Column: Rams have their problems, but they’re at least showing promise

Rams running back Todd Gurley breaks the plane of the goal line to score a touchdown against the Redskins in the third quarter.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams had a spark, they moved the ball, they located the end zone … and they wound up losing to Washington 27-20.

A year earlier, in making their Los Angeles debut with a 9-6 victory over Seattle, the wrong-way Rams were as flat as a Johnny Unitas haircut.

Sunday’s was a hopeful loss. Last year’s version was a hopeless win.

Make no mistake, these Rams have a long way to go. They made mistakes, they left plays on the overworked turf, they were stalks of corn when it came to stopping the run, but there’s something different about this team.


Maybe that it’s actually interesting.

Coach Sean McVay has breathed life into the franchise, drawing up a game plan that plays to Jared Goff’s strengths, cuts loose Todd Gurley, covers up deficiencies along the offensive line, and gives the feeling that the seeds of success are planted.

Last season felt like a dead-end street, like those four wins were only rest stops on the road to irrelevance.

“Last year it would have been a lot different,” Gurley said. “It would have been 27 to, you know 3, instead of, you know, just us as an offense being able to put points on the board and be able to keep our defense in it. So it’s a start.”

The Rams can take heart in this, too: The rest of the NFC West looks lousy. The Seahawks squeaked past winless San Francisco with a 12-9 victory in Seattle. Arizona, missing star running back David Johnson perhaps for the season, barely beat woeful Indianapolis, 16-13.

In retrospect, we didn’t learn all that much about the Rams with their season-opening 46-9 win over the Colts.

Now, with clear eyes, we can say that the Rams played the Washington Redskins in Week 2, and the Washington Generals in Week 1. Even Andrew Luck getting healthy isn’t going to fix that mess.

As for the Rams, they play at the 49ers on Thursday with a chance to wash away the bad taste of Sunday’s loss. It’s no layup — remember, the Rams accounted for San Francisco’s only two wins last season — but McVay’s team can create problems for an opponent.

Gurley, greeted in the backfield last season seemingly every time he touched the ball, generated 136 yards of offense Sunday both out of the backfield and on swing passes.

Goff was sacked twice, had the ball raked out of his hand, and had a game-ending interception. However, he also made some nice plays, including wheeling right against a defense designed to lure him into throwing left, and hitting tight end Gerald Everett in stride for a 69-yard gain.

Cooper Kupp made another Velcro-palmed catch, and punter Johnny Hekker, a former high school quarterback, coolly zipped a pass to Josh Reynolds for 28 yards on a fake punt. Everett, Kupp and Reynolds are all rookies, reminders that the Rams weren’t entirely hamstrung by trading away so many picks to move up and take Goff No. 1 in 2016.

The Times’ Sam Farmer and Lindsey Thiry discuss the Rams’ 27-20 loss to the Washington Redskins -- and reasons to be optimistic that first-year coach Sean McVay can turn the team into a winner. 

Is the foundation there for the Rams to be an interesting team?

“Oh, absolutely,” Redskins cornerback Josh Norman said. “You can see the creativity of that whole offense. Goff was back there and extended plays, made something happen when he extended those plays. Hey, man, you never know. Sky’s the limit for him, especially when you have a coach like Sean McVay.”

What tipped the scales was Washington’s ability to hoard the clock with the run. The Redskins dominated on the ground, 229 yards to 92, and therefore held the ball for 36 minutes, 19 seconds, compared to 23:41 by the Rams.

That kind of lopsided disparity left the Rams dog-tired on defense and the Washington defenders fresh.

“Those long drives, when you’re running the ball five or six times in a row, you can kind of tell the energy’s just dying down a little bit,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “That’s when we want to put our foot on the gas.”

With the players on that side of the ball, and with crafty defensive coordinator Wade Phillips drawing up the schemes, the Rams aren’t going to have a problem on defense this season.

They are 1-1, just like last year, but their ceiling seems much higher.

The Rams finally look to be what the relocation originally promised: an actual NFL team.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer