We said it before game week even started: the true test for the Los Angeles Rams will be Oct. 1 when they play the Dallas Cowboys on the road. Yesterday, the Rams passed that test by putting together the most complete win I have seen in God knows how long.
This Los Angeles team (the real one, not whoever the hell is playing in front of CrossFit Games-level crowds over at the StubHub Center) is a legitimate contender for the playoffs, and a far cry to last year’s 3-1 team through four games.
They showed they can come back from a deficit. They can move the ball consistently. And they have the gumption (that’s right, gumption) to make adjustments and capitalize on opportunities.
Is it all thanks to first-year Head Coach Sean McVay? No, not entirely. Like his team, not everything can be done by one man. But it started with McVay. Under the right leadership, the Rams are showing there is a major difference in their 3-1 records of 2016 and 2017.
The offensive line is stronger than we thought
The Rams offense needed their offensive line to play their very best against a tough front seven, and holy crap did LA’s front five come to play. The Cowboys had eight sacks in the last two games, and against the Rams they only recorded one thanks to their D-line star, DE DeMarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence lined up against RT Robert Havenstein, who held is own throughout the game. He allowed a sack and a forced fumble, which he recovered. But outside of that, Havenstein did a very good job against a tall task.
QB Jared Goff got plenty of time to throw the ball. The run game had several running lanes. The offense was rolling, and it started thanks to these guys.
Speaking of offense....
The offense is showing no signs of slowing down
It’s difficult to fully digest the transformation the offense has taken. Nine of their 12 drives ended with points and the offenses recorded 24 first downs.
Goff looks like a completely different quarterback from last season.
Last season, he was thrown into the deep end and understandably looked lost. He was anxious in the pocket and forced throws. This season, he’s running to extend plays and tossing the ball out-of-bounds to avoid the sack. He’s launching the ball downfield and placing it exactly where it needs to be for the catch. He’s playing like a 5-year veteran.
As for the rest of the offense, I was impressed from start to finish.
RB Todd Gurley was the star of the unit, recording more than 200 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. TE Tyler Higbee stepped up. WR Cooper Kupp stepped up, per usual. Everything was clicking for the offense, and they made the plays when they needed them.
Even WR Tavon Austin got in on the fun. He took handoffs from the backfield and on the reverse, and he did not disappoint with his 48 yards on the ground.
The defense had a comeback of their own
The first half for the defense was rough. The Cowboys running-game was doing whatever they liked against the Rams, and it looked like it would be a trend throughout the game.
But during halftime, defensive coordinator met with his uni. When the defense took the field in the second half, they clamped down hard, allowing only six points for the rest of the game.
The first three drives for the Cowboys following the intermission ended in punts. The defensive front made QB Dak Prescott uncomfortable and forced him to throw on the run or beat them with his feet.
RB Ezekiel Elliott only gained 29 yards in the second half.
Special teams operates like clockwork
Coordinator John Fassel is one of the most underrated coordinators in the league. His unit is clutch every time they take the field. There’s a reason why McVay kept him on staff.
Everyone talks about Gurley being back, but let’s recognize that Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein is back, as well. Last year, he seemed shaky. This year, Zuerlein is hitting his marks without worry.
During Sunday’s game, Zuerlein had seven field goals. Of those seven, four were for more than 40 yards, his longest being 49.
Issues remain for the high-flying Rams
LB Alec Ogletree is second on the team in total tackles with 23. It would be a lot more if he tackled ball-carriers better.
There were several times when Ogletree whiffed or missed the tackle entirely. On one of the Cowboys’ scoring plays, Ogletree had the chance to known Elliott out of bounds. Instead, he chose to...do this:
The bad tackle started from the angle he took as soon as Elliott caught the ball.
Instead of squaring up, Ogletree ran a line towards the right shoulder of Elliott. He also tackled Elliott at the highest point. Poor fundamentals from start-to-finish.
Ogletree wasn’t alone. S Cody Davis takes the worst angles and misses the tackle completely.
Davis is the last line of defense for the defense itself. Nothing should get past him. But quite a few plays did.
Starting S Lamarcus Joyner was out with an injury, and Davis himself played with a quad injury. But these plays are too great to give up. RB Alfred Morris gains 71 yards on this play that ended in a touchdown for the Cowboys.
The Rams committed seven penalties in this game, eight if you count their fashion crime.