Jimmy Johnson among those impressed by Rams

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 05: Jason Taylor and presenter Jimmie Johnson pose with Taylor's bust during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 5, 2017 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CANTON, OH - AUGUST 05: Jason Taylor and presenter Jimmie Johnson pose with Taylor's bust during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 5, 2017 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Why even in defeat the faint but unmistakable glow of the Rams’ silver lining could be seen by trained eyes…at least at first.

The Los Angeles Rams dropped to 3-2 after playing their worst game of the 2017 season this past Sunday. But while most Rams fans are mentally rebooting for week 6, “outsiders” and non-believers are starting to believe the team is for real. Some fence-walking Angelenos are even jumping on the Rams bandwagon, judging from the buzz Los Angeles is famous for.

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Add Hall of Fame inductee and 2-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Jimmy Johnson to the list of the impressed. A list that includes just about every ex-Los Angeles Rams HOFer.

During the FOX NFL Sunday broadcast of the Rams facing off against the Dallas Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson gave high praise to first-year NFL head coach Sean McVay and the staff he put together. Nearly everyone that knows football (and last year’s Rams) is doing this. But what’s interesting is that Jimmy’s opinion has apparently grown substantially in a month.

"“They looked like a well-coached football team, even though they were playing the Colts.”  ~ Jimmy Johnson on The Herd with Colin Cowherd after the Rams game week 1"

Of course, that was before the performance against division rival Seattle Seahawks. Yet even after only ten points and five-turnovers, many came away with more respect for these new Rams.

Where it went wrong versus Seattle.

For the second straight week, the Rams lost the strong possibility of a touchdown via rules (or a ref’s interpretation of one). This time it mattered as points were at a premium.

Jared Goff was borderline brilliant at times, throwing decisive precision passes that were occasionally dropped. He was terrible at other times, forcing the ball where it didn’t need to be thrown. He surprised us with a willingness to take off running but not enough given the opportunities presented to him. It was a game effort but he ultimately lost the 2016 time warp battle. However, this loss was far from being laid at his feet entirely.

Coach McVay had an off day as well. His play-calling was rather Twilight Zone-esque in spots. It was as if he became overly cautious from the first two or three of five turnovers on the afternoon. Or perhaps, he sensed something was off with his quarterback before the rest of us started moaning about it.

Where it will go right looking forward.

Coach McVay, who strikes no one as the type to repeat mistakes continuously, is already making adjustments. Tavon Austin, for one, is relieved of his special teams duties and will [quite possibly] mostly return to early season decoy duties when not involved in gadget plays. Let’s face it, he’s just too disruptive to opposing defenses to be in the dog house.

If the Los Angeles Rams manage to win the NFC West, this year of next, it will be due to what McVay’s learned in games like last Sunday’s. Games that yield more productive study footage going forward since…well, any in 2016.  Games that whisper definitive progress over games that scream triumph.

People tend to forget these are basically kids working things out on the fly. They all need homework, including the head coach. And when you consider off-season changes — a Geo to BMW upgrade, minimum — you have to realize that as fans we expect more than we should.

The Rams have now played twenty quarters of regular season football under the new regime. It’s no coincidence that the growth’s been best during the two losses and the second half against Dallas. That’s ten quarters against teams they weren’t really expected to beat soundly. They have yet to repeat previous seasons of freak losses to teams they should own. That in itself is a huge accomplishment they deserve more credit for. In other words, within the average fan’s demands, it may not translate but the 2017 Rams are much more professional.

As it now stands, the Rams and Seahawks are clearly the only two playoff-worthy teams in the NFC West. But when I watch the Rams play the NFL upper class, I see a talented but unpolished bunch that can hold their own.

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Looking forward, don’t be surprised if the Rams put together a string of victories to again stand alone atop their division. When it happens, know that it wasn’t the surprising offensive blowouts that gave them their truest tests and boldest battle scars. It was games like Sunday’s against opponents that bring out their collective best in spite of the outcome.

This is year 1 of a new era. The Los Angeles Rams are toddlers truly and quickly learning to speak playoffs for quite some time. That is the silver lining Jimmy Johnson no doubt sees down the road.