With the Seahawks heading to Los Angeles to face the NFL West-leading Rams, Seahawks.com reached out to TheRams.com team insider Myles Simmons to find out more about this week's opponent.
Q: The Rams started 3-1 last year before finishing 1-11 the rest of the way. From afar it certainly looks like this 3-1 start is more "real." Is that an accurate assessment, and why?
Simmons: I think it is an accurate assessment, mainly because of the emergence of the offense. I saw this on an NFL Network graphic last week and I think it probably encapsulates what's been different about this team really well. After four games in 2016, the Rams had a -13 point differential, a -442 yardage differential, their average margin of victory was 5.0 points, and they lost by 28 points to the 49ers. In the same period this year, the Rams have a +37 point differential, a +64 yardage differential, their average margin of victory is 14.7 points, and they lost to Washington by only seven points.
You hear players talk about the culture change, and while that certainly has an effect, it's intangible. But those numbers are concrete, and they're probably what makes it feel more real than anything else.
Q: Along those lines, last week's win at Dallas would certainly seem to validate the hot start, but is this week's game being viewed as something of a benchmark given Seattle's success over the last several years?
Simmons: A few players have been asked about that in the locker room this week, and I think it's fair to say that it is. Everyone knows the Seahawks are the class of the division and have been for much of the last decade. And so even though the Rams have competed well against the Seahawks the past few seasons and know they can go toe-to-toe with them—especially at home—this is definitely an important matchup.
Q: No. 1 in scoring offense, No. 5 in total offense? What the heck happened? Seriously though, how did the Rams offense turn things around so dramatically? Is it just the natural leap for Jared Goff from year 1 to Year 2? Is it improved talent around him? Has the coaching change made that much of a difference?
Simmons: All of the above? One of the biggest keys to the Rams' coaching change was to bring in someone who could foster Goff's development, and the Rams have absolutely done that with Sean McVay. Plus, they added offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur (previously Atlanta's QBs coach) and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson (many years of experience as both an offensive coordinator and QBs coach) to help hammer the messages home.
Then when it comes to talent, L.A. added left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan—plus offensive line coach Aaron Kromer—all of whom have dramatically improved pass protection. The club essentially completely turned over the receivers room by adding Robert Woods through free agency, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds through the draft, and then Sammy Watkins via trade in training camp.
And once they've started playing the games, McVay has done a really nice job of scheming and calling plays that put the offense in the best position to succeed.
Did I expect offensive improvement? For sure. But I'd be lying if I said I thought the Rams would be the league's top scoring team through four weeks with a new head coach.
Q: On the flip side of that, the Rams are giving up a lot of points and yards. There's still obviously a lot of talent there, is this just a defense going through growing pains under a new coordinator, or is there real cause for concern?
Simmons: I tend to think it's growing pains under a new coordinator, particularly because that coordinator is Wade Phillips. As I've been saying to a lot of Rams fans, this guy hasn't been putting together top defenses for the last 40 years for no reason. So because of that alone, I think L.A. will improve defensively as the season continues.
But another reason for the slow start may be that the Rams didn't have its true first-team defense playing together until, really, last week against Dallas. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald wasn't around until just before the first game, and didn't suit up until Week 2. Three other defensive starters didn't play a snap in preseason. And then starting cornerback Kayvon Webster injured his shoulder in Week 1 and just got back on the field for last week's win over Dallas.
So as the unit continues to play together, I think it will start to jell.
Q: With the Rams still settling into L.A. how big of a deal would a playoff season be for a team still trying to establish itself in a new market?
Simmons: To quote Jim Mora… "Playoffs?? Don't talk about—playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!"
Kidding aside, it's been a long time since Rams fans have been able to talk about the postseason—particularly here in L.A.—but I think this team still has a lot to prove before we get there. After all, last year's team started 3-1 and then went 1-11 over the next 12, losing the final seven games of the season.
As mentioned before, this year's 3-1 does feel different, but it's still only been a quarter of the season. If the Rams can get through this next stretch of four games at 3-1 or better, then I might be more ready to have that conversation. But this team also hasn't even reached eight wins since 2006. Is the goal to win the NFC West? Absolutely. But the Rams still have a long way to get there.