It’s hard to imagine a team which started off 4-0 and winning their games by over ten points each, still being looked at with some reservation, even with the talent of the Los Angeles Rams. Along with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Hollywood-esque team has been the story of the NFL this year, and for a good reason. They went all-in during the offseason by trading for stars and handing out extensions to key players not named Jared Goff. They were taking advantage of their quarterback who is on a rookie deal, in hopes of winning at least one Super Bowl within the next two seasons, and because of the amount of “A-A+ talent” on the roster, the Rams were a popular Super Bowl pick.
However, there were still some people holding out on them after an impressive 4-0 start because they had not left the confines of the great state of California; their lone road game was up in Oakland. However, in the last two weeks, they have gone to two of the toughest places to play in Seattle and Denver, and sit at 6-0. They weren’t at their best in either one, but expecting them to play perfect every week is unreasonable. They were going to be tested eventually because you don’t just wipe the floor with every team, so winning in the fashion they did was better than blowing them out.
They were tested in Seattle against their biggest (arguably) division rival and then had to go to the cold confines of Denver, Colorado to show us it wasn’t a one-time thing, and that they can play in harsh conditions. That has been the knock on warm-weather teams: not being able to travel to colder cities later in the year and perform as they do at home. And that lack of performance leads to losses.
The Rams were no doubt in for a test, as Denver’s high altitude immediately gives the Broncos the advantage. But it doesn’t just stop there, as the crowd level is among the highest in the NFL, the Broncos are a completely different team at home, and the cold weather makes things harder. And boy was it cold, as it snowed heavily earlier in the morning and the game temperature stayed in the 20’s.
In these environments, the road team is not going to play their best game, so you must be able to grind out wins. The Rams’ mettle was going to be tested and what they did no doubt helped their case as the best team in the NFL. Los Angeles is not used to playing in these conditions but showed that even with struggles in one department, they could win in other ways.
Jared Goff had his worst game of the season, completing just 14 of 28 passes for 201 yards and an interception. The interception was a fluke as it appeared to deflect off one defender’s hand slightly, into Rams’ receiver Josh Reynolds’ facemask, and into a second defender’s hands. Goff was sacked five times, which nearly doubled his six through the first five games, and it was a combination of injuries to the offensive line and the excellent pass rush from Denver.
For much of the season, if not all, the Rams’ success has been predicated on their quarterback’s play, as he has gotten a lot of the credit. So, it would be easy to guess that the Rams lost this game if you just looked at his stat line and the injuries they suffered during the game. But the team showed that they are more than just the passing game and can dig deep and battle through injuries. A common saying in the NFL is that teams’ passing games don’t always travel, especially to cold cities, but that running games and defenses do, and the Rams showed off those two aspects of the team.
After back-to-back disappointing weeks, LA’s defense responded by limiting Denver to 20 points. But even those 20 points may be a bit misleading as the Broncos only had three points as the third quarter was nearing the end and scored because of a fluke interception inside the Rams’ red zone. And the touchdown the Broncos scored towards the end of the game to make it 23-19 came via a drive that was most notable for its numerous penalties on Los Angeles, which is another point to mention: the questionable calls and non-calls going against the Rams.
The unit still limited Case Keenum and Co. to just 357 total yards, including only 60 yards rushing. 60 yards on 17 carries against a squad that came into Week 6 averaging 137 yards/game on 5.7 yards/attempt. Highly impressive.
However, the story of the game was Todd Gurley and the Rams’ ground game. They accumulated 270 rush yards with 208 of them coming on just 28 carries from their superstar running back. Gurley was two carries short of his career-high of 30 reps, while his 208 yards was easily a career-best. Gurley once again reminded us why he is the best player on the game’s most talented offense and as long as he is healthy, the Rams will be able to put up points in even the worst conditions.
Sean McVay, who has been the savior of the franchise and has been given most, if not all the credit for the team’s success, blamed himself, fair or not, for the team’s lesser offensive display.
“Offensively, I thought we ran the football very well, and I thought I put us in some horrible spots,” McVay said, unprompted, in his opening statement. “Throughout the game, just getting really impatient, forcing things that weren’t there — but the players bailed me out.”
This victory is not as prominent in the standings as it was in the locker room and for the team’s psyche. They were far from their best and will hardly be in most road games starting now. It had to do with the conditions, Jared Goff just having an off-game, which every player can have from time-to-time, and some surprising play-calling. But they were able to win via the two aspects of the game that you want when on the road: running game and defense. If the past two weeks have shown anything is that the Rams are far from just flair and finesse. They are earning their stripes as a tough and physical team who can win anywhere and are cementing themselves as the best team in the NFL.