LOS ANGELES -- Their season ended nearly six weeks ago, and the turnaround still feels shocking. In one year, the Los Angeles Rams went from last in the NFL in points to first. The only other team to do that was the 1965 San Francisco 49ers, who played in the final season without a Super Bowl.
And it wasn't just some outlier bad year that the 2017 Rams improved upon. The Rams fielded one of the NFL's worst offenses for a decade, the 2016 version only the latest in what seemed like a never-ending cycle of despondency.
Then along came a rookie head coach named Sean McVay, and voilà, first. First. The Rams went from a league-worst 14.0 points per game under Jeff Fisher in 2016 to a league-best 29.9 points per game under McVay in 2017. The 15.9-point year-to-year increase is the largest in NFL history, topping the previous mark of 15.1 points by the 1999 Rams team that played in St. Louis. Here are five key team stats that help illustrate how the Rams pulled off their miraculous, unprecedented turnaround.
Interception rate: "It's all about the ball." McVay repeated that phrase in a lot of meetings last year, and his players took it to heart. More specifically, Jared Goff took it to heart. With Goff and Case Keenum as the starting quarterbacks in 2016, the Rams threw an interception on 3.7 percent of their passing attempts, accounting for the second-worst rate in the NFL. In 2017, with Goff taking almost every snap for the first 15 regular-season games, the Rams had a 1.4 percent interception rate that was tied for the NFL's best. Goff did a nice job going through his progressions and not forcing downfield throws. If someone wasn't open, he could usually just dump it off to Todd Gurley as a checkdown option. It also helped that the Rams allowed contact to their quarterback only 58 times -- 26 fewer than the previous season.
First-down yardage: Another phrase McVay will often use is "third-and-manageables," which means third-down attempts from a reasonable distance (ideally within 5 yards). First-down success is crucial for that, and the Rams made major strides there, too. In 2016, they averaged an NFL-worst 4.50 yards on first down. In 2017, they averaged 5.54 yards on first down, seventh in the league. Thanks in large part to that, the Rams picked up 311 first downs in 2017, 66 more than the previous season.
Rushing yards before contact: This stat tells you everything you need to know about the improvement on the offensive line, and thus why Gurley went from one of the least productive running backs in NFL history to a legitimate MVP candidate. The Rams accumulated 683 rushing yards before contact in 2016, the lowest in the NFL. In 2017, they nearly doubled that with 1,206 yards before first contact, ranked fifth. The Rams benefited from continuity along their offensive line, their five starters playing almost every snap for the first 15 games (before most starters sat in the regular-season finale). They also had a lot more talent, thanks to the additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan.
Yards after the catch: This stat helps capture McVay's playcalling brilliance. Rams receivers averaged 5.18 yards after the catch per reception in 2016, which ranked 12th. Not bad, right? Well, in 2017, it was 6.60 average yards after the catch, the most in the NFL by a wide margin. Sure, Gurley, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett were all adept at making defenders miss in space. But this stat mostly shows us how wide open they were, whether it was Gurley in the screen game, Woods and Kupp down the middle of the field or, at times, Watkins over the top off play-action. Goff's passer rating went from 63.6 as a rookie to 100.5 as a second-year quarterback. The degree of difficulty on his throws diminished significantly.
Average starting position: The Rams' offense deservedly gets a lot of credit for the team's meteoric rise in points, but so should a defense that generated a lot of turnovers and a special-teams unit that sent four players to the Pro Bowl. The Rams forced 28 turnovers in 2017, fifth most in the NFL and 10 more than the previous season. Pharoh Cooper averaged 27.41 yards per kickoff return (first in the NFL) and 12.47 yards per punt return (second). Thanks to all that, the Rams, on average, began their offensive drives 67.8 yards away from the end zone, second best in the NFL. The previous season, they needed an average of 72.6 yards to reach the end zone, which ranked 22nd.