With a win this weekend, the Los Angeles Rams will clinch the NFC East and become the first NFL team to secure a playoff spot in 2020.
Ah, if only that were true.
It appears the Rams – like all the teams in their division – caught a scheduling break by drawing the East this year. Any way you slice it, the East is… not good. So win or lose, some will question L.A.'s strength of schedule going into San Francisco next week; and that's fine. (The 49ers haven’t faced a winning team.)
Sweeping a division is never something to apologize for in the NFL.
In fact, it's been a trend for McVay's championship seasons. The Rams beat the entire AFC West in 2018 and the whole AFC South in 2017.
If they go 4-0 against the East with a win in Washington this weekend, it would be even more valuable because of the NFC playoff tiebreaking implications.
Week One in Washington
On Thursday's Between the Horns, I tried to make the case that one division actually did have a preseason in 2020: the NFC East.
Because after four weeks, it's wide open and only one division game has been played.
By virtue of winning that game, the opener against Philadelphia, Washington has every right to believe they can finish atop the pile, especially considering the deteriorating state of the Cowboys.
The Football Team's next five opponents only have five combined wins, and three of those belong to the Rams.
So no wonder they're making a change at quarterback now. Wipe the slate clean, start anew. Which means the Rams are walking into an environment where their opponent has wiped the slate clean and started anew.
It may be Week 5 for L.A. But in D.C., this game is the WFT opener.
30 For (Less Than) 30 Seasons
Per the Washington Post, Kyle Allen will be the 30th starting quarterback for the franchise since 1993, a stretch that started with Mark Rypien, whose nephew is now a fill-in starter for the Broncos.
More recently, Allen will be the eighth Washington starter since Jared Goff took over for the Rams in mid-2016.
Starting Sunday, the Rams play three straight games against defenses ranked in the top seven of Football Outsider's efficiency ratings. And according to that metric, Washington (fourth) is the most efficient defense Sean McVay's offense will have faced this season. San Francisco (sixth) and Chicago (seventh) are next.
"Hold up. Washington's given up 30-plus points the last three weeks," you say.
And you'd be right.
This is a nice case study in why points allowed isn't necessarily a great measure of a defense's performance.
Take the Week 3 loss in Cleveland, for example.
The Browns scored 24 of their 31 points on drives that started at the +28, +24, +35, and +41 yard lines.
The conclusion should not be "That WFT defense is no good."
Instead, you might say, "Four turnovers by that offense led to 77% of Cleveland's scoring."
The Young and The Retire-less
After practicing Thursday and Friday, Chase Young would seem likely to return to the Washington lineup following a groin injury that cost him most of Week 3 and the loss versus Baltimore.
Whether or not Young plays is huge. First of all, it would make for a fascinating matchup between the second overall selection and the oldest lineman in the game. Andrew Whitworth hasn't given up a hit on the quarterback this season.
And without Young, Washington's pressure stats are a bit misleading. The team's pass rush win rate is actually 27th in the league, according to ESPN.
Eight of their sacks came against Carson Wentz, who refused to let go of the football in the opener. Then they got Kyler Murray, who's also known to extend plays. And Baker Mayfield after him.
Jared Goff better not be in the positions those quarterbacks were in, late in downs.
Since his hat trick in Philadelphia, Tyler Higbee's been quiet – only six targets and 60 yards receiving – though he did collect the two-point conversion in Buffalo.
Higbee might be a solid fantasy option this week, however. Washington has surrendered five touchdowns to opposing tight ends, including a pair to Mark Andrews in their most recent loss.
Take a look at the top photos from Thursday's LA Rams practice as they prepare for the Week 5 road trip to face the Washington Football Team.
Van Down By The Potomac River
I asked McVay this week for context on the precipitous drop in opportunities for rookie receiver Van Jefferson, who was one of the most hyped rookies across the league coming out of training camp.
"I've just got to do a better job connecting with (wide receivers) Coach (Eric) Yarber," McVay said of the Florida product playing 11 snaps combined the past two games. "But really, it's nothing Van hasn't done. We'll look to continue to see him get more involved and that's something that I've got to do a better job of."
Thankfully, it doesn't appear any motivational speaker will be necessary.
This is an interesting week for Jefferson, however, in that one of his most popular Draft comps will be on the opposing sideline. Terry McLaurin is coming off his fifth performance of 100 yards receiving in just 18 career games for Washington.
It caught my attention to read that rookie running back Antonio Gibson is tied with Las Vegas' Josh Jacobs for the NFL-lead with 12 broken tackles – and he’s done so on about half the touches.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner and the WFT want to use their backs a bunch in the passing game. Think of Carolina's design with Christian McCaffrey. J.D. McKissic also has double-digit receptions through four games.
That could be an issue with banged up linebackers Kenny Young (full participant in Friday's practice) and Micah Kiser (limited participant and questionable for Washington). I would not recommend checking Troy Reeder's PFF coverage grade.
Welcome to the Party
There have been a couple bumps on the road to debuting for rookie edge rusher Terrell Lewis, the Rams third-round selection out of Alabama.
After starting training camp on the COVID-19 list, Lewis experienced some complications with a knee procedure that landed him on injured reserve to start the season.
Friday afternoon, it was announced that he will be activated to make his NFL debut this weekend.
"He looks like a build-a-player from Madden," McVay said. "He's got rush ability; he's got length on the edge… His availability will be the biggest thing, because his size, all the measurables are exactly what you're looking for."
Fox and the QB Hound
Lastly, if you're curious what a Thunderwolf is, and how one came to be a Ram, this week’s player podcast features Morgan Fox.
Among the more interesting takeaways from our conversion was that the injury that cost him all of 2018 was actually a result of trying to protect Goff.
One of the reasons this coaching staff loves Fox is his ability to play numerous roles on the defensive front in conjunction with Aaron Donald, who gets to pick his matchup on a down-by-down basis. And that's fine with the former DII undrafted free agent.
"You go where you want to go," Fox said of filling in around of the future Hall of Famer.
With right guard Wes Schweitzer questionable with an elbow injury and center Chase Roullier missing Friday's practice with a knee issue, Donald should have some favorable targets in Week 5.