By Cedric Williams
With a new coach in Sean McVay (who also happens to be the youngest coach in the league), questions about its quarterback and receiving corps, and its best defensive player holding out for a new contract, most NFL prognosticators figured the Los Angeles Rams would be lucky to get to five wins in 2017.
Through its first seven games of the season though, these Rams have already claimed five victories and now find themselves alone atop the NFC West standings. The 5-2 Rams are currently a half game ahead of the rival Seattle Seahawks, and would be the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs if they began today.
“I think the great thing about what our team has done and, really, what we’ve done with our approach is (it’s) just one day at a time, one week at a time,” McVay said in a meeting with the media on Tuesday.
L.A.’s top player this season has been running back Todd Gurley, who leads the conference in rushing (627 yards) while also leading the entire league with eight touchdowns. The 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year, Gurley scored 10 touchdowns that season. Last year, he had just six.
Equally as noticeable for the team who leads the league in scoring at 30.3 points per game has been the improvement of the passing game. Quarterback Jared Goff looked lost at times last season, but this year — his first under McVay — the second-year signal-caller out of Cal ranks seventh in the NFL in passing yards (1,719) and has nine touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
“It feels good. You know I kind of say it every week — we like where we’re at for sure,” Goff said, following last Sunday’s 33-0 Rams beat down of the Arizona Cardinals. “Especially going into this bye week, that was the goal two weeks ago when we lost to Seattle — it was to win the last two, go into the bye week 5-2. And we’re here now, we did it. And after a win like that, it feels good. But I think, again, like I’ve said before, we’re never really content. We’re happy with the way we played, but we expect to play well and tonight that showed.”
Defensively, the Rams have been led by three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who missed all of training camp and the team’s season opener due to a contract dispute. But that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to be one of the most disruptive defensive forces in the entire league.
Last week, Donald was virtually un-blockable against Arizona, which was a key reason why the Rams put up their first defensive shutout since 2014. And though holding an opponent scoreless was a new trend, LA’s propensity for making it tough for its opponents to score has been evident over the last couple of weeks.
A month ago, the Rams held Dallas to just six points in the second half of what proved to be a thrilling come-from-behind victory. Three weeks ago, LA gave up just 16 points in a game against Seattle.
Two weeks ago, the Rams smothered Jacksonville and allowed just 17 points. And then this past Sunday, LA blanked a previously high-flying Arizona offense.
The first half of this 2017 NFL season has not been what most expected from the Rams, but the players and coaches are excited and looking forward to being even better during the second half of the season.
“I think the defense has done a great job of continuing to improve and I think that’s a credit to our coaches and our playing staff,” McVay said. “Obviously, getting Aaron back and getting him into a rhythm you see why he is an All-Pro caliber player, as good as anybody. But I think they are playing together. They’re getting more and more comfortable with the system and the way that we want to operate and I think ultimately at the end of the day, however you win you feel good about that result.”