Viscarra’s Vice: Rams’ fast start is converting skeptics

When the Los Angeles Rams opened the 2017 regular season with a convincing 46-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, there was a positive feeling about the direction that the team was heading in. Los Angeles put on a dominant defensive showing in its Week 1 victory, paired with a clean 300-yard passing effort from quarterback Jared Goff. The Sean McVay coaching era began with a win.

But following the victory, as the media gaggle made its way to the Rams’ locker room, I heard several reporters muttering, “Don’t drink the Rams’ Kool-Aid just yet … let’s see where this team is in a few weeks.”

These media members had reason to express caution. After watching the Rams begin 3-1 and ultimately tailspin to a 4-12 record last season, anyone around this franchise should be wary of a meltdown.

But for followers of the Rams, something is distinctly different about the team this go-around. Something about this group feels more absolute — more concrete. Maybe it’s the youthful spark of 31-year-old head coach McVay that has people buying in. It could be a blossoming Goff, or resurgent running back Todd Gurley that has people feeling like Los Angeles has finally harnessed the talent of its young football stars.

And while the Rams are coming off an exhausting 16-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, I find myself now, more than ever, saying this team will be formidable in the NFC this season. Dare I say, this team will be vying for a playoff spot come winter.

The loss certainly hurt, but with 11 games remaining, the upside for McVay’s Rams is something NFL fans should take note of.

Despite serving up five turnovers to the Seahawks (who rank fifth in total defense), the Rams still had every opportunity to come away with a win on its home turf. The fact that the Rams could have escaped Sunday with a win is a testament to the team’s resilience this season.

I hate spewing coach-speak in my columns, but the Rams’ loss on Sunday came down to a game of inches. If Gurley’s first-quarter fumble didn’t hit the pylon or if wide receiver Cooper Kupp was able to reel in the game-winning touchdown pass that fell off his fingertips with less than 30 seconds left in play, Los Angeles would be a 4-1 football team today. It would be tied (with three other teams) for the second-best record in football through five weeks.

Nonetheless, the Rams find themselves sitting at 3-2 overall through five games. In a very-winnable NFC West, Los Angeles finds itself in second place.

The Rams’ strong showings early on have been powered by an offensive attack that, following Week 4, was statistically the best offense in the NFL. After Sunday’s game, Los Angeles now bears the second-best scoring offense in the game, averaging 30.4 points per game.

In stark contrast, the 2016 Rams’ attack finished last in the NFL. The team’s offensive resurrection certainly has to be largely credited to McVay, who was a proven offensive mind during his time coaching in Washington the past seven seasons. The guru McVay has helped some assets finally blossom for the Rams.

Gurley’s outstanding September saw him bring home NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors. After a sluggish 2016 season, Gurley racked up 381 yards from scrimmage (241 rushing, 140 receiving) and scored six total touchdowns (four rushing, two receiving) in his first four games.

At signal caller, Goff has had shining moments through the first five contests of 2017. In the Rams’

35-30 victory on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, Goff threw for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns in what was Los Angeles’ biggest win of the young season.

In Sunday’s contest against the Seahawks, Tavon Austin found the endzone on a 27-yard rushing score that was the Rams’ only touchdown of the day.

This trio of Goff, Gurley and Austin is a young nucleus that the Rams are glad to see being productive thus far in 2017. And while the Rams’ defense has been underachieving in many aspects, ranking 23rd in scoring defense (allowing 24.2 points per game), it held Seattle to 62 total rushing yards Sunday. This defense also boasts what many consider to be the most dominant defensive player in the NFL in lineman Aaron Donald.

So, my conclusion? After just five games, I feel comfortable stating that the Rams have the tools (a budding quarterback, a defensive star and a young, offensive-minded coach) to build a winning season and make a playoff push.

But first things first for

fresh-faced coach McVay (who has two players on his roster who are older than him): His team has an opportunity to make a statement on the road next week against a thriving Jacksonville (3-2) team that is leading the AFC South.

As for the question posed following Week 1: Yes, I am in fact drinking the Rams’ Kool-Aid. Hopefully not prematurely.

Angel Viscarra is a junior studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, Viscarra’s Vice, runs Tuesdays.