Statement Made: The NFC West Runs Through the Los Angeles Rams

The torch has officially been passed in the pacific northwest from the emotional, overpaid veteran Seattle Seahawks to the fiery, young and energetic Los Angeles Rams. Sean McVay‘s Rams went into Seattle last Sunday and laid the Smackdown on the Seahawks embarrassing them in their own building in front of all their fans, 42-7. Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and the entire Rams team collectively put the 12th man to rest.

These aren’t Jeff Fisher’s Average Joe Rams anymore. These are the ultra-talented and explosive version of the Los Angeles Rams. The city is buzzing and football is officially back thanks to Sean McVay reinvigorating the culture of the organization and giving a second life to Jared Goff who looks the part of a franchise Quarterback in his offense and under McVay’s guidance.

The Rams are the second youngest team in the league, and are 10-4 with an outside-shot at a first-round bye in the postseason trailing Philadelphia and Minnesota in the talented NFC. This team is executing in all three phases of the game and have the star-power both on the field and on the coaching staff to compete and make a serious run both this season and over the next decade. Star RB and MVP candidate Todd Gurley has been reincarnated into the beast everyone thought he could be, and with the help from Goff who is running the offense to perfection, the defense is free to dominate the line of scrimmage and just go out and do their thing.  Oh yeah, this team also has more than $50 million in cap space this coming off-season, so unlike the overpaid veteran Seahawks, the Rams are young and have money to add and further bolster their team for years to come.

The first phase the Rams execute to near-perfection is the often-overlooked but crucial component of special teams. Long-time special teams coordinator John Fassel was the hold-over from the previous regime for good reason. He’s one of the best in the league, and he even assumed head coaching duties at the tail-end of last-season in an interim capacity after Fisher was relieved of his duties. The Rams have without a shadow of a doubt the best punter in the league in four-time Pro Bowler Johnny Hekker. Hekker is a team captain and is a major weapon for McVay to deploy in winning the field position battle each time he has to call on the veteran to pin the opponent deep and let his defense go to work. Hekker recently spoke on the profound impact this team has made under McVay after the thrashing of Seattle last week, “I think the second we met with Coach McVay and the rest of the coaches, and saw how this team worked, and just the maturity with which we work, and the ways we’ve upgraded at key positions in the locker room, I knew that this was a possibility.” The Rams have the best duo in the league as far as a kicking combo when you pair Hekker with fellow Pro Bowler Greg Zeurlein who is 38/40 on FG attempts this season (95%) with 6 coming from 50+ yards, as reliable you can get from a kicker. The Rams win the battle on special teams more often than not and it’s a big reason for their success in 2017.

The, there’s the defense. Sean McVay added the best free agent last off-season when he brought in Super Bowl champion defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after he was ousted from Denver with the Broncos complete coaching staff turnover. Bringing in Phillips not only added a tremendous coach with a history of success and a great scheme to his program, but it allowed for McVay to concentrate one-hundred percent on his offense and let Wade go do his thing with the elite talent they have on that side of the football. I mean when you have Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald on your defensive line, you’re going to make the opposing quarterback and offensive coordinator’s day an absolute nightmare. The Rams also made a crucial decision this off-season to re-sign Linebacker Alec Ogletree who leads the defense with 90 tackles and is the signal-caller for Phillips on that side of the ball. The Rams brought in veteran Connor Barwin to the mix who has been a valuable addition to the LA defense. Mark Barron has been great since converting to Linebacker and the Rams also have Kayvon Webster and Trumaine Johnson locking it down on the outside at cornerback. Add it all together under Phillips and the Rams have one of the most explosive big-play defenses in the entire league and we saw them massacre the beaten and battered Seattle offensive line all-game long this past Sunday.

Lastly, there’s the offense. This isn’t the same system that buried guys like Goff and Case Keenum, both of whom are leading elite teams in the NFC now with Jeff Fisher not in their way any longer. Under Sean McVay this Rams offense is explosive and dynamic. McVay thrived working with Kirk Cousins for the Washington Redskins elevating him to elite status which helped propel him to becoming the youngest head coach in the league. MVP-candidate Todd Gurley has rushed for 1187 yards through 14 games and has 13 rushing scores to go with it. Gurley is also a huge factor in the passing game with McVay’s option routes adding 54 catches for 630 yards through the air with four scores. General Manager Les Snead has also given McVay and Goff all the weapons to succeed at the highest level bringing in two former Bills in Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins. The L.A. native Woods was a big free agent acquisition for the Rams eclipsing 53 receptions for 748 yards and 5 TD’s despite missing 3 games with an injury. Watkins was acquired via a pre-season trade with Buffalo giving the Rams a much needed deep-threat for Goff and has found the end zone 7 times for LA with over 500 yards receiving. Add to the equation rookie third round pick Cooper Kupp out of Eastern Washington and it’s easy to see why the Rams are so dynamic on offense and a capable of a “home run play” at any moment. Kupp has accumulated 58 catches for 804 yards and 4 TD’s so far in an increbile first year. The offensive line is amongst the best in the league as well thanks to contrbutions from veteran free agent signings Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, both of whom set the tone up front.

The franchise QB Jared Goff, taken first overall in the 2016 NFL Draft has made the most improvement in his sophomore season in the league. Goff has compiled 3503 yards through the air with 24 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions thus far this season with a 62.4% completion percentage (compared to 54.6% in his rookie year). Goff also has a 98.9 passer rating under Coach McVay, leaps and bounds over the 63.6 rating he had in his 7 games under Jeff Fisher during his rookie campaign. The Rams have yet to lose back-to-back games and that’s something their QB is very proud of and spoke to that much following the massive victory on Sunday, “I don’t know if you can really teach it. It’s just a part of who this team is, and I think most good teams are that way. They’re able to kind of forget quickly if something doesn’t go right. It’s a 16-game season, and each one counts the same. So you have to stick with that mentality.” Goff looks, acts and speaks the part of a franchise quarteback under Sean McVay and it’s a huge reason for the Rams quick ascension to the top of the NFC. Goff is carrying with him the “Tom Brady Presence” and it will do wonders for him as he works through his career and builds on his experiences in the league, especially in the playoffs.

“I just love the resolve of this football team. I love the mental toughness and their ability to take things one day at a time. I think there is a true appreciation that we have, that we are continuing to gain as coaches and players, for just taking it one day at a time and not getting to far ahead of ourselves,” head coach Sean McVay said. You can see the appreciation and mentality the Los Angeles Rams have each time they take the field and it’s the reason why the torch in the NFC West has been passed to them.

These Rams are legit, and would anyone really be surprised to see this young team representing their conference in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl? I guess for that we will just have to wait and see, but with Goff and McVay, the Rams will be a force in the NFC for the better part of the next decade.

Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank

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