The Los Angeles Rams have taken the league by storm this year. They moved to 5-0 Sunday after escaping Seattle with a 33-31 win over the Seahawks. Many people see the Rams as the best team in the NFC (National Football Conference), and one of the favorites to win the Superbowl this year. But can they sustain this high level of play all the way to Superbowl 53?
To really see what changed with the Rams, you have to go back and look at their first season in Los Angeles. The Rams #1 overall pick Jared Goff struggled all year long, Todd Gurley was not playing anywhere close to his potential, and the Rams finished 4-12, 3rd in the NFC West. Their offense was terrible, their defense couldn’t stop anyone, and there were lots of problems inside the locker room. To make matters worse, many of the players had issues with head coach Jeff Fischer and it translated to their play on the field. The Rams ultimately decided to fire Fischer in December of 2016.
Before the start of the 2017 season the Rams hired a 30 year-old offensive coordinator from the Washington Redskins named Sean McVay. McVay was coming off a historic season with the Redskins, as the team averaged more than 400 yards per game under him, good for 3rd best in all of the NFL. McVay had also been a key factor in the development of quarterback Kick Cousins, who had the best statistical seasons of his career under McVay’s direction. At the time of his hiring, McVay was the 2nd youngest head coach in the history of the NFL.
In the Rams first season under coach McVay, they became the 2nd team in NFL history to go from the worst to first in scoring in back to back seasons, (2016 – 14.0 PPG, last / 2017 – 29.9 PPG, first). McVay came in and turned Jared Goff into a pro-bowl caliber quarterback and Todd Gurley had the best statistical year of his career. The Rams improved their record from 4-12 to 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Although they lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to Atlanta 26-13, the Rams new they had something special and their window of opportunity to win was now.
After the end of the 2017 season, the Rams wanted to continue to ride the momentum from 2017 and make a deeper run into the playoffs. They went out in the offseason and signed WR (wide reciever) Brandon Cooks to a 5-year deal, added CB’s (corner backs) Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and DT (defensive tackle) Ndamukong Suh, and extended their 2 best players RB (running back) Todd Gurley and DT Aaron Donald with big contracts. The Rams did everything in their power to position themselves for a championship run in 2018.
Fast forward to today. The Rams are 5-0 to start the year and look as good as advertised. Jared Goff continues to grow at the quarterback position, and he and McVay look like they have the making to become the next great coach/quarterback tandem. Todd Gurley continues to prove he was worth every penny of the 4-year $60 million dollar deal they signed him too as he has 9 total touchdowns through the first 5 games of the year.
While many people thought this would be an easy season for the team, no season is ever prefect for any team, (except the 1972 Dolphins). The team has been hit hard with injuries, loosing Talib to ankle surgery, and both Brandon Cooks and Cooper Kupp left the game vs the Seahawks with concussions. Not to mention the defense that was supposed to be the best in the league has now given up 30+ points in back to back games and 85 combined points in their last 3 games after just giving up 13 combined points through their first 2 games.
So what can the Rams do about it?
First they can get healthy. At 5-0 they are sitting comfortably at the top of the division with a 3 game lead over Seahawks. The Rams play in a not as great division this year and can afford to let their players heal. They want to be healthy when it counts and if that means sacrificing 1 game, (as long as it doesn’t hurt you in the long run), then thats what you will have to do. Especially with Brandon Cooks who has a history of Concussion problems in the past, they will want to take their time in bringing him back.
Second, they need to tighten up the defense. Yes they are 5-0 but the defense really has not looked as intimidating over the past few weeks. The Rams are too talented to be giving up 31 points to a team like the Seahawks and need to bare down. They have been bailed out by the offense the past few weeks, but Goff struggled throughout the game, and was able to sneak his way to a 1st down to secure a win. They say offense wins games, and defense wins championships, so if the Rams want that title, their defense will have to step it up.
Lastly, they just need to take this thing one game at a time. With all the hype surrounding them this year, it would be easy to let praise go to your head, and go into cruise control before the end of the season. That can not happen. There are a lot of good teams in the NFL this year especially in the NFC. In order to really give themselves the edge, I believe they will need to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While their loss was at home to Atalanta last year, I think they were young and inexperienced. Now, Goff, Gurley, and McVay all have a taste of the playoffs, they will be ready to take that next step in achieving their ultimate goal of being champions.