With the NFC West leading Los Angeles Rams sitting at 7-2, five additional Rams-based observations through Week 10 of the 2017 season.
The Los Angeles Rams are off to their best start since an 8-1 opening to the 2001 campaign, a year in which the Rams finished 14-2 and qualified for the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
That year, everyone expected the Rams to be a playoff team and a Super Bowl contender. Other than losing in the NFL Championship game to the New England Patriots in one of the biggest upsets in football history, the Rams lived up to everyone’s expectations in dominating opponents and scoring in excess of 500 points for the third consecutive season, a first in NFL history.
This year, by contrast, L.A. was expected to be a year or two away from a bona-fide potential playoff run, but has far exceeded most everyone’s presumptions while surprisingly becoming one of the league’s most successful teams thus far.
With all that, my final five of 10 takes on the Rams blistering start. My first five, while proving highly controversial, can be found here. Onto to the next quintet.
6. This one will shock some people, but I call things as I see them, regardless of whether I love or hate the analysis I am presenting. With that said, guess who deserves more praise than anyone for the Rams resounding rebound in 2017? Gasp…Gulp…Uh…It is none other than L.A. VP of Football Operations and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff, who came on board in 2009 and worked hard in selling the Rams relocation bid to league officials and NFL owners.
Why, you ask, does Demoff deserve more credit than — for example — even Coach of the Year candidate Sean McVay? Well, if it wasn’t for Demoff, who was pivotal in choosing and landing the 31-year old first-time head coach, McVay wouldn’t be anywhere near the sidelines of the Rams and the organization could potentially still be struggling to find its way out of a dark hole that began to open in 2005 before completely exploding into a black hole in a dozen inept subsequent seasons.
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But beyond Demoff’s decision to lure McVay to L.A., he also made a rather controversial decision at the time in deciding to retain the then-maligned Les Snead for another season as the club’s general manager. And bringing Snead back has proven fruitful, as the Rams struck gold via his decisions to nab left tackle Andrew Whitworth and former USC wideout Robert Woods in free agency, and to grab wide receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Furthermore, Demoff’s hiring of McVay has made Snead look a lot smarter regarding No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff, who floundered at quarterback under Jeff Fisher, but is flourishing under McVay.
Had Demoff not chosen to make the bold move to hire the youngest head coach in NFL history, we might be talking about Goff in bust terms. But under McVay, we are talking about him as a potential breakout superstar as he shows mucho flashes of becoming the franchise caliber quarterback the Rams spent so much draft equity on a year ago.
For the Rams — more than many NFL franchises due to the hands-off style of owner Stan Kroenke — the overall operation of the franchise on and off the field leads squarely back to its COO (Demoff). While the Rams organizational head deserves plenty of criticism and blame for many of the on and off field happenings in and around St. Louis, he so to deserves ample recognition for what he has spearheaded this season in the City of Angels.
7. As touched on above, McVay has been absolutely amazing, handling his coaching duties impeccably and seemingly pushing all the right buttons in his inaugural season as head man of the Rams. His work in implementing his offense so optimally and so quickly has been nothing short of spectacular. He has taken an ancient offense that was one of the league’s worst last Fall and almost instantly transformed it — almost magically — into the highest scoring offense in the NFL.
McVay’s decision to hire Wade Phillips to run the defense was rather genius, both for his proven prowess in getting great results from his units to the veteran experience and leadership he brings to the team and to his coaching staff as a whole.
So far, under the scrutiny of the bright lights of the nation’s No. 2 market, McVay hasn’t blinked. He has met every challenge his club has faced thus far, and there’s no reason to doubt — barring serious injuries — that he won’t continue to lead the Rams to further success, this season and beyond.
It is obvious that Rams players love playing for McVay, and they love playing all-out for him, too. With Fisher, most of the Rams enjoyed playing for him as he was known as a players coach, but he certainly didn’t always get the best production or the best effort from his players.
8. In a season of surprise after surprise, one of the bigger shockers for many has been the fact that receiver Robert Woods has been more productive than former No. 2 overall pick Sammy Watkins, both of whom played for the Buffalo Bills a season ago. Woods, who has already amassed four touchdowns on 39 receptions, is averaging 15.9 yards per catch and is playing good football consistently.
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Watkins, who has been at least a minor disappointment thus far with just 21 catches, brings more to the table than just receptions. His presence demands attention, and that attention is helping Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp, among others, do some of the things they are succeeding in doing now.
A year ago, the Rams receiving corps was struggling in much the same way they had for a decade, as pass-catchers like former Ram Brian Quick failed to consistently make plays. This year, the L.A. receivers have grown up fast and become a rather formidable group, one that includes dangerous gadget man Tavon Austin, who has made positive contributions in his own unique manner.
9. Todd Gurley is back in a big way after enduring the infamous sophomore slump a season ago. Gurley looks like the back who earned the 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year in St. Louis and appears to be on his way to joining a long-list of some of the elite backs the franchise has produced over the years, guys like Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk and the Rams one-time, one man offense better known as Steven Jackson.
10. Finally, the Rams defense has rounded into form after something of a slow start following defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s extended holdout, Robert Quinn’s shift to a more hybrid role and the defense as a whole’s shift from a 4-3 base to the 3-4 of Wade Phillips.
To quickly illustrate the defense’s rapid ascension:
- In the team’s first four games, the Rams defense gave up an average of 26.25 points per game.
- In the Rams last five games, Phillips’ group has relinquished just 11.4 points per game.
That, my friends, constitutes rapid progress within a large enough body of work to suggest it has staying power. And if it does, coupled with the Rams potent offense and special teams, this squad has a chance to go a long, long, long way come January.