By now, we all know the Rams were the lowest scoring in 2016. Their 14.0 points per game were the lowest since the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs (13.2). In games started by quarterback Jared Goff, they averaged only 12.1 points and finished the final three games averaging 10.0. There was all the reason in the world for doubt heading into the 2017 season. Hiring an offensive minded coach was the first step to turning things around, but Sean McVay was way more than offensive minded. He was an offensive guru.
This season’s 15.9 points per game increase was the largest since the St. Louis Rams’ 15.1 increase in 1999. Goff averaged almost 3.0 more yards per attempt, while Gurley became a complete and elite back. McVay had his thumbprint all over this offense. Knowing it was only the first year, the possibilities are endless. For now, let’s take a closer look at 2017’s offensive improvements.
Though the Rams ranked 24th in pass attempts per game at 32.4, they ranked 10th in pass yards per game at 239.4. For those keeping score at home, that’s 55 more passing yards per game than 2016. Even though they averaged one more pass attempt per game the previous season. There were nine teams to average 32.5 pass attempts per game in 2017, though the Rams were the only team to average 200 or more passing yards per game. They were one of the most efficient passing attacks in the league. They scored 28 touchdowns via the pass, ranked tied for sixth most, and three more than any other team to attempt 520 or fewer passes. On top of that, Goff threw only seven interceptions all year which was the lowest for any team in the league. That was the same amount as he threw in his rookie season, with 272 fewer attempts last season.
With the passing game’s improvements, it helped add an element to running back Todd Gurley’s game not seen before. His 788 reception yards were second among running backs and 273 more than his first two seasons combined. It enabled a lot of the improvements on offense and got the ball in a great player’s hands. He added six touchdowns in the passing game to lead all running backs in that category. That number would have also ranked 20th among wide receivers. Gurley has gone from a great two-down back to a complete back who can make plays no matter what is asked of him. In one season the passing game was able to double their passing touchdowns, despite throwing 18 fewer times.
After following up his Offensive Rookie of the Year with a terrible 2016 season, Rams fans started to wonder what they had in Gurley. Which is fair considering he was one of only two running backs with 225 or more carries to not reach 1,000 rushing yards. His 3.2 yards per carry were towards the bottom of the league. And this from a player that was drafted with the 10th pick in the 2015 NFL draft. That perspiration dried as the 2017 season went on. Gurley increased his yards per carry to 4.7, an increase of 1.5 yards. He gained 420 more yards on only one more carry than all of 2016. On top of it all, he more than doubled his touchdown output on the ground to 13. That was the most among running backs in 2017. It left fans wondering, what’s next?
As a whole, the team finished eighth in rush yards per game with 122.1. They were one of only two teams to average 120.0 or more yards per game with less than 29 running attempts per game. That’s an increase of 43.9 yards per game from 2016 to 2017 and 23 spots in the rankings. Though the 2016 Rams were built on being a run first team. On 79 more rushing attempts in 2017, the Rams were able to increase their yards per carry by a whole yard (3.3 to 4.3). They averaged 8.9 yards per carry on those extra 75 carries. That statistic is quite indicative of the offensive improvements seen in 2017.
With the two additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, the Rams were able to increase their offensive line play ten-fold. They cut their sack total down from 49 to 28 in one season. 28 is just one more than the number of times Goff was sacked in his seven games in 2016. From second most to ninth fewest in one season, just another aspect to the improvements of the passing game. It enabled their quarterback to keep his eyes downfield and not get crushed after every throw. The blocking in the run game resulted in the second most 10-yard gains when running to the left with 32. This made the Rams one of only two units with 30 or more such runs. They gained another 19 when running to the right, after gaining only 14 combined in 2016. Everything was clicking with this offense and it begins with the offensive line.
How do you follow up a season like that? Have the Rams set a bar too high for their follow-up act? Most might think that would be the case, but I don’t think they paid close enough attention to McVay. He has been able to take over one of the youngest teams in the league and build a foundation on always getting better. He has two of the biggest pieces an offense needs in order to have success. A quarterback that was drafted number one overall and a running back with special talents. Give an offensive guru those pieces and get out of the way. If I had to bet, I’d say McVay is probably still watching film from his first playoff game. He doesn’t rest and he practices what he preaches.
For the first time in a long time, the future is bright with the Rams’ organization. As long as the cap space is managed correctly, this team has the potential to become something special with no ceiling in sight. Making improvements day in and day out is what keeps this team going. No one person is above the other. Coach McVay has a special way of articulating the purpose of anything he does. Whether it be a wide receiver that isn’t happy with his role or a given play and its main objective. One thing is for sure, this isn’t a one-hit wonder.
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