By: Ethan May
We are four days into October and a St. Louis sports team has put a huge smile on my face.
No, it’s not the Cardinals. Although they clinched the NL Central this week and have the best record in baseball.
No, it’s not the Blues. Although they start their season Thursday night and sport a great roster of experienced veterans, true goal-scorers, young talent and an elite defense.
I’m smiling because of the St. Louis Rams.
The what? Who?
The St. Louis Rams.
I have NEVER seen a truly gifted Rams team. I’ve seen some mediocre teams near .500 and sniff the playoffs, but I’ve never seen a great football team.
This year has a different vibe.
The Rams started the season with a thrilling victory at home against the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. It was an incredible win, but all of the momentum was immediately killed when the Rams went to Washington the next week to be dismantled by the Redskins.
Any excitement was killed as fans assumed the team was in for another inconsistent year that wouldn’t lead to anything.
Week three the Rams held the Pittsburgh Steelers’ high-powered offense to only 12 points, but the Rams’ offense couldn’t even manage to score 13 points. This resulted in a difficult loss after the no-show loss week two.
All of this meant the Rams held a 1-2 record when arriving in Arizona to play the 3-0 Cardinals week four.
In a hostile atmosphere, the Rams grabbed an early lead, were dominant when the Cardinals were in the red zone and were opportunistic enough on offense to grab a critical victory.
What makes this win any more impressive than some of their wins in past meaningless seasons?
It’s all about how they won the game.
Jeff Fisher’s coaching philosophy is simple: Play dominant defense and run the ball.
Years and years of rebuilding have given the Rams the best defensive front in the National Football League. Robert Quinn and Chris Long remain some of the best defensive ends in the league while Aaron Donald is quickly becoming one of the best defensive players in the league. Oh yeah, the Rams also have Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley. It’s just not fair.
The problem has been that the running game isn’t there. The offensive line needed so much work that the Rams invested quality and quantity draft picks to fix it. Two elite SEC rushers, Tre Mason and Todd Gurley, were drafted to give Fisher the weapon he needed to complete his gameplan.
Gurley, in his second game back from his ACL injury, looks to be exactly the guy Fisher and the Rams need.
After taking a beating in the first half, Gurley put together an impressive second half to eat crucial minutes off the clock and ice the game in the fourth quarter. I had flashbacks of watching Steven Jackson run people over when I was little and thought it was normal.
The rookie has the potential to be one of those rare guys who can truly do it all. Need to power through the line of scrimmage? He can. Need enough speed to run away from somebody? He has it.
UPDATE: Another aspect I failed to mention in my post-game excitement was the football intelligence he showed along with his physical ability. He unselfishly took a knee to run out the clock even though he had a free route to the end zone. That’s impressive for any back, especially one in his second professional game.
Consistent success by Gurley would also loosen coverage on Kenny Britt who can become the dependable veteran receiver. Tavon Austin would be put under less pressure, making his elite speed even more dangerous. This would also open the door for Foles to show off his out-of-pocket running ability as well. Oh and Tre Mason could mix in a few snaps while Gurley rests. Not a bad backup.
We may finally be seeing the end of the days where opposing teams could focus on the Rams’ one offensive ability and shut it down completely.
All because of the potential of Todd Gurley.
So many wondered why the Rams would spend a premium pick on another runningback after drafting Tre Mason in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. This is why.
Back at an even 2-2, the Rams will now head to Green Bay where they’ll face quarterback god Aaron Rodgers in one of the toughest stadiums in the league. As Michael Strahan said on Fox OT this afternoon, the Rams would become the team to beat in the NFC West if they can find a way to steal a win in that environment.
This positivity is partly because of the Rams schedule. After returning home from Green Bay the Rams will have their bye week. They will then welcome the Browns & 49ers to town, go north to play the Vikings and then return home for the Bears. Four games that can most definitely be won. It’s also important to remember the Rams are currently 2-0 in the division.
Of course the Rams still have to go to Seattle and have to play the Cardinals at home, but there’s no reason to believe they can’t win those games if Gurley really has broken out.
For now the Rams’ coaching staff has to find a way to be consistent. If they want to make a meaningful playoff run they can’t sleepwalk through games against poor opponents.
I’m not saying this Rams team is going to make a deep playoff run this season. I simply had to express how excited I am to see this football team finally seem to come together.
Because it sure has taken long enough.
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