Saturday, November 11, 2017

L.A. Rams: Sailing In Uncharted Waters...



  In the southern hemisphere, you may want to look up at the nighttime sky. For centuries, travelers upon the sea have known well what you'll see. It's "The Southern Cross..."

  Painting a seemingly simple four star cluster into an NFL team's 2017 canvas may be a reach, but I tend to be a star-eyed dreamer at any given moment. I've got the proverbial tee-shirt, and have the art of going from cheering to moaning down so pat, it's like a second language. As a Rams fan for decades, it's how I've sail through life in my little easy chair sloop. Years of dodging the behemoth NFL team tankers on each season's sea has been daunting. I've bailed and bailed after great NFL ships pass my team by, swamping me in waves of frustration. It doesn't do any good to shake your fist at them, nor does pelting a TV screen with Cheetos. You just have to re-set your sail, put the rudder hard over, and head for open sea... Or change the channel... Both seem to work?

Ocean going metaphors are oft times a hard sell, but I think it fits the 2017 Los Angeles Rams well. They've been plying the NFL waters in a hapless fashion for so long now, it takes time to believe their course could ever run true. Now, after a decade of confusing routes that had them zig-zagging all over the NFL map, they're headed toward new water... New destinations... New hope... They can see those four innocuous stars in the nighttime sky...

So, what happened? Well, as much as I liked Jeff Fisher as a person, he just didn't have what it takes to steer an NFL team. The Rams new head coach - Sean McVay - has it right. He built a coaching staff that re-set a basically talent roster. Wade Phillips - the team's defensive coordinator - installed a  defense, then molded Aaron Donald, Conner Barwin, Robert Quinn, and - a vastly underrated - Michael Brockers into a core for a front seven that's clicking. He took a secondary - that no one thought much of prior to the start of the 2017 NFL season - and sewed tight passing seems left open in years past. The 2017 Rams secondary now has as many interceptions (10), as they did in the ENTIRE 2016 season.

Worthy of remark too, is the number of penalties for the Rams defense in 2017 when compared to 2016. Under Jeff Fisher, penalties were crazy high. I mean, they weren’t flat out bug-nuts high, but they seemed to constantly come at the worst times. In 2017, the Rams rank third lowest in penalty yardage (342), and the best in the NFL penalties called (48).

Flipping over to the offensive side of the ball, one of the most striking statistics is the Rams’ 3rd down conversion rate: 49.1%. In 2016, they were dead last in the NFL(32%) when it came to 3rd down efficiency.

While all the fan fluff has been going running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff’s way, to my mind, it’s left tackle Andrew Whitworth who deserves the team’s offensive MVP award. So far in 2017, the Rams have 17 running plays for 10+ yards on the left side of the offensive line. In the entire 2016 season, the Rams only had 8 plays of 10+ yard on the left side. Jared Goff has only been sacked 10 times this season, compared to the 49 time Jared Goff and Case Keenum bit the dust 2016. Oh, what a difference a great left tackle makes... Add in that the Rams offensive line has kept the same five starters all season, and it’s not hard to see why this current Rams team is sailing free and easy.

In an odd twist, the one statistic I thought I’d find was a Rams’ wide receiver making his way up the success lists? Not so, with only Robert Woods in the Top 50 wide receivers in the NFL(#28), with 451 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Digging deeper though, Rams fans can get excited about the number of different receiver Jared Goff utilizes. The Rams player with the highest yard per catch percentage? (Insert Jeopardy theme) If you said “Who is: rookie receiver Josh Reynolds”, you win! OK, he only has one catch for 28 yards, but Alex Trebeck is a picky guy, right? Sammy Watkins hasn’t made big headlines, but general manager Les Snead hit bigger than most people want to believe. Watkins has only 19 reception, but his 331 receiving yards - for a 17.4 yard average - tells me the Rams finally have the guy who can take the top off a defense, and hold safeties back a bit on every play...

OK, so what do all the statistics have to do with the Southern Cross I mentioned at the start of my wunder-babble? Maybe it’s the feeling I get that the Rams have open sea ahead, that’s of their own choosing? Then again, it could be the simple, notional feeling I get - when I think about the team I’ve loved all my life - that every game to be played will be in currents that are a challenge to opposing teams? All too possible, is that I’ve got this all wrong, and it’s not about stars at all? Maybe - just MAYBE - it’s the fact that the Los Angeles Rams have a harmony about them that makes a mark on a fan of the NFL...

Hmm...? Harmony... Southern Cross... I’ve got it!