Are the LA Rams the Best Team in the NFC West?

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 22, 2017

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 21:  Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams scores a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 21, 2017 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Los Angeles is the land of glitz and glamour, and the city now has a football team to represent its personality. The Rams are young and fun to watch for the first time in recent memory.  

Thursday's 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium placed the Rams in unfamiliar territory. At 2-1, Los Angeles is officially the best team in the NFC West going into this weekend's slate. 

Even after the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks play this weekend, the Rams will remain in the conversation as the division's top squad because the front office did everything right this offseason to drastically improve the on-field product. 

A cultural shift occurred within the franchise's walls. 

A rift developed between general manager Les Snead and former head coach Jeff Fisher. Every coach reaches a point where his message no longer resonates and the game surpasses him. Fisher developed into a craggy, out-of-touch coach after seven straight mediocre seasons in Tennessee and L.A. 

The hire of the offseason came when Rams owner Stan Kroenke tapped 31-year-old offensive genius Sean McVay as the league's youngest head coach. 

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Once the franchise had the right person in place to call the shots and bring the team into the 21st century, McVay began supplementing the roster with talent. Not only did the Rams improve their overall skill level, but those already on the roster were also placed in a position to shine. 

Said talent was on display Thursday as the Rams amassed 418 yards on their way to scoring 40 points for the second time this season. Doing so made them similar to one the greatest teams in NFL history, at least in one aspect, per NFL senior director of football communications Randall Liu: 

Randall Liu @RLiuCBS

The @RamsNFL have scored 40+ points multiple times in the 1st 3 games of a season for the 1st time since 2000 (Greatest Show on Turf) https://t.co/SqxWaXm8TT

McVay has a system in place to accentuate the strengths of his players instead of trying to play a particular brand of football. In doing so, the Rams' layered approach in its improved quarterback play, offensive line dominance—who could have said that a year ago?—and multiple playmakers at the skill positions provide an edge over the rest of the teams in the division. 

The Cardinals are falling apart at the seams even with a 1-1 start. Head coach Bruce Arians placed the blame squarely on quarterback Carson Palmer.

"The quarterback has to play better, simple," Arians said after Arizona's 16-13 comeback victory over the Indianapolis Colts, per ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss

The 37-year-old signal-caller's skills are diminished.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff, meanwhile, seems to be on the precipice of a breakout sophomore campaign. The 22-year-old's play is vastly improved under McVay's supervision. The former No. 1 overall pick looks far more comfortable in the pocket, and he's again making throws he did as a member of the California Golden Bears. 

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff was nearly perfect during Thursday's 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff was nearly perfect during Thursday's 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Goff finished Thursday's contest by completing 22 of 28 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he didn't turn over the football or take a sack. Yes, he still needs to improve when pressured, but that's usually the case with every young quarterback. 

However, his efficiency even when driving the ball downfield has been a revelation. 

During the third and into the fourth quarter, Goff went a perfect 11-of-11 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns to help build a 41-26 lead. 

The second-year signal-caller continues to be perfect in the red zone with seven completions on seven attempts and five touchdowns, per NFL Network's Rich Eisen

Unlike last season, Goff looks comfortable pushing the ball vertically. Entering the contest, he completed six of nine passes for 205 yards and a touchdown when throwing the ball more than 20 yards downfield, per the per NFL Network telecast. He only completed four of those passes in his first seven starts.

Goff dropped a beautiful 47-yard dime to Sammy Watkins, as the NFL relayed: 


This @JaredGoff16 pass... PERFECT. This @SammyWatkins grab... PERFECT. What. A. Play. #LARvsSF #TNF https://t.co/3Hl9LuK1Ta

"Jared has taken steps in the right direction," McVay said, per NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman. "We'll continue to expect the same from him."

Goff's surrounding cast is greatly improved as well.

