Column: NFL review and preview: With other NFC West teams teetering, how will the Rams handle prosperity?
The first quarter of the NFL season is in the books, the Rams are 4-0, and face another round of questions and tests:
How will they handle prosperity?
The Rams were a feel-good story last season, a team that bobbed back up after years of mediocrity (or worse) and had a media darling in coach Sean McVay. But there have been a lot of one-year wonders in this league, so the tendency is to approach quick turnarounds with skepticism.
Clearly, last season was no fluke. The Rams are the best team in the league at this point, and that brings the weight of expectation — and typically brings out the best in opponents.
How will they handle adversity? It’s coming in some form. It always does.
So far, it has been pretty smooth sailing, even with the loss of kicker Greg Zuerlein, cornerback Aqib Talib, linebacker Dominique Easley, and returner Pharoh Cooper. In Thursday’s victory over Minnesota, there were some breakdowns in coverage and not enough of a pass rush off the edges. Still, the interior rush came to life, and when the Rams offense is rolling like it is, it’s going to be hard for teams to keep pace.
How will they handle the road?
Four of the next five games are away from the Coliseum, with the only home game during that stretch coming Oct. 28 against Green Bay. So far, the Rams are road warriors, with a 9-1 record away from home under McVay, counting London, with the only loss coming at Minnesota last year — a score they settled last week.
What about the NFC West?
The next three weeks will be crucial, as the Rams play at Seattle and at San Francisco, their two biggest divisional road challenges. They are 7½-point favorites at Seattle, where last season they obliterated the Seahawks 42-7. That was the most lopsided loss in coach Pete Carroll’s tenure, a defeat safety Bradley McDougald called “embarrassing and humbling.”
It all goes back to handling prosperity for the Rams, because the rest of the teams in the division have hit hard times while Los Angeles continues to rise. The 49ers have lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The winless Arizona Cardinals already have moved on to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
The Seahawks lost Sunday the last vestiges of the Legion of Boom secondary when safety Earl Thomas suffered a broken leg, then gave the finger to his team as he was being carted off the field. He has been in a contentious contract dispute with the club and looked to be on his way to Kansas City by way of trade before he was injured.
“Give him a little slack,” Carroll said of Thomas on Monday, during his weekly day-after-game radio show on ESPN 710 Seattle. “This is a very, very difficult moment that most people would never understand what it’s about.”
It won’t get easier for the Seahawks defense. They’re facing a Rams team that in four games has scored 33, 34, 35 and 38 points.
There were a lot of red jerseys in the stands at StubHub Center on Sunday when the Chargers played the 49ers, and there figures to be even bigger contingent of silver and black Sunday when the Oakland Raiders come to town.
It marks the third consecutive week the Chargers have faced a team from their state: Rams, 49ers and Raiders.
The Raiders got their first win Sunday by beating Cleveland in overtime, and the Chargers pulled to 2-2 — not what they had hoped, but a lot better than last season’s 0-4 start. Now, each team has a chance to pick up its first division win.
“It’s always been a heck of a challenge, heck of a game,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Obviously, they’ve made some changes there, so it will be a different defensive scheme. … They’re going to be excited after winning an emotional game like that.”
In fact, Browns-Raiders featured the Chargers’ next two opponents. They head to Cleveland after playing host to Oakland.
“We’ll be ready for [the Raiders],” Rivers said, “then flip on the tape, flip the sides, and watch Cleveland next week.”
Fit to be tied
More and more, games are being decided in overtime. There were three of those Sunday with Houston at Indianapolis, Philadelphia at Tennessee and Cleveland at Oakland all tied at the end of regulation.
At least one game has gone to overtime in each of the first four weeks. That happened in the 1979, 1983 and 2002 seasons as well.
Some of the Week 5 games have historic significance. Indianapolis plays at New England, rekindling a matchup that was the league’s most compelling when it was Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady. Tennessee plays at Buffalo in a game that produced the “Music City Miracle” in a 1999 wild-card playoff game.
Minnesota at Philadelphia is a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game, although the quarterbacks are different. It’s Carson Wentz for the Eagles, and not Nick Foles, and Kirk Cousins for the Vikings instead of Case Keenum.
And Dallas at Houston is the latest installment of the so-called Governor’s Cup. The Texas teams have faced each other four times in the regular season, with the Cowboys winning all but the first game.
Through Sunday, there had been 12 individual performances with at least 400 passing yards, the most in NFL history through the first four weeks of a season.
A record five of those came in Week 4 games, by the Rams’ Jared Goff (465 yards), Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (464), Oakland’s Derek Carr (437), Cousins (422) and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (419).
Wild Wild Westwood
A piece of history for Ka’imi Fairbairn: the former UCLA kicker made three field goals for the Houston Texans on Sunday, including two overtime — one of 29 yards to tie the score and one of 37 yards to win the game. That made him the third kicker to convert a tying and a winning kick in the extra period since the overtime rule modification in 2012. Graham Gano did it for the Carolina Panthers in 2015 and Cairo Santos did the same for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
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