Editor's Note: In our 'Ask the Expert' series, I'd like to say that this is probably our best interview till date. I'd like to extend my appreciation to Brandon for going above and beyond in answering these questions. - Akash
The 49ersHub is proud to continue to the 'Ask the Expert' series, featuring a Rams' expert this week. We will be speaking with Brandon Bate (@NoPlanB_ on Twitter) this week regarding the 49ers-Rams Week 3 matchup! Brandon is the Managing Editor on Turf Show Times, SB Nation's Rams' blog.
1. QB Jared Goff seems to have a little bounce in his step this season, what kinds of improvement has he shown under new head coach Sean McVay?
I think what it all boils down to for Goff is confidence. Due to protection issues from a subpar (to put it nicely) offensive line, Goff spent most of last year - a season in which the coaching staff didn't even see fit to make the No. 1 overall pick the starter until Week 9 - running for his life. Rarely did he have time to find open receivers. And on the rare occurance when he did, there probably wasn't a less threatening group of pass-catchers in the entirety of the league.
In saying that, I think I touched on the three main reasons why Goff looks to be improved thus far in 2017. 1) He's got an offensive-minded head coach who understands how important the quarterback position is. It's no secret that Jeff Fisher didn't know what he was doing on offense. Neither did offensive coordinator Rob Boras. And he's now had an opportunity to work with offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur (former QB's coach in Atlanta) and Greg Olson for an entire offseason. 2) McVay realized how poor protection was last year and made the right moves along the offensive front (bye bye Greg Robinson and Tim Barnes, hello Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan) to solidify it. And 3) Added weapons. Having Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, and Gerald Everett as your top pass-catching options is a huge improvement over last year's trio -- Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, and Lance Kendricks.
Goff is still learning the offense, so there are bound to be moments reminiscent of 2016 (see: game-sealing INT against the Redskins in Week 2). But McVay & Co. have provided him with upgraded protection and weapons, both of which are bound to help him bounce back from a forgettable rookie year.
2. Similar to the 49ers, the Rams also hired a young, offensive-minded head coach in Sean McVay. How's that been working for them so far? What kind of success do you predict for him?
I think I touched on it a bit already, but having McVay as the head coach has instantly helped Goff, and the Rams' offense as a whole, improve drastically. He just gets it. Over the past five years, Rams' fans heard "you can never never too many pass rushers." And that's not to say Fisher was wrong, but you can have too many pass rushers when you have no capable blockers or offensive weapons. McVay, on more than one occasion, has said "you can never have too many playmakers." We'll see where that mindset gets us in the next five years, but one has to think a winning season (which has escaped the Rams for over a decade) should be easily attainable. I'm not setting the bar very high, I am?
The Rams scored 46 points in Week 1, albeit against a very bad Colts team, but the 2016 Rams - who you may remember scored 0 points in their opener last year - would've not only scored far less than 46 points, but probably would've allowed the game to be much closer than it should've been. Instead, McVay and the Rams kept their foot on the gas for 60 minutes, took care of business, and Jared Goff set career highs in yards, completion percentage, average yards per completion, and QB rating. It's a small sample size, but the difference between everything we saw in 2016 and Week 1 of this year was glaring.
And it's not just Goff that will benefit from having McVay as head coach. Much like Goff's 2016 season, Todd Gurley had a year to forget. But anyone who saw Sunday's game also saw a resurgent back -- one who was chewing up the field on the ground and through the air. The arrow is pointing up for Gurley this year, as he's looking to become a dual threat, instead of no threat, running back.
As for my expectations for McVay's success...I'm as excited as any Rams' fan to have him as a new coach. But I don't expect him to turn the Rams into a playoff team overnight. That said, with the state of the NFC West (at least as of right now), it doesn't really seem entirely out of reach. But I do expect the Rams to be improved in 2017 from a win/loss standpoint, and my hope - if for no other reason than to make Jeff Fisher look that much worse - is that he can get the Rams to 8-8. I haven't seen a winning season in so long, I refuse to talk about it until we can get to .500.
3. What's your favorite offseason addition, the one that's been having the biggest impact? WR Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp or T Andrew Whitworth, or someone I haven't mentioned?
