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Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants: Three things we learned

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The Rams came out of the bye week and clocked the Giants on the road as they move closer to postseason contention.

Los Angeles Rams vs New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are 6-2, hold a firm lead on first place in their division, and are already convincing playoff candidates with eight more weeks of the season left to play.

It’s nearly unbelievable to digest. This isn’t a fluke. The Rams aren’t 6-2 because their defense is carrying the entire team. They aren’t at this point in the season thanks to a razor-thin point-differential. They’re here as one of the most dominant teams in the NFC, let alone the league.

The change is so drastic, you can barely believe it with the facts in front of you. But it’s not unbelievable because for five seasons the fanbase endured mediocre football. The franchise has been playing terribly for more than a decade.

Even before Jeff Fisher’s Fisherball, the Rams failed to score like a competent football team. Through 2007-2011, the Rams’ offense never ranked above 26 in the league. From 2007-2009, the Rams defense was allowing the second-most points in the league.

The last time the Rams made the playoffs? 2004. Their last winning season? 2003.

QB Jared Goff was 0-7 last season. Many felt he wasn’t the quarterback the Rams needed in the future, stoking the fire for Kirk Cousins-to-LA rumors. Look at Goff now. He is no longer the afterthought to Carson Wentz. The two are now mentioned in the same sentence when talking about the next generation of quarterbacks taking the reins from the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

That’s what a culture change can do for a franchise. That’s what a coaching staff can do for a team. It not only changes the expectations for the current season. It sets the expectations for the seasons thereafter and the next chapter of the franchise.

The Rams are still hungry

Throughout every game this season, regardless of the point-differential, the Rams are firing on all cylinders on all sides of the ball.

The smart money on 3rd-and-33 would be to get far enough down the field to get good field position for the field goal. Instead, the offense set up the WR-screen and ran the ball through seven defensive backs for the score.

After halftime in Sunday’s game, the team could have cruised to the end, staying tight on defense and kicking field goals until the game ended.

But the Rams took advantage of every opportunity they were given. At 34-10 in the 4th quarter, the Rams drove the field and scored a touchdown. When the Giants were punting from inside their own 40, the special teams blocked the punt and the Rams set up another scoring drive.

This is one of the most important aspects that separates the Rams from their competition thus far: they do not let up. This will be a deciding factor once the Rams find themselves in the playoffs.

Tavon Austin is in his comfort-zone

That was the No. 1 stipulation for offensive coordinators coming aboard the team: Can they use WR Tavon Austin effectively? Four seasons revealed that three offensive coordinators could not figure it out.

The situation was similar to Hogwarts finding a permanent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who wasn’t evil, an idiot, or a werewolf: impossible. While those dumb-dumbs couldn’t figure out their problem (no spells for background checks, I guess), the Rams certainly figured out theirs, thanks to Sean McVay and Matt LaFluer.

Austin was slow to start the 2017 season, as any new situation would. But once he got comfortable in the new system, Austin’s been an active contributor to the offense. While we’ve seen this develop in the past few weeks, he’s starting to hit his stride. Just in time for the playoff-run.

The offensive-improvement improves the team as a whole

No one can take away the great work that special teams coordinator John Fassel and his units do on a weekly basis. The special teams have been the most reliable aspect of this team since 2012.

But their field appearances have been reduced, which is a good sign.

Everyone is comparing the Rams’ offensive numbers to last season’s, as they should. The comparison is eye-opening, and it shows just how much of a difference the culture change can make. But another comparison people need to realize is the number of punts this year compared to last season.

This year, P Johnny Hekker has punted the ball 27 times through eight games. Last season, he punted the ball 43 times in as many games. While Hekker is a great player in his own right, the reduced number of punts is a great sight to see. It’s ripple-effect of a new offense that can convert third-downs, something the team struggled with greatly in the past.