The Rams put together a complete game with a dominant offensive, defensive, and special teams performance to rout the Colts 46-9 in Week 1.
It was a historic way to begin head coach Sean McVay’s tenure with the club, and here are five key takeaways as Los Angeles heads into Week 2 against Washington.
1) Phillips’ defense came to play
If there was one area of intrigue for the Rams’ defense heading into Sunday’s game, it was how the unit would play together. Many of its key contributors — including outside linebacker Robert Quinn, inside linebacker Mark Barron, and cornerback Kayvon Webster — had not played at all during preseason.
But with his decades of NFL experience, it’s no surprise coordinator Wade Phillips had his squad ready to play. Still, even Phillips accomplished a feat for the first time on Sunday, as the defense because the first in NFL history to record two pick sixes and a safety in a season opener.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson scored Los Angeles’ first touchdown of the season, intercepting Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien’s first pass and returning it 39 yards to the end zone. Safety Lamarcus Joyner’s pick six in the third quarter looked similar, with the Florida State product picking off the pass and racing down the right sideline for 29 yards to pay dirt. Then linebacker Cory Littleton stripped running back Marlon Mack deep in Indy territory in the fourth quarter. While quarterback Jacoby Brissett recovered the loose ball, he did so in the end zone where defensive lineman Morgan Fox touched him down for a safety.
“Scoring on defense is big — we put an emphasis on that all week,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “We got a couple of pick-sixes, a couple turnovers. It was good, it was good for our defense.”
“Unbelievable,” McVay said of the defense’s performance. “I thought they were consistently putting pressure on Tolzien all day and really loved the way those guys fly around. It was fun to watch.”
One defensive score can be hard to overcome, but two are often a deal breaker. Such was the case against Indianapolis on Sunday.
2) Goff starts Year 2 hot
Quarterback Jared Goff had the best performance of his budding career, completing 21 of his 29 passes — 72.4 percent — for 306 yards with a touchdown. The 22-year-old signal-caller didn’t turn the ball over, was sacked only once, and averaged 10.6 yards per attempt.
It’s one game, but Goff showed significant growth in from where he finished as a rookie in 2016.
“Yeah, I was happy,” Goff said of his performance. “You know, like I always say, I just try to get the ball out, distribute it to the guys that make the plays — and thought I was able to do that pretty well.”
“[J]ust from Jared as a whole, I’m very proud of him,” McVay said. “Thought he did a great job and it was awesome for him to get his first win.”
One indication of how well Goff saw the field on Sunday are the numbers from his receivers. The Cal product completed passes to seven different receivers, and five of them had a reception of at least 23 yards.
“I thought he was able to get a handful of different guys involved in the pass game and that’s what you want to be able to do when we do have a handful of playmakers at the skill guys with our receivers, tight ends, and backs,” McVay said. “So, credit to Jared. I am very pleased with him today.”
Again, it’s only one game, and as McVay says, the truest measure of performance is consistency. But it’s at the very lease encouraging to see last year’s No. 1 overall pick excel as he did on Sunday.
3) McVay gets his first win — and a bath
Before the end of Sunday afternoon’s game, McVay had never been bathed with the remnants of a sideline cooler. But he took it in stride, as the Rams congratulated him for putting them in position to win their season opener.
“I could have avoided it if I wanted to, but I felt like I kind of had to take it a little bit,” McVay said postgame.
The head coach also had plenty of praise for his assistants, again reiterating how Phillips and special teams coordinator John Fassel allow him the freedom to spend more time with the offense on the sideline if needed.
But McVay wasn’t making too much of his first win, especially because there’s a game next week with a very familiar opponent.
“It feels good. It’s a little surreal, but it’s one game,” McVay said. “I think the thing about the NFL is it’s an extremely humbling business and while this was the goal and we came away with that, I know we’ve got a great Washington team that I’m very familiar with and we’re playing next week.”
4) Hekker in midseason form
When a team scores 46 points, there’s not necessarily going to be that much punting — which is definitely a good thing for any football team. But when Johnny Hekker had his opportunities on the field, he capitalized on them and put the defense in good position.
Hekker punted five times, all five of which were downed inside the 20, with four spotted at or inside the 10-yard line. Hekker’s last punt put the Colts at their own 10, after which Littleton stripped Mack for the safety.
The punter also employed what’s apparently a little-used kicking technique on a punt that ended up out of bounds at Indianapolis’ seven-yard line. Former Colts punter Pat McAfee explained it in a video on Twitter (video NSFW — language).
And on Monday, the club announced Hekker has been signed to a two-year contract extension, keeping him with Los Angeles through the 2022 season.
5) Much to improve
McVay praised the players for their performance, but even just after the 37-point victory acknowledged room for significant improvement.
The Rams were assessed seven penalties for 50 yards, including three false-start penalties — two of which came on the drive resulting from Johnson’s forced fumble and recovery.
“Offensively as a whole, though, we have to avoid those penalties. We can’t beat ourselves with the pre-snap false starts, different things like that,” McVay said. “That will get you beat and we’ve got to get that cleaned up.”
Los Angeles’ offense also has room to improve in its ground game, as running back Todd Gurley II had only 40 yards on 19 carries. As a team, the Rams had only 63 yards rushing on 33 attempts.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football better, more consistently get a hat on a hat, be targeted the right way and some of the things in the run game and then we’ve got to do a good job avoiding the penalties,” McVay said. “But, I think it’s a step in the right direction, definitely some positives in the pass game. I know our guys will be motivated the right way to respond, so that’s kind of where we’re at offensively.”