The 2017 Los Angeles Rams lost to the Washington Redskins in Week 2, 20-27.
Football can go like this. Not in a direct A to B route of constant slope and trajectory but a weird noodle that twist and turns and loops over itself and halves itself before even getting halfway to its ultimate destination.
That was the Rams today, twisting and turning and the rest.
Part of what all NFL teams do in Week 2 is validate. They validate the postulates that come out of Week 1 before teams settle in to the long march of the regular season in earnest.
First, a couple of positive things that were validated.
One, QB Jared Goff is much, much, much better under Head Coach Sean McVay. He’s making better decisions, he’s acting much more comfortably in the pocket (which much of which can be attritbuted to improved offensive line play) and he’s allowing his arm to make plays for him when warranted (see: the absolute laser he uncorked to TE Gerald Everett on the play in which he got injured).
Two, that offensive line mention. They’re allowing the Rams to run their playbook. It’s not terribly expansive, but for a team this young that was as bad as they were on offensive just a year ago, asking for too much now would likely be prohibitive anyway. Best to keep things simple early on if not throughout. And given that Goff has played his best two games of his nine-game career in his last two games, I’d say it’s fine...for now.
Three, the defense is showing in flashes. There’s competency and aggression and physicality. There are obvious technical flaws, but the positives go here. QB Kirk Cousins might be the biggest free agent on the market next offseason and he just went 18 for 27 for just 179 yards, a lone touchdown and a lone touchdown.
Four, our special teams are great and fun and cool and aside from Tavon Austin, we should all hope they’re this good and this present for years to come.
Now, the drawbacks.
One, Sean McVay is not going to touch everything with a magic wand and make it work impeccably. He’s a first-time head coach and the youngest head coach in NFL history. For the first time today, that was made obvious. Between the timeout wastage and the penalties, there’s cleanup to be done on the sidelines. And given how horribly the Rams looked early on in this game, either the players weren’t up for it mentally or the gamplan was flawed out the gate. Either of those options is on the coaches.
Two, the run defense looks...bad. Perhaps worse than that. Washington’s three-man rotation today or RB Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine gashed the Rams’ defense for more than 220 yards on the ground...and they might have left many, many more on the field.
Three, part of that comes down to the play in the middle. Alec Ogletree is a converted outside linebacker. Mark Barron is a converted safety. Today, they played like it, getting washed out by crossers, plowed by blockers or made unavailable through poor pursuit.
Four, Todd Gurley needs to get something done as a running back besides punching in goalline touchdowns. For many teams, that’s an assignment to a role running back. Or a fullback. Gurley was supposed to be transcendent. Former Head Coach Jeff Fisher said mockable things about him that raised the bar of expectations among fans. That a game of 16 carries for 88 yards and a 1-yard touchdown can be seen as an excitable game? That’s how low his production is right now.
And lastly for all the praise above, Jared Goff is still an incredibly green quarterback who is not prepared to take on the challenge of needing a touchdown just to tie a game with less than two minutes left. When the game was open and he could checkdown or wait with good protection for something to open up or even exit the pocket and hope for coverage to collapse (i.e. the 69-yard Gerald Everett scamper), he was at least adequate if not stronger. But following Washington’s successful drive (which should tell you something about Cousins given how he struggled for the rest of the game), Goff promptly came out and forced a ball towards his favorite target of 2017: WR Cooper Kupp.
The Los Angeles Rams aren’t there yet. I’m still hopeful and cautiously optimistic that they could be as soon as next year. But today showed just a glimpse of what needs to be improved before this is a consistently superior team given their opponents.
A glimpse like today is better than the beyond-the-horizon mirages of 2016 and prior, but it’s still just a glimpse.
And the Rams can’t survive forever on glimpses.
Sometime, and perhaps sometime soon, they’ll need to find a way to turn some of them into reality. Or some of those Rams involved will go from the providers of glimpses to memories as McVay tries to get those glimpses into regularity.
Because Rams fans are beyond ready for it.