Rams should find out if they are for real against Cowboys
They are scoring points at an unexpected league-leading rate.
A young quarterback is blossoming behind a rebuilt offensive line, a running back is regaining his star rookie form, and several new pass-catching threats have helped offset the performance of an underperforming defense.
The Rams are 2-1 and atop the NFC West.
But their victories — and 87 of their 107 points — came against the lowly Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers.
So is this Rams team legit?
The Rams will find out Sunday when they play the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys, coming off a 13-3 record in 2016, are 2-1 after Monday’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
“Going into Dallas — they’re America’s team,” said Rams running back Todd Gurley. “It’s an opportunity for us to go up against a great team and see where we are and see how far we came.”
Regardless of the outcome, the Rams have already shown an imaginative offense under first-year coach and play-caller Sean McVay.
Quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, is thriving. So is Gurley, the NFL’s 2015 offensive rookie of the year, who this week was named the NFC’s offensive player of the month.
New receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods both amassed more than 100 yards receiving in last week’s 41-39 victory over the 49ers.
They all helped the Rams do something almost unheard of: make an NFL Thursday night game highly entertaining.
The victory over the winless 49ers came with multiple defensive and special teams miscues that created the thrill-a-minute drama. That set up the Rams for a chance to finish the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record.
Of course, the Rams achieved that feat in their return to Los Angeles last year, when they finished 4-12.
“We started off 3-1 last year and saw the way that went,” said Goff, who did not play until the 10th game as a rookie. “So, it doesn’t mean much…. Right now we’re just focused on going out there Sunday and playing as best we can.”
The Cowboys present a major challenge, especially for a Rams defense that has struggled the last two games.
Quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten and one of the NFL’s top offensive lines provide the Cowboys with plenty of firepower.
Prescott, a second-year pro, is the first dual-threat quarterback the Rams will face this season.
It was against the Rams in the 2016 preseason opener at the Coliseum that Prescott burst onto the NFL scene. Playing in place of injured Tony Romo, Prescott coolly completed 10 of 12 passes, two for touchdowns.
“It was the beginning of it all, I guess you could say,” Prescott said.
After an outstanding rookie year, Prescott said he initially struggled this season because he was too “anxious” to go through progressions on pass plays. The result: He often missed his first or second options.
But that problem has been corrected. Against the Cardinals, he passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in a 28-17 victory.
That is not good news for a Rams defense that has struggled since dominating the Colts in the season opener.
Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense is ranked 29th against the run.
Linebacker Connor Barwin played in Phillips’ 3-4 with the Houston Texans. When Barwin joined the Philadelphia Eagles, he went through a transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Now he is going through another with the Rams defense working through its issues.
“There’s definitely some truth to adjusting to any new scheme,” Barwin said. “But at the same time, another way to say that maybe will be that we made some mistakes up front. Kind of self-inflicted wounds.”
Barwin said he was confident that the Rams would improve.
So is Phillips, who coached the Cowboys for three-plus seasons before he was fired in 2010.
“We’ll get better in some of the areas that we need to,” he said, “but we’ll find out.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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