The first season of the acclaimed Amazon documentary “All or Nothing” released to rave reviews last summer, as the groundbreaking series was the first to ever chronicle a full NFL season in a fashion similar to HBO’s annual “Hard Knocks.” Season one focused on the 2015 Arizona Cardinals and their 13-3 romp to the NFC championship (in which they were subsequently romped by the Carolina Panthers) so the bar for team success was set fairly high from the word go for the team that would be featured as the focus of the second. Lo and behold, when it was announced that the train wreck of a debut effort by the 4-12 2016 Los Angeles Rams would be the center of attention this year, fans were decidedly skeptical about the potential entertainment value of a team that saw it’s head coach get fired during the season after a smoke-and-mirrors 3-1 start gave way to a 1-11 finish.
Thankfully, it turns out that quality of play on the field and entertainment value don’t necessarily directly correlate to one another. We learn this right away in somber fashion, as the very first scene of this season is a glimpse down the road for the Rams, after the shine on the returning team has worn off and more questions remain than there are answers for. As the players gather into one of the meeting rooms at their facility, head coach Jeff Fisher reveals the purpose of the get together: “We’ve had some great team meetings over the years,” he says. “This is one that you’re probably gonna remember... because I am no longer your head coach.”
An emotional Fisher continues his speech by imploring his players to cherish every single second that they have in the league, because there truly is nothing better than the opportunity to be a part of it. This can hit even the most cynical viewers fairly hard because in many ways it’s an analogy for life, and it does a fantastic job of setting up this season to the audience.
The 2015 Cardinals exited the “All or Nothing” stage having missed out on a Super Bowl appearance by one game; the 2016 Rams were certainly closer to nothing than they were to all, but it is the experience of following them down this tough journey that makes this second season so worth watching. The 2015 Cardinals were fun to follow as a team because their collective success defined them, and their cohesion was clear right up until the end. The 2016 Rams are easier to follow on an individual and personal level, because as each week passes, the futility of their efforts begin to wear on them, and they become sympathetic figures along the way.
Two of the easier players to root for in this sense happened to be the focal points of the season, both in the documentary, as well as during the year when the drama was unfolding behind the scenes. That would the two starting quarterbacks, veteran castoff Case Keenum, and greenhorn gunslinger Jared Goff, a rookie from California that the Rams traded a windfall of selections to acquire with the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Keenum, the established starter from the season prior, is given the starting job from the jump, but this is often a formality in the NFL wherein a journeyman signal caller is given the keys to start the season, only to be pushed aside for his younger and more talented counterpart after just a few games in.
Many thought this is exactly what would happen with these two, but a 3-1 start under Keenum as well as a slow period of development from Goff pushes Fisher’s hand. He believes that he has to remain with the veteran for longer than almost anyone in the media or amongst the fanbase, and the strife that is caused by his thought process leads to some very interesting encounters that the viewer becomes privy to. This includes a cacophony of “we want Goff” chants from the Rams home crowd in one game, to a behind the scenes glimpse at a back and forth between Fisher and franchise legend Eric Dickerson, who was heavily critical of the coaching staff for their handling of the situation.
This wasn’t entirely surprising to see, as Fisher has acquired a bit of an unsavory reputation for his inability to produce a winning product, and owner Stan Kroenke’s inexplicable commitment to him despite that. Still, even as he went against the grain with how he handled the Goff/Keenum competition, it’s easy to see why the players and coaches on his staff are so behind Fisher every step of the way. He runs a fairly loose ship which may be a contributing factor to his penchant for consistently hovering around .500, but also creates a player friendly environment.
This is on display when Fisher is told to rein in his defense a bit by a referee. He waits until the official is out of earshot, and then turns to his players: “Guys, the ref just told me to tell you to tone it down. Well, crank it the f— up!” he exclaims. This is an interesting look at how Fisher runs things, and why he gained such a reputation for being a players coach.
One of the few complaints I had about the original season of “All or Nothing” was that it didn’t necessarily go very in depth into actual game planning for an opponents strengths and weaknesses. That is eschewed for a more inside baseball approach this time around, and it is on full display in the third episode, in which the Rams take on the rival Cardinals. “The coaches have identified a potential weakness,” says narrator Jon Hamm over a crowded offensive meeting room. “Lately the Cardinals have been slow to line up between snaps.”
A few examples of this are shown, and running backs coach Skip Peete is pictured explaining the situation to the offense. He hands it over to offensive line coach Paul Boudreau who tells the team that the plan is to go fast to take advantage of the situation. “We’re telling him to speed up the process,” Boudreau says. “Why go through the whole ‘Black-80’ all that bullsh—? Right here, let’s go,” he says as some practice film is shown which depicts Keenum getting a snap off quickly to running back Todd Gurley. Hamm explains that the Rams plan is to install a quick snap cadence, called “Cheetah” to properly take advantage, and a scene of them implementing it it practice is shown thereafter.
Center Tim Barnes becomes comfortable running the new look offense in this practice, and a few scenes later, we’re treated to it being utilized in the Arizona game. “Cheetah, cheetah, cheetah!” shouts Keenum into his huddle over the roar of the opposing crowd, and then gets the play call in. Barnes hustles to the line and quickly fires it back to Keenum who follows up the quick snap with a scoring strike to wide receiver Brian Quick, who blew past a confused Cardinals defense. It’s exhilarating to watch, and is an interesting look at how a gameplan can truly turn the tides for a team.
In terms of turning the tides on their season, another highlight from the show this year was the coaching staff officially handing the offense over to Goff, after struggles from Keenum as well as a few other factors put the team into a 4-5 hole. Despite Goff’s actual debut as the starter being a lukewarm clunker of a loss to Miami, the practices prior to the game are well documented, and you can tell the team responds to the rookie’s presence. It’s an exciting moment, if also somewhat depressing considering most viewers probably know that the Rams won’t win another game the whole way.
The highlight of the entire season is a more in depth look at something inevitable: The firing of Jeff Fisher. It’s preceded by a look into the Atlanta Falcons running riot over the Rams set fittingly to Kaleo’s “Way down we go,” which heightens the feeling of dread that is palpable among the Rams players and coaches at that point. In the locker room, defensive end Will Hayes sums up the season to that point: “it’s our f—king livelihood on the line bro.” He was more right than he realized at the time, and the next day is when he and the rest of the Rams come to realize that.
Fisher first informs his coaching staff that he’s been let go, and then his players in the following scene. The players and remaining coaches stay in the room to commiserate in what is pretty powerful television, as punter Johnny Hekker gets tearful in his address to the team, and Fisher’s son Brandon who coaches the defensive backs gives an impassioned testimony to fight as hard as possible the rest of the way. These are just a few examples of the team’s response to the situation, and a lot of the others are also very much worth a watch.
The rest of the season is played out under interim head coach John Fassel, a pretty interesting character in his own right, but the truly fascinating bit following the firing is the final episode. Since there was no postseason to follow, Amazon and NFL Films instead decided to focus on the next chapter of Rams football, including the hiring of new head coach Sean McVay, and an in depth look at the 2017 NFL draft process. This is a nice bookend to what is a pretty emotional watch towards the end, and is hopefully able to give Rams fans some hope moving forward.
Despite the bad football you’ll be treated to and the heavy emotional toll that it takes on an otherwise tough group of men, “All or Nothing,” is an absolute pleasure to watch this season. If you had any reservations due to the selection of team, don’t let them hold you back from watching this season, especially with the NFL so close to returning.