At 7-1 and riding a four-game win streak, Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams are already eying potential matchups in the NFC playoffs.
Well, maybe McVay himself isn’t looking at the January calendar just yet. Coaches are notoriously short-sighted, after-all. The top brass in LA obviously felt that reinforcements were needed on defense, though. They pulled off a blockbuster trade, bringing in star pass rusher Von Miller from the Denver Broncos, and in the process, they tipped off their long-term thinking.
This is an NFC conference that is still run by Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not far behind at the top of the NFC, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are once again looking like contenders.
Even with an offensive unit that features a rejuvenated Matthew Stafford at quarterback, the Rams know that any and all of their Super Bowl hopes will ride on stopping a quarterback wearing the No. 12 in the playoffs.
Von Miller is a big name who can still be productive for the Rams
To be clear, the Rams aren’t getting the Miller of old. That would be unfair.
There was a point in his career when Miller was the premiere pass rusher in the NFL. He’s notched seven ten-plus sack campaigns in 10 seasons in the NFL, all previously with the Broncos. His high water mark was the 2012 season that saw him notch 18.5 sacks. He has 110.5 overall as he heads to LA.
Miller won the Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2016 and was even named the Super Bowl MVP for his performance in their 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. He sacked Cam Newton 2.5 times in that contest.
Miller is an eight-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro.
It’s worth noting that Father Time has been catching up to him a bit at 32 years old. He’s not the transcendent pass rusher he once was, but he can still get after the quarterback better than most.
Miller recorded only eight sacks last season and has 4.5 so far in 2021.
According to Adam Schefter, the Broncos are receiving only a 2022 second and third round pick in return for Miller. They’re also paying $9 million of his salary. That’s a steal for the Rams.
The Rams are going to ask Miller to play a role on an already strong defense
The beauty of this trade for LA is that the Rams aren’t bringing in Miller to be a superstar and spearhead the defense, as the Broncos asked him to.
LA wants Miller to be a piece of the bigger picture, and that’s something he should be able to thrive at doing. Imagine a rested Miller coming off the edge as a situational pass rusher? That has to be a terrifying thought for opposing quarterbacks.
The Rams boasted a Top 15 defense before the trade and will now add Miller to a front that features Aaron Donald and his five sacks as well as Leonard Floyd and his 6.5 sacks. Throw in a trash-talking Jalen Ramsey patrolling the defensive backfield and all of a sudden Miller’s life as a pass rusher just got a whole lot easier.
The Rams’ defense is going to be borderline elite.
The Rams have built a championship-level defense to stop championship-level quarterbacks
The Rams now have the best defense Miller has played on since the vaunted Denver defense he spearheaded that won a Super Bowl.
That doesn’t mean the NFC has suddenly become a cakewalk, though. There are still fear-inducing opponents on the other sideline, including two all-time great quarterbacks.
The Rams have the third-best offense in the NFL with Stafford and McVay at the helm, but ahead of them at the top of the list is Brady’s Buccaneers. LA is averaging 30.6 points per game, while Brady’s Tampa Bay squad averages 32.5. The legendary quarterback is also 34-11 all-time in the playoffs, so he knows a thing or two about winning when the chips are down.
The Arizona Cardinals, despite their recent loss to the Packers, still boast a high-flying offense (30.8 points per game) led by Kyler Murray. Speaking of Green Bay, it’s going to be hard to count out a team led by the reigning NFL MVP that just beat Arizona on the road despite missing a handful of its top players. Rodgers and Matt LaFleur have the Packers running like a well-oiled machine, and the Pack will only get better as some of their injured stars return to the lineup.
Though the Rams can get into a shootout with just about anybody, cliches are cliches for a reason.
In the NFL, the offense wins games, and the defense wins championships. Miller’s Broncos proved that in 2016 and it’s something the Rams clearly know in 2021.
Despite having a solid offense, success for the Rams in the NFC playoffs will likely eventually come down to stopping either Brady or Rodgers. Especially if the Rams end up going on the road, slowing down the game and keeping the football out of the hands of either legendary quarterback is a game plan that will lead to more playoff wins than not.
Stafford has yet to win a playoff game in his career. That’s something he has to prove he can do, and it’s easier said than done. Despite already leading LA to a Super Bowl, McVay is a pedestrian 3-3 as a coach in the playoffs. That includes a road loss to the Packers in the 2020 NFC divisional round.
Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.
The Rams have bought into that mantra in 2021, and the acquisition of Miller is proof of that.