A year ago, the New York Giants were the big dog and the Los Angeles Rams the struggling group when the teams met in a game won by the Giants, 17-10. This year, roles are reversed with the Rams at 5-2 and the Giants 1-6.
Let’s learn more about the new-look Rams from Joseph McAfee of SB Nation’s Turf Show Times in this week’s “Five Questions” segment.
Ed: Your thoughts on Sean McVay? At 5-2 and averaging more than 30 points per game, I'd assume he and Rams fans are in a honeymoon phase.
JM: Yeah, the honeymoon is on, no doubt. Really, it's not even about the sheer magnitude of success that the record indicates. It's just how long it's been since the Rams weren't bad.
Right now, the Rams are 2nd in the NFL in points per game. From 2007-2016, the highest the Rams were in points per game was 21st. The Rams have been so anemic and so underwhelming (at best) for so long that the novelty of being un-bad is perhaps what's really hitting home. And I dropped as succinct of a blurb as I could on McVay in my section at our NFL Midseason Awards in which he won Coach of the Year to this point. Put simply, it's absolutely incredible that a first-time coach as young as he is has done as well as he has. It's unlikely and unanticipated in both the scope and acceleration of his and the team's success.
So yeah. Honeymoon.
Ed: How big of a step forward has Jared Goff taken? Do you believe he is the real deal?
JM: A big one, but bigger ones are yet to come. Goff, and this team, just hasn't played a ton of meaningful late season football in the past decade. Forget the playoffs. The Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003. The only season in which the Rams were playing meaningful December football was 2010 when rookie QB Sam Bradford took the Rams to Week 17 in Seattle with a chance to win and sneak in the playoffs. Since then, December has been about getting rookies and UDFA youth playing time for the next season, the kind of situation you laid out for the Giants recently.
The Rams know that kind of football well. We know how guys look in that kind of a December. Is Jared Goff the real deal? We have to see how he's doing late in the season and late in games. He wasn't just the #1 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Rams traded up to get sacrificing quite a bit of draft capital to do so. So he has to be good enough to merit the opportunity costs of a second-round and third-round pick last year and a first-round pick this year. The Rams could have had three players in the last two drafts instead of Goff.
He's taken a big step toward making that decision look less perilous. But in order for him to really legitimize that decision and be "the real deal", he's going to have to win games when it matters most. And we're just not there yet.
Ed: Are the Rams a contender or a pretender? And, regardless, are you happy with the direction of the franchise?
JM: I know Geoff Schwartz had us as a pretender over at the mothership. And sure, I'll cop to some obvious bias ... but I gotta have em as a contender.
The Rams are second in scoring. They've beaten the Cowboys in Dallas. And the Jaguars in Jacksonville. And the 49ers in ... ok yeah, it's the Niners. But still! The Rams have just two losses this season. One was a game against Washington that was tied late in the fourth. QB Kirk Cousins led his guys down the field for a TD. Goff tossed an interception in the response possession (this kinda dovetails with your question above as to if he's learned from that pick when he's in this situation again and if he can lead a late game drive for a victory). The other was a sloppy performance against the Seahawks in which the Rams had five turnovers...and only lost by a touchdown. I've gotta take contenders.
As for the direction of the franchise, obviously I'm excited about it. I do wonder if perhaps things are moving a bit too fast for a team this young and a coaching staff this new to each other, but that's the good kind of problem to have. I thought this would be a team that was slow out the gate and got better over the course of the season to develop as a contender in 2018 having taken some lumps and allowed the coaching staff to smooth those out. To give Goff and co. a chance to make some mistakes and lose some tough games to learn from. I don't know that they've had enough of those lessons, but maybe they don't need them. Maybe this is just the right situation where the existing roster combined with the new personnel moves and coaching staff just happened to converge at once to create something good. Or really good. Or special. I dunno which is which, but yeah I'm excited to find out.
Ed: If you could take one player not named Odell Beckham off the Giants roster and put him in the Rams lineup who would it be? Why?
JM: Yes, I would like Odell Beckham, Jr., instead. Thanks.
Nah, it's a bit of a tough question. You guys have talent on the D-line, but the Rams are fine up front. JPP and Olivier Vernon might not fit well as 3-4 OLBs where the Rams could use some help. It took an extra season to backfill his spot, but Janoris Jenkins isn't the commodity he would be as a return candidate as he was in 2016. Same goes for DRC, minus the return factor. And at safety, Lamarcus Joyner and rookie John Johnson are developing into a very high quality duo, so Landon Collins isn't the window shopping I'd do either.
I'll go with TE Evan Engram. McVay comes from a tight end coaching background and his history suggests he's going to lean on the position heavily. So even though the Rams took Tyler Higbee in the fourth round in 2016 and spent their 2017 NFL Draft second-round pick on young Gerald Everett, I'd add Engram to the mix. He's probably the most talented of the three and having that depth at what could be the most important position in McVay's system wouldn't be a horrible thing.
Ed: The Rams are favored and considering the fact that the Giants are a fractured mess with a ton of injured players, should win this game. Is there anything about Sunday that scares you?
JM: Yeah, being in this position. The Rams are favored on the road. That's ... new. There's talk of this being a trap game and the Rams are the trappee and not the trapper. That's ... new.
It kind of goes back to what I was talking about in your second question. We're in relatively uncharted waters. Jared Goff isn't bad. The offensive line isn't bad. The Rams aren't bad. The coaching isn't bad. With a nod to Stranger Things 2, we're kind of in the upside down.
So yeah, Sunday is kinda scary!