Let me fill you in on a little Los Angeles Rams history. They’ve been really bad for a really long time. They haven’t had a non-losing season (record of at least 8-8) since 2006. They are tied with the Cleveland Browns for the worst record in the NFL over that time. Yes, even the Cleveland Browns couldn’t garner a worse record in the last ten years. The Rams last went to the playoffs in 2004, in which they won a wild card game in Seattle, only to get routed by the Atlanta Falcons 47-17 the next week. The last time the Rams posted a winning record was in 2003, when they lost as the home favorites to the Carolina Panthers in a double overtime thriller that went down as one of the greatest NFL playoff games of all time. We’re in the year 2017 now, and it’s been over a decade since the Rams have found any type of success as an organization.
Enter Jared Goff
Ok, so most of you should know who Jared Goff is. It was only one year ago that the Rams selected him with the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was a standout star in three seasons at the University of California, throwing for over 12,000 total yards with 96 touchdowns compared to only 30 interceptions. His 12,200 total yards passing was over 4,000 yards more than any other quarterback in school history. Goff also set the school records for passing yards in a single season (4,719) and in a single game (542), the most completions in a career (977), as well as the most touchdown passes in a career (96) and in a single season (43). Simply put, he was a really good college quarterback.
Rookie season to forget
Despite all of the statistical magic that Goff produced at the University of California, he experienced a rude awakening at the NFL level in his rookie season. Goff started seven games as a rookie, after attaining the starting job from Case Keenum. Things didn’t look pretty with Goff under center, as the Rams were winless in his seven starts averaging a mere 12 points per game during that span. He completed only 54 percent of his pass attempts while throwing for five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Even as a rookie in this league, there won’t be much forgiveness from the fans with numbers like that. Things weren’t looking good, and some were already deeming the number one overall pick a bust for the Rams.
As bad as Jared Goff played in his rookie season, when you dive into the 2016 Rams season as a whole, it’s hard to place the blame solely on Goff. Promising young running back Todd Gurley rushed for only 3.2 yards per carry, giving opposing defenses little reason to focus in on the run. Instead, defenses could pick on Goff and choose whenever and however they wanted to pressure the rookie quarterback. Defenses had field days throwing different coverages and blitzes at Goff, as he was sacked a total of 26 times in only seven games, including seven times by the Arizona Cardinals in the final game of the 2016 season. Many plays started like this…
Goff deserves the blame for his inability to read defenses on a number of his throwing mistakes, and at times, he held the ball too long attributing to many of his sacks. The speed of the game looked like it was simply too much for Goff to handle. However, the Rams boasted an offensive line that couldn't open up holes for Todd Gurley and clearly couldn't protect Jared Goff. As you see in the video above, Goff never stood a chance. It was as if the offensive line had something against Goff and wanted to prove a point to the rookie by letting him get bull rushed straight off the snap. Credit Goff for being able to scramble for a first down in this play, albeit before getting laid out by Richard Sherman. All of that being said, Rams fans were looking for a savior, and Goff was unable to show signs of being that in his rookie campaign.
New year, new Goff
So, something happened to Jared Goff over the offseason. Whoever is currently lining up under center for the Los Angeles Rams is a completely different guy than the one who did last year. Last year, we saw an indecisive quarterback who couldn't read defensives, fired passes into double and triple coverages, and couldn't get the ball out of his hands quick enough before getting sacked. All of a sudden, Goff is leading a Rams offense that, through three games, looks like the 2007 Patriots. Ok, that might be stretching it a little bit, but they look really good. Jared Goff has looked like the next addition to the NFL's elite quarterback group, completing 70 percent of his passes for 817 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. The production has led the Rams to a 2-1 record to start the season, while accumulating 35 points per game with 46 and 41 points respectively in each of the victories. Jared Goff has had his way with opposing defenses early on, making the correct reads, accurate throws, and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. It's looked a lot like this...
Something must've changed, right? We know there are rookie jitters, and there is usually a maturity jump from a player's first and second season in this league, but it's not supposed to look like this. Number one overall picks aren't supposed to lose the first seven games of their career, and teams that ranked dead last in the league with 14 points per game one year aren't supposed to score 35 points per game the next season. But that's exactly what the Rams and Jared Goff have done. If we're being realistic, the 35 points per game that the Rams currently boast through three weeks probably won't hold up throughout the season. Also, putting up 40 plus points loses a little bit of its glory when it's against the 49ers and the Colts, who ranked 22nd and last in 2016 in points allowed per game. Nevertheless, Jared Goff and this Rams offense have made major improvements from a season ago. How did they do it exactly?
First off, the Rams hired a new head coach in Sean McVay and a new offensive coordinator in Matt LaFleur. Let's start with new offensive coordinator LaFleur. Prior to coming to Los Angeles, LaFleur spent the last two seasons as the quarterback coach for the Atlanta Falcons. One could say he was fairly successful at his position, as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was named NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2016, after throwing for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and recording a quarterback rating of 117.1.
Ryan's performance over the last two seasons brought LaFleur into the spotlight, and the Rams took the opportunity to bring him in as offensive coordinator with the hopes that he can establish Goff into an elite franchise quarterback. The Rams also named former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay as the new head coach. McVay flourished in three seasons as offensive coordinator for the Redskins, specifically in the passing category. In 2016, McVay led Kirk Cousins to 4,917 yards passing, ranking him 3rd in the NFL behind only Drew Brees and, you guessed it, Matt LaFleur's Matt Ryan. McVay is only 31 years old and, upon his hiring at age 30, he became the youngest head coach in NFL history. But don't let that fool you. McVay is an offensive minded genius who was brought in to help establish Jared Goff. With McVay and LaFleur, the Rams brought in coaches from the 2nd and 3rd best passing attacks in the NFL in 2016. That's not a bad way to try to turn an offense around.
Next, let's look at the support that Sean McVay and company surrounded Goff with this offseason. First, the dreadful offensive line was revamped with the signings of veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan to attempt to protect Goff and open running lanes for Todd Gurley. Next, the skill positions were targeted. The Rams signed Robert Woods and drafted FCS all-time reception leader Cooper Kupp to beef up the wide receiver corps. Probably the biggest move, however, came with the trade for wide receiver Sammy Watkins from the Buffalo Bills. McVay and LeFleur needed a number one receiver, and they went out and got him. Sammy Watkins has disappointed with injury woes, missing 11 games over the last two seasons, but when he is healthy, he is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Jared Goff and the new look Rams offense looks elite through three weeks. Their success, however, hasn't come against the most impressive of teams in the 49ers and Colts. So, do we call the first two victories of the season a fluke and simply a case of a slightly improved offense beating up on some rough defenses? Or are the Rams actually an offensive threat and this success will remain throughout the duration of the season and in the years to come? From what we have to go off of so early in the season, this offense really is different. This is a team with more weapons at receiver, a more confident quarterback in Jared Goff, and a stronger offensive line that is giving Goff time to throw and Todd Gurley room to run. The Rams will likely experience reality checks throughout the season when they face elite talent and as this young offense learns to play with consistency.
The next two weeks against the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks will speak a lot to the progress this team has made in just one offseason under new head coach Sean McVay and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. The Rams may end up having an up and down season production wise. Don't call the Super Bowl run quite yet, Rams fans. However, they are clearly going in the right direction. We should see more days like those against the 49ers and Colts over the years to come. The longer McVay and LaFleur have to work with Goff, the better the Rams should become. This team has the potential to become very dangerous with time. Rams, welcome back to the NFL.
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