One of the biggest surprises for the 2017 NFL season has been the success the Los Angeles Rams have found early. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Los Angeles, and rightfully so. With letdowns in past seasons after early success, however, the fans can’t help but ask themselves, “Are the Rams Legitimate Contenders?” While it’s easy to get excited about the 2017 season so far, we need to remember who this team was just a year ago. The 2016 L.A. Rams, in their first season after the move to Los Angeles, started the season 3-1 with impressive wins over powerhouse teams like the division rival Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but wound up going 1-11 for the remainder of the season. They ended up with one of the worst offenses in the league and were so unproductive that even the San Francisco 49ers, who went 2-14 that season, still managed to beat the Rams in both of their matchups. This was obviously quite a letdown for hopeful Los Angeles fans, and now the question on present-day Rams fans’ minds is “Should we be setting ourselves up for another disappointing tail end to our season?”
Drastic Change for Better
The 2017 season so far is looking like good news for Rams fans, and many key attributes of last year’s Rams have been changed for the better. For one, they severed ties with sub-par coach Jeff Fisher, who, if they kept him, would guarantee nothing but mediocrity at best. Fisher is notorious for tying the record for most losses by an NFL coach in history, and just barely being above a .500 W/L ratio with a 173-165-1 overall record. In fact, in his 4-year tenure with the Rams, he had not led them to a single winning record. Needless to say, Fisher had been given more than enough chances to prove himself and probably overstayed his welcome in most fans’ eyes. Los Angeles finally decided enough was enough and decided to go out with the old and in with the new.
Following that sentiment in spades, the Rams named former Washington Redskins Offensive Coordinator Sean McVay their head coach, making him the youngest NFL head coach ever at 30 years 11 months old. Before the season started many would find this to be a questionable decision, as McVay is younger than some of the more seasoned veteran players in the league. It goes without saying, however, that the skepticism around McVay has diminished due to his stellar coaching thus far.
The Perfect Fit
The hiring of McVay was an incredibly well thought out move by Los Angeles. They were quick to acknowledge their flaws from the previous season and the issues that needed addressing most. The most glaring issue was their offense, more specifically in the passing game. Their run game also had taken a step backward from the previous season, although it was pretty plain to see that running back Todd Gurley was not the main issue. Rather, it stemmed from their inability to find success with the passing game and having to rely on the run more often than not. Not to mention their offensive line wasn’t finding the same success blocking for Gurley that they had found in the season prior. Why McVay fit in with this failing offense so well and reform them into one of the top offenses in the league in the present day was because he was all too familiar with reinvigorating offenses. The year before when he was an offensive coordinator for the Redskins, he had taken them from a 25th overall ranked offense in the 2015 season to the 10th ranked overall offense in 2016. McVay played a huge role in turning quarterback Kirk Cousins into the arguably elite quarterback he is today. The Redskins ended up the 12th ranked passing offense in the league. The Rams were quick to take notice of this, and Los Angeles fans should be thankful that they had because Sean McVay has done the same with the flourishing Rams offense of 2017.
It is quite easy to draw parallels from McVay’s complete rebirth of the 2016-2017 Washington offense with what he has done so far for the present day Los Angeles Rams offense. The Rams front office likely noticed what McVay did with Cousins, and knew that attributes similar to that could end up being an ‘X-factor’ for the not so stellar Rams offense. In fact, it was a near perfect fit, as the Rams had their own young quarterback that they needed to live up to his potential. There was a lot of pressure put on Jared Goff for the 2016 season, as there would be for any #1 overall pick in the draft. Although Goff didn’t start at quarterback all season, he did get to show what he can do as a starter, which was a bit disappointing. The Rams were not so quick to give up on Goff though and were hopeful that McVay could work to Goff’s strengths and help him reach that potential his team saw in him on draft day.
At the time of this article, the gamble has proven to pay off with no in-between phase in sight. In the 2016 season, Goff had 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and a 63.6 passer rating. In the 2017season so far, he has thrown an astounding 9 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and has a 90.3 passer rating. Goff is finally looking to be a pick well spent for the Rams. In fact, Goff is looking like the franchise quarterback the Rams have been in search of. While McVay isn’t entirely responsible for Goff’s breakthrough season, there’s no denying that he plays a large role, as he’s done it for QBs on two different teams so far.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’
Bringing a former offensive coordinator to the helm was the way to go because the abysmal offense was really the only issue the Rams needed to address. Their defense had been consistently a top defense for years, and in 2016 was the Rams saving grace in what was otherwise a bleak season. Despite them not having a winning season in the past 4 years, their defense played their heart out night in and night out. The Los Angeles front office did very well over the past offseason in realizing that although their defense was already at an elite level, it really wouldn’t mean anything if their offense couldn’t finish the job. Instead of going after a more defensive minded coach, they were able to realize that while an average team overall, their defense truly wasn’t anything that needed extra work. It would be easy for Los Angeles to have tried to turn good into great, and just try to win games by building on a stronger point of their team. No, they needed a complete reimagining of their offense, and a reimagining it was indeed. After all, what’s a good defense if they’re on the field more often than not due to their offense’s inability to move the ball? Even the best defenses of all time wouldn’t be able to carry their team with an offense like the 2016 Rams. Kudos to the front office, because there objectively has not been a better fit for a new head coach this season than Sean McVay and the Rams.
Should Rams Fans Feel Confident yet?
Although the Rams found early success last season as well, Rams fans with lingering trust issues should be able to see that this season is a lot less likely to end up in peril. While they did look good early last season, this 2017 team has already taken their stretch of winning further than they did last year, and that’s thanks in large part to Sean McVay. While he can’t take all the credit, McVay turned the Rams offense from a league-worst in 2016 to a league best in 2017, and improvement doesn’t really get much better than that.
They have had impressive wins over last year’s best regular season team, the Dallas Cowboys, and are just coming off a 33-0 shutout win over the Arizona Cardinals. Needless to say, these are not the same L.A. Rams. With a complete rebirth on the offensive side, and their defense not dropping off in the slightest, it’s safe to say this is a different team for the better. In fact, this team should be a clear favorite to win the NFC West in most people’s eyes. Now it just remains to be seen if a young team not used to winning games with a coach nearly 10 years younger than the last Super Bowl-winning quarterback can keep their composure come playoff time. For now, the Los Angeles Rams are playing at an elite level and show no signs of letting up.