We need to talk about the Los Angeles Rams, who are off to their best start through seven games since 2003 …
Look, you can despise the Missourah traitor Stan Kroenke, or view Kevin Demoff as a lyin’ lightweight, and you’ll get no sass from me. But the players and coaches didn’t move the franchise to Los Angeles. The general manager didn’t lobby NFL owners to get the necessary votes for relocation. They weren’t apart of a corrupt NFL process.
But here’s what you can’t do, even with all of that bile gurgling inside of you …
You can’t deny that the Rams are a big surprise, deny that they’re probably the No. 1 on-the-field story in the NFL, or deny that this a very good team that’s contending for a playoff spot in the unsettled NFC. All of that could change, sure.
But based on the seven games on file, and the Rams entering their bye week after smashing the Arizona Cardinals like pumpkins in a 33-0 clubbing in London, this is a good time to recognize the Rams’ resurgence after a long, dull, pathetic stretch of futility. Not to bring up memories that will reopen old veins, but this franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 2003, and hasn’t made the playoffs or won a post season game since 2004.
During a 13-year blackout, the Rams won 68 games, lost 139, tied one, and belched out a foul .329 winning percentage. Over that 13-season stretch, the Rams’ hideousness was exceeded by only one NFL brother — the eternally afflicted Cleveland Browns and a wretched .298 winning percentage that’s a stinking, burning heap of garbage that was piling up for well over a decade.
In 2017 the Rams are discarding the clown shoes, ridding themselves of failed players, and establishing a fresh identity. The franchise broke away from St. Louis because of the mutual, insatiable greed of Kroenke, scheming NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and the cabal of team owners.
On the field the new Rams’ players and new coach are quickly cutting ties to a depressing, disgusting past that made the Cleveland-LA-STL-LA Rams one of the sorriest enterprises in the history of professional sports.
The transformation is well underway under rookie head coach Sean McVay, grandfatherly defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and a general manager, Les Snead, who finally has the authority to build a roster instead of taking orders from the stale and stubborn Jeff Fisher.
In St. Louis, with Fisher clinging to an outdated style of offense, the Rams’ offense played at walking speed in a league that had gone airborne, with touchdown passes and big pass plays streaking through the sky.
The Rams offense has been modernized … but has also maintained some of that old-school brawn by cracking defense with rejuvenated running back Todd Gurley.
The one-season change in the offense is remarkable.
To illustrate that, I have to hit with some numbers:
— Through the first seven games of the campaign, the Rams rank second in the league in offensive efficiency by getting points on 48.1 percent of their possessions. Last season, the Rams were the worst in the NFL in offensive efficiency, coming away with points on only 21.8 percent of possessions.
— In 16 games last season, the Rams offense had only 42 scoring drives . This season, the Rams already have rolled for 38 scoring drives — only four fewer than all of last season. And the ’17 Rams still have nine games to play with.
— The Rams scored 23 offensive touchdowns in 16 games last season. This year, through seven games, the TD count on offense is at 17. Or to vet this another way: the 2016 Rams averaged 13.5 offense-only points per game; that was last among the 32 teams. This season the Rams are averaging 26 offense-only points per game, nearly doubling the average from ’16.
— The 2016 Rams had the fewest number of possessions inside the red zone, 34. This season the Rams have advanced into the red zone 31 times in seven games.
— I like this one, which links to a sad-sack past. In 2009, the Rams scored 168 points on offense all season. The 2017 Rams have already blown by that with 182 points on offense … with more than half the season to go.
— The 2016 Rams converted only 31.5 percent of all third-down plays, worst in the league. And they were 31st in converting on third and long at 19.6 percent. The 2017 Rams rank second in the NFL with a third-down success rate of 49 percent. And on third and long, they’re 7th in the league with a conversion rate of 32.7 percent.
— The 2017 Rams have the most big plays (20+ yards) in the NFL with 33. Last season they were 26th with 49 big plays.
— The 2016 Rams finished near or at the bottom of the league in passer rating (69.5), touchdown-interception ratio (0.70), yards per passing attempt (6.18), and sacks-allowed percentage (8.4) … but this year, with the stunningly fast progress of second-year quarterback Jared Goff, a buttressed offensive line, and considerably more talent at wide receiver, the Rams are above average in the passing game. They’re 14th in passer rating (91), 7th in sacks-allowed percentage (4.3), 14th in TD-INT ratio (2.25), and 5th in yards per pass attempt (7.85).
Les Snead deserves much of the credit.
The Rams GM made the best head-coach hire in the league last offseason. McVay, only 31, has a gifted mind for designing an offense and using a lot of creative stuff to exploit an opponent’s defensive tactics. He’s also loaded with energy and enthusiasm, unlike the dullard Fisher. McVay has absolutely enlivened this franchise by generating the best offense the Rams have had since the twilight of the “Greatest Show on Turf” version in St. Louis.
But Snead did more than hire McVay and Phillips. Finally free of Fisher’s quirky personnel preferences that would have been great in 1967, Snead set out to improve his team with his own vision and the results were outstanding.
Snead dumped Greg Robinson, the offensive-tackle bust, and signed former Bengals offensive left tackle Andrew Whitworth as a free agent. According to Pro Football Focus, Whitworth ranks 6th among all NFL offensive tackles. Snead also signed free-agent center John Sullivan; he’s rated No. 8 overall at the position by PFF.
Snead got rid of Kenny Britt and draft bust Brian Quick and upgraded at wide receiver by trading for Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Snead drafted small-college gem Cooper Kupp, who is rated No. 25 among all NFL wideouts by PFF. Tavon Austin is still contributing as a joker piece in exotic formations. And second-year tight end Tyler Higbee is is developing.Rookie tight end Gerald Everett has shown promise. All of a sudden, Goff has real targets to work with.
Snead brought in outside linebacker Connor Barwin and cornerback Kayvon Webster to fit Phillips’ system. Snead didn’t want safety T.J. McDonald to return because of some off-field problems, and to restock the safety position Snead scored with his third-round selection of rookie John Johnson III, who is rated 17th among all NFL safeties by Pro Football Focus. PFF put Johnson him on their “best rookies” list.
The Phillips defense is progressing. The Rams are third in the league for most takeaway points (54), are giving up a respectable 19.7 offensive points per game, and are tied for fourth with 23 sacks — this, coming after last year’s defense had only 31 sacks. This defense will get better; the Rams need to toughen up against the run. That said, Phillips’ unit ranks eighth in the league in defensive efficiency, with opponents getting points on 30 percent of offensive possessions.
McVay wisely made Gurley the catalyst of the offense, and the third-year back is thriving again after a second-year slump that was, in large part, caused by his frustration with Fisher’s simplistic and ineffective offense. Through seven games Gurley is second to Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt with an average of 131.4 yards from scrimmage per game. Gurley is 5th with his average of 89.6 yards rushing per game, and is tied for second with five rushing TDs. But McVay is smartly utilizing Gurley to catch passes out of the backfield, and Gurley has 27 receptions for 293 yards and two TDs. Gurley’s eight touchdowns from scrimmage leads the NFL.
The Rams were 4-12 in their first season in Los Angeles.
They’ve already topped that in 2017 with five wins and counting.
The Rams also have the league’s best point differential at plus 74 — after ranking 30th last season with a point differential of minus 170.
This seems to be real … even if some of the old St. Louis-based Rams fans aren’t real thrilled about it.
Thanks for reading …