To start their 2017 campaigns, the Los Angeles Rams have competed notably hard under the leadership of new head coach Sean McVay. On Sunday, the Rams traveled to Dallas and beat the Cowboys, an NFC heavyweight in 2016, by a score of 35-30.
Now with a 3-1 record, McVay seems to have sparked a team that has long hoped for legitimate positive momentum. Perhaps LA sports fans should feel the Rams are the city’s team to watch.
It’s not the 3-1 record that’s so surprising because Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was on the right track in 2016 when he notched three wins in four games. The Rams, though, then went on a furious losing run, dropping 11 of the remaining 12 competitions. They had trouble finishing ball games strong. And even though Fisher signed a two-year extension on Dec. 4, he ended up getting fired eight days later following a 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Case Keenum was the Rams’ starting quarterback for the prosperous spell early in the 2016 season. He was keeping his squad in the games, but wasn’t putting up the big numbers Goff has totaled. In this sense, Fisher was betting on his defense and that Keenum could stay consistent enough on the way to the playoffs. Fisher was wrong, as his players found it difficult to live up to his challenge.
McVay, on the other hand, might be hitting the right cord. Upon his hiring, the Rams’ front office viewed him as a possible motivator and mentor for the Rams’ offense, and specifically quarterback Jared Goff, whose decision making looks much improved from a year ago. Goff started seven games in 2016 and tallied 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions with a quarterback rating of 63.6.
Four games into the 2017 NFL regular season, Goff’s QB rating has soared to 112.2. He has thrown seven touchdowns and only one interception, and his completion percentage (66.7 percent) is high. Goff was holding onto the ball too long at many points in 2016 and wasn’t as confident in progressing through his reads. Maybe, thanks to McVay’s guidance, Goff is developing into a franchise quarterback right in front of our eyes.
Goff and the Rams’ offense, most notably running back Todd Gurley, is among the best in the NFL, ranking first in points and fifth in total yards. Gurley reeled in seven catches for 94 yards and ran for 121 yards on 23 attempts against Dallas. The former University of Georgia star is the third running back in league history to account for more than 575 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in a season’s opening four games. He’s joined by Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown.
“Our offense is really going out there and competing and scoring, man,” Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson told media after the win over the Cowboys. “It’s a great sight to see. I’ve been with the Rams six years. Our offense hasn’t been there. But they’re being consistent. They really are.”
There could be concern, however, about the health of Gurley down the road if he keeps getting so many touches. And his absence in a competition would show the Rams’ true colors, if they’re too reliant on Gurley’s top notch ability or not.
McVay’s offensive plans may have to undergo a sort of renovation without their elite running back playing. This change would revolve around integrating receivers Tavon Austin, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins into the offense more effectively. This group is talented, so I think McVay could do it. He also has tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee at his disposal.
After all, L.A.’s defense isn’t up to par with the offense, although the play-calling of famed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has helped in game-defining situations. The Rams’ defense ranks 28th in the league in points allowed and 27th in total yards. So it’s not a team that is bulletproof. We’ve seen multiple teams start a year well, but a couple of injuries can completely alter the nature of that situation.
Then again, the defense might actually be able to afford these injuries so long as the offense can bear the burden of winning games. But over the course of the season, more game film will be available on the Rams’ offense, and opponents will be able to plan accordingly.
In the end, when the responsibility of winning falls on the LA’s offense, we’ll see if McVay has the answers. You can’t help but think if he’s able to continuously make sound adjustments, the Rams could make the playoffs. Or maybe Phillips’ defense finds a groove, and they’re able to play great complementary football. In either case, it’s doesn’t feel like a typical year for the Rams. And that’s a good thing.