The Los Angeles Rams are 3-1 for the second straight season. They even beat the Seattle Seahawks at the Coliseum during that start last year, but it quickly degenerated into a 4-12 fiasco of a homecoming.
Both the Rams and their opponents seem to think their current 3-1 record is no mirage. The latest visit from Seattle should tell them a whole lot more.
"It's very early in the season, four games in," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. "We're happy with what we've done, but a lot of work to do and a long season ahead."
The Seahawks (2-2) revive this burgeoning West Coast rivalry on Sunday against coach Sean McVay's Rams, who are leading the NFL in scoring . That's a stunning turnaround for a team that had the NFL's worst offense for the past two seasons, and the long-time NFC West powerhouse up north has noticed.
"The schemes don't look so much different, but the production is just there," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "Their tempo is really good. It seems to have played into Jared's strengths. He had a great offseason. He had one of the great freshman-sophomore jumps that you can have."
While the Rams have new left tackle Andrew Whitworth and a revamped receiving corps, Seattle's veteran defense is even more impressed by Goff's improvements — and Todd Gurley's revitalization as one of the NFL's most productive running backs. The Seahawks didn't allow a touchdown by the Rams in their two meetings last season, but these Rams aren't the same pushovers, even if some things appear similar to cornerback Richard Sherman.
"Honestly, they look a lot the same," the Compton, California native said. "They're just executing. The O-line is blocking better. Gurley has got a lot more room to run. They're using him more than they did in the past, and they're playing with purpose."
The Rams' start includes victories over rebuilding San Francisco and Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis, but last week's win at Dallas added an air of legitimacy to McVay's quick turnaround effort. Seattle presents the Rams' most daunting challenge yet, despite the Seahawks' early-season road losses to Green Bay and Tennessee.
"We have a whole lot of respect for the Dallas Cowboys, but it is still four games, and we've got 12 games left," McVay said. "While we certainly appreciate the nice words, we know it really doesn't mean anything if we don't follow it up with a good performance against an excellent Seattle team this week."
Here are more things to watch when the Rams take the Coliseum field in their blue-and-yellow throwback uniforms:
YOUNG AND OLD: The matchup will feature the youngest (31-year-old McVay) and the oldest (66-year-old Carroll) coaches in the league. When he was reminded of this, Carroll joked that being a head coach was never in his mind back then.
The 31-year-old Carroll was the defensive coordinator at North Carolina State before moving to his alma mater, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
"I wasn't thinking about being a head coach until almost it happened," said Carroll, who became Jets head coach at 43. "That was not something I was thinking about. I just wasn't tuned into it. I was just rolling along. ... We had a couple young guys that jumped in this year and the guys are off to great starts and it's fantastic to see."
McVay has expressed his admiration of Carroll's infectious enthusiasm on the sideline. Carroll spent two years in the 1990s as the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers while John McVay — the coach's grandfather — was wrapping up his long career as a 49ers executive.
RUNNING RAWLS: With rookie Chris Carson on injured reserve due to ankle surgery, the Seahawks are back to the combination of Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy as their primary ball carriers.
When training camp opened, Rawls was expected to carry the load with Lacy as a complement, but Rawls was slowed by an ankle injury and Carson took advantage of the opportunity. Rawls was even a healthy scratch last week.
Rawls will be returning to where last season went sideways. He broke his leg last year at the Coliseum and wasn't fully healthy until late in the season.
END GAME: Seattle will be without one of its top pass rushers with Cliff Avril out due to a neck injury. New starter Frank Clark has been excellent through four weeks, but Seattle's defensive line rotation needs production from Marcus Smith and rookie Nazair Jones to slow Goff and Gurley. Smith had 1 1/2 sacks last week against the Colts after Avril was injured.
NEW TARGETS: The Seahawks' secondary has plenty of work to do this week. The Rams' top three receivers — Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp — are all new, and second-year tight end Tyler Higbee has become a big target for Goff. Los Angeles' leading receiver is Gurley with 20 catches already.
BIG HIT: Goff got a souvenir of his first pro trip to Seattle last December from Sherman, who clobbered the scrambling rookie quarterback near the sideline. Goff was shaken up on the play, and he still remembers it.