Watkins and Robert Woods both caught six passes for 106 and 108 yards, respectively. They're forming a solid one-two punch, with rookie Cooper Kupp working out of the slot. Kupp led all first-year wide receivers with 109 yards coming into Week 3. 

How each of these pieces complements the others is extraordinary and was seen throughout the contest. 

The Rams traded for Watkins to be an explosive vertical threat. Yet, there were points when Kupp ran the deep routes and provided the former first-round pick with more cushion against the 49ers defensive backs. Kupp isn't a speedy target, but San Francisco had to account for him, which Watkins exploited. 

On the flip side, Kupp is a 6'2", 205-pound reliable target who works primarily out of the slot. His precise route-running and seemingly glue-covered hands make him a Goff favorite. 

Woods can do it all. He worked out of the slot for the Buffalo Bills, but he's capable of far more, which was seen Thursday. The 25-year-old worked all three levels of the field after lining up in numerous spots. 

This talented trio can be joined by a fourth. Tavon Austin tends to be ridiculed because he's the NFL's sixth-highest-paid wide receiver in total cash this season, per Spotrac, and doesn't rise to that level on the field. But the former eighth overall pick still adds value as a gadget player as both a runner and receiver. 

The tight ends weren't a major part of the team's most recent game plan. However, Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee both create mismatches when called upon. Both are athletic and can create yards after the catch. 

Even though Goff continues to progress and is surrounded by numerous talented targets, running back Todd Gurley should be the happiest player on the Rams roster because McVay found a way to get the ball in his hands more often and effectively. 

Gurley isn't just a plow horse anymore in an offense built around a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality that once worked for Eddie George but no longer applies to the NFL. Instead, he serves as the team's lead back and a weapon out of the backfield.

The 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 36 yards and another score. Gurley's six touchdowns through three games have tied last season's output. 

"Oh man, it's unbelievable," Gurley said on the Thursday Night Football set. "Just going from the first two years not being able to score like that ... Last year I wasn't able to run the ball as efficient, and I had to open my wings and do something else."

None of this would be possible without the help of a revamped offensive line. 

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is turning out to be the league's best free-agent signing. The 35-year-old blocker is an absolute rock on the blind side, and his presence creates a ripple effect throughout the offensive front. According to Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke, the veteran's surrendered one quarterback pressure this season: 

Nathan Jahnke @PFF_NateJahnke

Andrew Whitworth so far with the Rams 0 pressures allowed Week 1 1 pressure allowed Week 2 0 pressures allowed tonight

Whitworth can lock down any pass-rusher, and he did so Thursday as the Rams didn't allow a sack. The rest of the line can mask deficiencies by sliding protection in the opposite direction. 

Even when veteran center John Sullivan suffered a groin injury and left the contest, Los Angeles' offensive line didn't miss a beat. Second-year backup Austin Blythe stepped in and played well. 

This is a luxury the Seattle Seahawks don't have. Russell Wilson is the division's best quarterback. The Seahawks also have plenty of talent at the skill positions. But they can't compete with how well the Rams offensive line is playing. Whitworth and Co. were dominant against a loaded 49ers defensive line. 

Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips must get his side of the ball in order if the Rams are going to entertain ideas of a division crown.
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips must get his side of the ball in order if the Rams are going to entertain ideas of a division crown.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just like every other team in the division, the Rams are flawed. Defensively, the group has yet to come together under coordinator Wade Phillips' supervision. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is still working his way back into form—although, he appeared unblockable at times against the 49ers. The unit allowed 421 total yards to a 49ers squad that couldn't score a single touchdown in its first two contests. 

The Rams own a potent offense. Still, the defense has too many talented players to allow every game to develop into a shootout. 

Aside from the porous defense, the Rams have fewer concerns than any other team in the NFC West. This is an exciting young squad that should have its fans proudly singing the team's unofficial theme song. 

We rockin' L.A. 

So let's ram it today. 

Ram it. 

We're gonna ram it. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.

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