My favorite new addition is Sean McVay, but I've already drooled over him too much, so I'll go with a player. And it's really not that easy of a decision, because I love a lot of the personnel moves the Rams made this offseason.
If I had to pick one though, I'd say Andrew Whitworth. The Rams haven't had anything that can even be considered close to a serviceable left tackle in years. Jason Smith? Bust. Jake Long? No, not the pro bowl version. Greg Robinson? Give me a break. The Rams' left tackles have been so bad over recent years, doctors don't even know what's going on inside Sam Bradford's knee.
Whitworth, who's now 35, was a stud for the Bengals and I'm sure they miss him desperately this year. And not just for his on-field performance. Along with McVay came a new motto: We Not Me. It was clear that a culture change was needed in L.A., and McVay needed veteran players to help instill this in his team. Whitworth says and does all the right things both on and off the field, and is serving as a great mentor for a lot of the younger players on this team.
Sadly, it remains to be seen how much gas he's got left in the tank. It sounds weird saying that, considering he's only played two games with the team, but the Rams will be in search of a new left tackle sooner than later, and I just don't know if I can stomach another first round bust.
Also, honorable mention goes to Cooper Kupp. Oh, and it's still weird that Sammy Watkins is a Ram, but I love it.
4. How long is going to be before the Rams turn it around and head back to the playoffs in this weaker NFC West division?
You want me to talk about the playoffs when I can't even fathom a 9-win season at this point?! Ok, let's do this.
I think most expect (or at least expected) the Seahawks to win the division. But their offensive line is a hot mess, and that's a pretty big problem to have. The Cardinals are on a Colts level of bad. The season is still young though (this is me being polite, because they're very bad).
Then there's us: the Rams and 49ers. Two teams that were pretty darn bad last year but have some talent, and have shiny new, super young head coaches that have their teams headed in the right direction (they have to be, right?). For the Rams specifically, that direction is up from a 4-12 season, so I'll temper expectations on a return to the Greatest Show on Turf days for at least half a season. I kid...
Looking at the Rams' schedule, and coupling it with a whole bunch of uncertainty I have about how this team will continue to perform, my super scientific, definitely accurate prognostication for the Rams is that they're an 8-8 team in 2017 -- so it doesn't appear the playoffs are in the cards this season. Who knows though? This could be another one of those years where double-digit wins aren't necessary in order to claim the division crown. Maybe a higher power feels that I've suffered enough over the past 13 years and provides me some postseason bliss.
But expecting it 2017? No sir, I am not.
5. 49ers-Rams, Thursday night, short week for both teams. LA is 2.5-point favorites in this game. Give me your prediction and a score!
This is the part where I wear out my welcome (or any welcome I had) at 49ers Hub. In our Turf Show Times' staff win/loss predictions piece for the 2017 season, I had the Rams starting out the year as a 3-1 team...their only loss in that span coming in Week 4 at Dallas.
Had you asked me this question prior to last Sunday, before the Redskins' offense ran the ball over us with extreme ease, I'd be far more comfortable chalking this up as another W for the Rams. Full disclosure, I'm very concerned about what Carlos Hyde is going to do on Thursday night.
Truth of the matter is that I don't know what Rams' team is going to show up this Thursday. Is it going to be the team who in Week 1 didn't allow their opponent a third down conversion for the entirety of the game and scored more points than the opposing offense? Or is it going to be the one we saw just a few days ago that was completely ineffective at stopping the run and watched their opponent march down the field with ease?
Assuming Wade Phillips can make the necessary adjustments on a short week and Sean McVay can clear up the mental mistakes/penalties on offense, I'm going to pick the Rams in a close one (I can't bail on my prediction already!). Let's say 23-20.
Thanks for having me. Here's to a fun Thursday night-er that everyone (including non-Rams/49ers fans) can enjoy, and one where everyone walks off the field healthy. Feel free to hit me up on twitter at @NoPlanB_ if you've got any additional questions about the Rams!
Make sure to check that out turfshowtimes.com or Brandon on Twitter for good Rams' coverage!