we won the division last year and we were eliminated in the Wild Card round. So how do we get better? So I think the moves this year were, let’s improve. That wasn’t good enough. That feeling after Atlanta was hollow even after the sweetness of the breakthrough, so to speak. That’s what those moves meant.”
And now that the Rams are on the cusp of cementing their season in the NFL history books, how is Snead feeling about the it?
“It’s interesting. It’s hard to reflect, especially with these two weeks, because you’re preparing for, heck, one of the biggest opportunities in pro sports,” Snead said. “So you can sit down and say, hey, 2018 season, you’re definitely well aware you checked off a box of getting a second straight division title. So you got a hat and a banner. One of the goals after last year was to get a first-round bye because you felt like that’s just a lesson that you learned. So you check that box off. And after this year, you can check off the box of home-field advantage is pretty good plus there because all y’all were there [in New Orleans] and that was definitely some home-field advantage. And then you move into ’19 and you just focus quickly on the Dallas Cowboys — check that box off. And then you focus quickly on the New Orleans Saints and you don’t have time to breathe. And, hey, that’s game a little bit bigger than some of the others because you got another hat, you got another banner, but you also got this trophy.
“But all that’s done now is put you in a spot where you've got an opportunity to go get a bigger trophy. And that’s the focus. I’m sure there will be reflection time after this. But you quickly turn to the New England Patriots and the rewards that follow.”