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Five Takeaways: 2017 L.A. Rams Season

Posted Jan 15, 2018

Team insider Myles Simmons shares his five key takeaways from the Rams' 2017 season, including a look at what awards L.A. may be up for during NFL Honors.

The Rams underwent a major transformation in 2017, winning the NFC West with an 11-5 record in the club’s first year under head coach Sean McVay.

While Los Angeles’ playoff run ended earlier than the team expected, as McVay said last week, “you also don't want it to take away from a lot of the great things that our players and that our coaches were able to achieve.”

With that in mind, here are five takeaways from the Rams’ season.

1) From worst to first

The Rams’ offense went from paltry to prolific with a historic turnaround under the direction of McVay and his staff. Los Angeles became only the second team in NFL history to go from last to first in scoring from year to year, joining the 1965 49ers.

L.A. scored 478 points in 2017, more than doubling its output from 2016. At 29.9 points per game, the Rams scored 1.3 than the Patriots and Eagles, who tied for No. 2 at 28.6. Los Angeles finished No. 3 with 44.3 percent of its possessions ending in points, and No. 3 at scoring 2.26 points per drive.

What’s more, the Rams’ point output was the fourth most in franchise history, behind only the teams from the “Greatest Show on Turf” era from 1999-2001. The 2001 Rams scored 503 points, the 1999 team scored 526, and the 2000 club scored 540.

Given the scoring prowess, it’s no surprise Los Angeles finished within the top 10 in nearly all major offensive categories. The club ranked No. 10 in total yards, No. 10 in passing yards, and No. 8 in rushing yards.

Not bad for a team with a first-year head coach.

2) Starting fast on defense

The Rams’ defense may have finished the year No. 19 in yards allowed and No. 12 in points allowed, but the unit proved to excel at recording takeaways — particularly early in games.

Los Angeles ended eight of its opponents’ opening drives with a takeaway in 2017. It started with the first game of the season, when cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien’s first pass of the season and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.

The full list of the Rams’ opening-possession takeaways:

Week 1 vs Colts: Johnson 39-yard pick six
Week 3 at 49ers: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman interception
Week 9 at Giants: DT Aaron Donald sack/fumble, OLB Connor Barwin recovery
Week 10 vs. Texans: Donald sack/fumble, OLB Matt Longacre recovery
Week 13 at Cardinals: S Lamarcus Joyner interception
Week 14 vs. Eagles: CB Kayvon Webster interception
Week 15 at Seahawks: Joyner forced fumble, LB Alec Ogletree recovery
Week 16 at Titans: LB Cory Littleton interception

In all, the team finished No. 5 with 28 takeaways and No. 2 with 126 points off takeaways.

3) Special teams excels, too

The Rams had three specialists not only named to the Pro Bowl. but also named as AP All-Pros.

Despite playing only 14 games due to a back injury suffered last in the season, kicker Greg Zuerlein led the league with 158 points. Punter Johnny Hekker and the coverage unit finished No. 2 with a 44.3-yard net average per punt. And wide receiver Pharoh Cooper set the stage with a 27.4-yard kick return average, plus a 12.5-yard punt return average.

Cooper and the return team had a significant effect on the Rams’ starting field position. The club led the league with an average drive start at their own 33.0-yard line. That’s one reason why even though the Rams were No. 1 in scoring, the club finished No. 10 in total yards.

Zuerlein, Hekker, and the coverage teams were elite in that regard as well, as Los Angeles’ opponents started their drives on average at their own 27.5. That ranked No. 9 in the league in 2017.

4) Awards season

Pro Bowlers and AP All-Pros have already been announced, and the PFWA awards are on the way this week. But the Rams also have some contenders for awards announced during the NFL Honors ceremony on Feb. 3 in Minnesota.

Running back Todd Gurley is a MVP candidate after leading the league with 2,093 yards from scrimmage, 19 total touchdowns, and 13 rushing touchdowns. Plus, Gurley finished No. 2 with 1,305 yards rushing. And he did it all in just 15 games, as McVay chose to rest the Georgia product in Week 17.

With 11.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, 15 tackles for loss, and 27 quarterback hits, Donald has vaunted himself into the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. According to Pro Football Focus, Donald also led the league with 91 quarterback pressures. The fourth-year pro played only 14 regular-season games in 2017.

And McVay is a clear candidate for Coach of the Year, after leading the Rams to all of the aforementioned accomplishments in this post. At just 31 years old, McVay became the youngest head coach to lead a team to the playoffs in NFL history with Los Angeles’ NFC West title in 2017 — the franchise’s first division championship since 2003.

5) Now, what’s next?

Aside from the Pro Bowl and NFL Honors, the Rams’ work of improving the roster over the course of the offseason has already begun. Los Angeles selected six players who attended the Senior Bowl last year in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that event will run the week of Jan. 22.

But the Rams also have a number of upcoming high-profile free agents, including cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safety Lamarcus Joyner, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

General manager Les Snead said last week that the Rams’ staff would likely take a couple weeks before coming back after the Super Bowl to really dig in and examine how all the players may or may not fit for the future.

“That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle is all right how do we stay in this window where we expect to compete for a division, expect to win the division,” Snead said. “And we do have a young team so it is sustainable, but it’s solving that riddle. And I think it’s best for us to sit down, take a little bit of an emotional break and come back and try to be rational and smart in our thinking.”