THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Just four games into Sean McVay’s tenure, the Los Angeles Rams look nothing like the sad-sack franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since its new head coach was in high school back in 2003.
The Rams are 3-1 and on top of the NFC West after their 35-30 comeback victory over Dallas in their most impressive performance since the franchise’s return to Los Angeles last year. Even more improbably, the Rams are doing it with offensive flair: They lead the NFL with 142 points after fielding the league’s worst offense in each of the past two seasons.
“The guys have done everything we’ve asked,” McVay said Monday. “We’ve got a lot of good players, and we’ve got great coaches that are leading the way, and I feel fortunate to be a part of that.”
Yes, the Rams also started 3-1 in their homecoming season under coach Jeff Fisher before losing 11 of their final 12. But the Rams think this year’s start feels different — more real, more exciting and more likely to lead to long-lasting success, particularly on offense.
The 2016 Rams scored just 63 points in their first four games. These Rams have more than doubled that total under the direction of McVay, who already has fashioned a potent offense out of the remnants of last season’s team and a few important additions.
“I feel like we are on the right page right now,” said receiver Tavon Austin, who rushed six times for 48 yards while McVay used him as a ball-carrier against the Cowboys. “Coach had a good plan for us. He worked us to death in practice. He works us until we get it. If anyone knows Coach Sean, he demands perfection. That’s (what) I like about him.”
After Jared Goff went 0-7 as a starter last season, the No. 1 pick’s quarterback rating has almost doubled to 112.2. Todd Gurley has already scored more touchdowns this season (seven) than he did in all of last season, and the running back is also the Rams’ leading receiver with 20 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has made one of the NFL’s biggest free-agent impacts, stabilizing the Rams’ lousy line and providing leadership. New receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods have teamed with remarkable rookie Cooper Kupp to provide plenty of targets for Goff, who has already passed for 1,072 yards.
Gurley was the NFC’s offensive player of the month for September, rebounding from a dismal 2016 in which he described the Rams’ scheme as a “middle school offense.” He has recaptured his dynamic rookie form at the center of McVay’s offense, and he was at his best against the Cowboys, gaining 215 yards from scrimmage as a runner and a receiver who scored on a 53-yard catch.
“What good coaches do is they put their players in situations to have success, but ultimately those players are the ones that are making those plays,” McVay said. “You feel fortunate to be a part of that.”
Even kicker Greg Zuerlein has been perfect on 14 field goal attempts, including his franchise-record seven at Dallas. The Rams’ inability to finish those drives with touchdowns is gnawing at McVay, but that’s a tiny complaint compared to the massive problems faced by this offense in previous seasons.
When asked about those red-zone failures, McVay blamed himself as the Rams’ play-caller. Los Angeles scored just one touchdown on four trips inside the Dallas 20, and McVay lamented his own decisions as the only thing standing between the Rams and even more points.
“What you try to do is you look at what are those things that can be corrected,” McVay said. “We did move the football fairly well, but I think just looking at the red zone overall, that’s something we’ve got to do a better job of, and I think that starts with me.”