By: Cory Vest
Their offense ranks in the top five in points per game, total points, yards per play, yards per game, and passing yards per game. Their 142 total points and 35.5 points per game are the highest in the league. They have a 3-1 record and sit atop of their division.
The team described above are the Los Angeles Rams. Fresh off a nightmarish season they have flipped their script completely. The offense finished near the bottom in several categories and were the laughing stock of the league last year. Number one overall pick Jared Goff failed to record a win in his rookie season and Toddy Gurley fell flat on his face after a stellar first year. The offensive line was porous and the receiving corps was shaky at best. Hope for a successful 2017 campaign was only alive in the true optimists. Firing Jeff Fisher was a step in the right direction however. Youngster Sean McVay left Washington to fill the vacancy at head coach. The rebuild was on from there as Wade Phillips took over defensive coordinating duties, the offensive line was bolstered, the receiving corps was revamped, and steps were made to improve.
Through the first four games of the season, the Rams have been the best team in the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers have put up a fight but have quickly settled into their home at the bottom of the division. The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have both been flying with unsteady wings as they each sport a 2-2 record.
This year’s 3-1 feels vastly different from that of last year’s 3-1 start. This year’s team appears to be on the right track and show no signs of slowing down. Their most recent victory over the Dallas Cowboys was a nice statement. Quarterback questions from last year are being answered by Jared Goff’s performance so far. Goff has 1,072 passing yards through four games; last year Goff had 1,089 for the season, which was a span of seven games. He has basically doubled his passing rater of 63.6 from last year as he now sports a 112.2. Goff has also surpassed his total touchdowns from last year with 7 on the season; Goff threw just 5 last year. Goff has only thrown one interception so far and has yet to lose a fumble.
The Rams offense has improved overall. Goff’s increase in production can be linked to several factors. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Kooper Cupp have formed a formidable force. Watkins has an ability to break big plays and ignite the offense. Woods has displayed reliable hands and a knack to make challenging catches. Cupp has provided steady play from the slot. Todd Gurley has been a nice addition to the passing game as well. A back who should have been catching balls from day one is finally seeing his full skillset utilized.
Gurley has 7 touchdowns through 4 games, the most in Rams history in that span. Gurley is changing the game by way of rushing and receiving, as he has 569 total yards. With 20 receptions, Gurley has 234 yards and 3 TDs. On 86 carries, Gurley has 362 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Those familiar with the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ have to be having flashbacks of Marshall Faulk and his role in that high-powered offense.
A bounce back for Gurley was mandatory after last year’s performance. The offensive line woes shouldered some of the fault so it is only fitting it shoulders some of the credit for Gurley’s early season success. Both rush and pass blocking have gotten the job done. The Rams have only given up 4 sacks, second fewest in the league. The line has both opened up holes and protected the quarterback.
Rounding out the reasons of why the Rams appear to be on a road of shocking success are the kickers. Greg Zuerlein is a perfect 14-14 in field goals. ‘The Leg’ had seven made field goals in the Dallas game alone. He is 4-4 from 30-39 yards out and an impressive 7-7 from 40-49 yards out. A game of field position is being won; long field goals are being converted and punting has backed up the opponents. Although seldom used through the first quarter of the season, Hekker has a net average of 46.1 yards on 13 punts. Out of the 13 punts, eight have been downed inside the 20. Hekker’s net average is one of the best in the league.
One final fun fact before we give the defense some air time; Greg Zuerlein and Toddy Gurley are the two highest scorers in the league. The 56 points from Zuerlein, combined with the 42 points from Todd Gurley, total 98; there are 21 NFL teams that have yet to reach the 98-point total.
The Rams’ defense has bent but has not quite broken. With a defensive unit that has talent, and Wade Phillips as the new Defensive Coordinator, expectations have not exactly been met. With that being said, the Rams defense has done a good job of stepping up when necessary. Big tackles, sacks, and turnovers late in the game have been the defense’s saving grace. With the potential to improve and shut down opposing teams, this Rams team may be a real force to be reckoned with.
The Rams have beatable opponents scattered throughout the remainder of their schedule. Could a winning record be on the horizon for the new look Rams? Dare I say playoffs? One thing is for sure, Sean McVay and the Rams have made a name for themselves early on in the season.