“This is as good as it gets.” - Jack Nicholson, The Shining
Like any other team should be concerned with, the 2020 LA Rams presumably wanted to establish or re-establish themselves as one of the most dangerous passing offenses and defenses in the NFL. Last season, the San Francisco 49ers ranked first in net yards per pass attempt allowed and third in net yards per pass attempt on offense. The 49ers secured the NFC’s top seed and that helped them reach the Super Bowl.
The Kansas City Chiefs, winners of said Super Bowl, ranked fifth in that category on defense and second on offense.
“All that work. All that glitter. All that pain. All that love. All that crazy rhythm. All that jazz.” - Roy Scheider, Jaws
The rushing game component on offense and defense is often no less important, especially as we’ve seen how it pertains to Sean McVay’s play action passing attack and the outside zone run. But typically today teams would like to have potent aerial strikes and disruptive pass defenses that both create pressure upfront and cover like night in the secondary.
It feels as though the margin of difference between 3-1 and 1-3 is as slim for the Rams as it is between 3-1 and 4-0 if they had held off the Bills in the fourth quarter, but there’s no question that Los Angeles has been one of the NFC’s best teams in the first month of the season. Only the Seattle Seahawks have more wins and while that team is first in net yards per pass attempt on offense, they are the fourth-worst defense in that same regard.
“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have, the facts of life. The facts of life.” - Kim Fields, Living Single
With two more games left to go in Week 4, the Rams see themselves sort of “middling around” in a lot of categories and not necessarily dominating or struggling immensely at anything. Perhaps in the worst position, outside of whatever becomes of special teams this season, is the run defense. LA ranks 27th in yards per carry allowed and they have given up at least 100 on the ground in all four games. But they also haven’t given up more than 136 rushing yards in any one game and the Cowboys just gave up over 300 on the ground to the Browns.
The bottom three teams in run defense by yards per carry would be the Titans, Packers and Chiefs and those are not three of the worst teams in the league. What is exciting for Brandon Staley’s defense is that they are allowing only 5.6 net yards per pass attempt, third-best in the NFL after the Colts and 49ers; the Rams have allowed five touchdowns, picked off four passes, posted 12 sacks and given up 6.7 yards per attempt in four games. In Wade Phillips’ final campaign as defensive coordinator, LA allowed 5.9 net yards per attempt and gave up 23 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
“He’s a young guy, I’m an old guy and when you compare our ages and generations, I’m tellin’ ya, there’s a difference!” - Gene Hackman, Men of an Even More Certain Age
But nothing’s gonna whet the Sean McVay whistle like a dangerous passing game that exploits the talents of expensive starters like Jared Goff, Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee. The Rams have done most of their investments on players who would help them become an elite passing offense under McVay’s tutelage but last season LA ranked 11th in both net yards per pass attempt and adjusted net yards per pass attempt.
Without making any significant personnel changes other than reconfiguring the interior of the offensive line with internal options and removing Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley from the equation, in addition to hiring offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, the Rams have improved from 6.4 ANY/A to 8.2 ANY/A in the early goings of 2020. They now rank fifth in that category, third in NY/A, fourth in Y/A and completion percentage and seventh in passer rating.
“Hot pocket!” - Sir Anthony Hopkins as “Hop Pocket,” the mascot for the Hot Pocket franchise (1998-2006)
Do heed a warning of sample sizes. We can’t say for sure at this point if the Rams have had their best four-game stretch of the season and if regression will play a part in lowering these averages. Dak Prescott and Josh Allen could be two of the best quarterbacks in the league, but Daniel Jones and Carson Wentz could be two of the worst. And for all the efforts of the passing game to get to 8.2, Goff is still only on a 24-touchdown pace (two more than 2019) and LA ranks 16th in points scored. They struggled for most of the game against the 0-4 New York Giants and enter next week wondering how to avoid those offensive woes in the near future.
But so far it seems apparent that the Rams are “back” to some degree — two of their games already have a higher offensive EPA than any of their 16 games in 2019 — and playing at a level that should keep them in the races among the conferences elite through at least another month. They’re also doing so without A’Shawn Robinson or Terrell Lewis and having Jordan Fuller and Cam Akers miss basically half of the season already, so improvement opportunities are apparent. Next up is Washington Football Team and then a Sunday Night Football matchup against that team that ranked first in NY/A on defense and third on offense to reign atop the NFC last season. And the Rams will hope to take their place for good.
“Wow, seems like things are pretty good.” - Rams, The Rams