The Hollywood Rams Are Back and Coming for the NFC

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 9, 2019

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley leaves the field with wide receiver Cooper Kupp after their teams win against the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

A mere two weeks ago, many of us were ready to leave the Los Angeles Rams for dead following a blowout prime-time loss to the Baltimore Ravens. But the defending NFC champions are experienced, well-coached and resilient, and the NFC has to be conscious of the fact that the Rams are very much alive following back-to-back one-sided victories over divisional opponents. 

One week after crushing the Arizona Cardinals 34-7 on the road, Los Angeles came back to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and made a statement to a national audience with a 28-12 Sunday Night Football victory over a Seattle Seahawks team that led the NFC West with a 10-2 record entering Week 14. 

The offense is finally clicking again, while the defense has given up just 17 or fewer points in six of L.A.'s last seven games. It looks like that 45-6 Week 12 loss to the Ravens was somewhat of an outlier for a team that has surrendered a total of five touchdowns in the six other games it has played since Week 7. 

With that unit rolling and the Todd Gurley II-led running game refinding its groove of late to give the offense more balance, the margin for error is significantly larger for quarterback Jared Goff. And that was evidenced on Sunday night, with the Rams handily defeating a high-quality opponent despite two second-half Goff interceptions as well as a blocked field goal in the third quarter. 

That defense has 11 sacks in the last two games, while the secondary has looked as strong as ever thanks to newcomers Jalen Ramsey (acquired ahead of the trade deadline), Eric Weddle (signed in the offseason) and Taylor Rapp (drafted in the second round in April). 

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It's still entirely possible this is too little, too late for a team that wasn't itself well before that unforgettable experience against Baltimore. The Rams lost three in a row in September and October—a stretch in which they gave up 85 points in two games against Seattle and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then laid an egg at home against the San Francisco 49ers. 

They dug themselves an insurmountable hole in the league's best division. They sit one game out of a wild-card spot, but now they have to take on the desperate Dallas Cowboys on the road before traveling to San Francisco in Week 16. If they drop both of those games, it won't matter that they'll be a heavy favorite at home against Arizona to close out the season. 

But this Rams team can absolutely beat a Dallas squad that is 0-6 this season against teams that currently have winning records, and you'd have to imagine they'll be better prepared for the 49ers now than they were when they lost 20-7 to San Francisco in Week 6. 

If they do finish 10-6 but fall short of the playoffs (a strong possibility considering that the sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings are 9-4 and might own the tiebreaker over Los Angeles), it'll be a shame. Because the Rams are peaking at a good time, and they're the type of team that could make waves as a wild card in January.

We know they have the ingredients on both sides of the ball.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Defensively, future Hall of Fame defensive lineman Aaron Donald is a game-wrecker, and he's getting plenty of support now from pass-rushers Dante Fowler Jr., Clay Matthews, Samson Ebukam and Michael Brockers, underrated linebacker Cory Littleton and that aforementioned secondary. 

Offensively, Goff can be a liability, but he's performed tremendously in seven of his last eight quarters.

Gurley, who hasn't been himself all year after suffering a knee injury late in 2018, had just one game with 100 scrimmage yards in the first 10 weeks of L.A.'s season, but he's gone over the century mark three times in the last four games. He's fresh as a result of a light workload in September and October, which could bode well for his chances of holding up down the stretch this time around. 

And it's no coincidence that the pass-catching corps has increased its productivity at a similar rate. Robert Woods now has 367 yards in his last three games, Brandin Cooks is healthy again after missing several weeks due to a concussion, slot receiver Cooper Kupp is a Comeback Player of the Year candidate and tight end Tyler Higbee is now officially experiencing a breakout season. 

The 2016 fourth-round pick has caught 14 passes for 223 yards in the Rams' last two victories, giving him a career-high 435 yards. He and fellow tight end Gerald Everett are likely going to combine for 1,000 yards at that position before the season is complete. 

And both units are undoubtedly in good hands with the venerable Wade Phillips and 2017 Coach of the Year Sean McVay, respectively. 

Put it all together and the Rams aren't the team anyone wants to face in the playoffs, especially considering that they're 4-2 on the road. They nearly beat the Seahawks in Seattle earlier this season, falling by just one point when Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal in the dying seconds. And their only other away loss came by a single score against the 8-5 Pittsburgh Steelers. 

The Rams will put up a fight against anybody, anywhere in January. But they'll have to fight to get there. 

And that could be a good thing. There'll be no easing up on the gas pedal for a team that is now trying to prove it belongs in the playoff picture. Everyone knows what these Rams are capable of, and now it's fair to wonder if the Ravens awoke a sleeping giant. 

      

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.