The Rams are even better than last year. How in the world do you stop this team?
The Los Angeles Rams rolled to 4-0 with an impressive 38-31 win against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football that showed just how unstoppable the Rams offense is in 2018.
Los Angeles has now scored at least 33 points in every game this season. A touchdown margin of victory over the Vikings is the closest any team has come so far to hanging with the Rams. They look like a shoo-in to win the NFC West and are the clear Super Bowl favorite after their September slate.
A year ago, the Rams climbed out of the NFC West cellar with a surprising 11-5 season before bowing out in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Now the team is new and improved — and scarier than ever.
The Rams have a chance to be an all-time great offense
Scoring 140 points through the first four games is imposing, but it’s not close to a record-breaking amount. There are 18 teams since the NFL-AFL merger that have scored more in their first four games than the Rams. The 2013 Broncos hold the record with 179 points in their first four.
Part of the reason the Rams haven’t scored more is that they haven’t needed it. They coasted to huge wins in their first two weeks against the Raiders and Cardinals, and they didn’t need to go for the kill in the final minutes against the Chargers or Vikings either.
The Rams’ 1,874 yards of total offense are a better indication of how easily they’ve cooked defenses so far. That’s a number only five offenses have topped since the merger — three of which went to the Super Bowl — and the Rams are only 156 yards behind the record through four games held by the 2011 Patriots.
Only three teams have ever been consistent enough to eclipse 7,000 yards of total offense in a season and the Rams are now pacing for an NFL-record 7,496. A look at how consistently they’ve mowed through opponents suggests it’s maybe not an unrealistic number to reach.
The Rams’ yardage total has increased each week, despite what should’ve been tougher competition in the Chargers and Vikings.
Jared Goff is the Rams’ offensive MVP now
Todd Gurley is the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and he’s still the league leader in touches per game. But the star of the Rams offense is their third-year quarterback now.
Jared Goff finished his demolition of the Vikings with 26 completions on 33 attempts for 465 yards and five touchdowns. A week ago, he became the third player to ever top 350 yards with a completion percentage over 75 in back-to-back games. Now he’s the only player to do it three times in a row.
He finished his game against the Vikings with a perfect passer rating, an especially rare accomplishment for a quarterback who’s asked to throw often:
Goff’s performance upped his passer rating on the year to 127.9 — second to Patrick Mahomes’ 137.4, but ahead of the single-season record of 122.5 held by Aaron Rodgers.
In previous years, Goff was criticized for being a system quarterback who had Gurley doing most of the work offensively while Sean McVay’s schemes and play-calling set him up for big numbers. The difference now is that Goff is making difficult throws regularly.
It’s hard to even decide which touchdown throw he made Thursday was most impressive, because his final three were all tremendous:
The Rams offensive line deserves credit
Part of the reason Goff has taken a step forward is that he’s been given the gift of comfort by his blockers up front.
“They’re playing the best in the league right now and I don’t think it’s really close,” Goff said of his line in his postgame press conference. “The last three or four games — I don’t know what the numbers are — but I’ve hit the ground maybe three or four times. I mean, just hits, pressures, not even sacks.”
The Vikings are dealing with many injuries on the defense, and are currently without three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Everson Griffen while he deals with personal health issues. But Minnesota still entered the night with 10 sacks, fourth-most in the NFL through the first three weeks.
Against the Rams, the Minnesota pass rush recorded just one sack.
Two-time All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth even got a two-for-one special with a block on a screen pass in the second half.
There’s no weak link on the Rams offense, and it all works because they’re winning up front.
There are so many weapons for Goff
Losing Sammy Watkins in the offseason did nothing to slow the Rams down, because he was replaced on the roster by Brandin Cooks — a deep threat who is every bit as, if not more, dangerous than Watkins down the field, and versatile enough to run the ball too.
Cooks caught seven passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, second to the Rams’ breakout star of the offense, Cooper Kupp.
The team’s 2017 third-round pick was a contributor as a rookie, but Kupp has stepped into the spotlight in year two. Against the Vikings, he caught nine passes for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns.
Most of his damage was done in the first half when he torched the Minnesota secondary early:
In addition to Kupp and Cooks, the Rams also have Robert Woods, who finished with more than 100 receiving yards in each of the last two weeks. Oh yeah, there’s also Gurley, who had 156 yards on 21 touches and scored his sixth touchdown of the year.
The kryptonite may be the Rams defense
The only team keeping pace with the Los Angeles offense are the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs. But Kansas City may have a problem with a defense that’s forcing the Chiefs to win a shootout every week.The Rams haven’t had that problem much in 2018 with a defense that allowed a league-fewest 36 points in the first three weeks. But the unit looked especially vulnerable Thursday against the Vikings.
Kirk Cousins racked up 422 passing yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions to nearly keep pace with the prolific Rams offense. The duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs combined for 19 receptions, 258 yards, and a touchdown against the Los Angeles secondary.
Part of the problem is that Aqib Talib suffered an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve and relegated him to Twitter analyst duties during the game. Marcus Peters was also dealing with a calf injury that had him listed as doubtful on the injury report, but he played through it. But it’s not a good sign that the Rams secondary looked so lost in their first game without Talib.
It also hasn’t helped that the trio of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers hasn’t resulted in the chaos up front that its collective price tag suggests it should. The Rams defense recorded just four sacks in the first three games of the year and had just one until late in the fourth quarter against the Vikings.
Fortunately for Los Angeles, the pass rush finally came up big in the final minutes and sacked Cousins on three of the Vikings’ last five offensive plays.
The game was clinched with a forced fumble on the last sack by rookie defensive end John Franklin-Myers.
Donald finished the game with two sacks after going the first three games without one. But he started his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2017 similarly with just one sack in his first four games before finishing with 10 sacks in his last 10 games.
If that’s the real Rams pass rush, the defense will probably be just fine. But for much of the night, Cousins was comfortable and clean as he picked apart the Rams secondary.
If there’s someone who can fix that and dial up more pressure on the opposing quarterback, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a long history of making things difficult on passers.
Los Angeles is going to score a bunch of points on a weekly basis. If the defense can hold up its end of the bargain, the Rams are damn near unbeatable.