THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams are in first place at the quarter point of a season for the first time in more than a decade, and it's come in the most unusual way.
Quarterback Case Keenum is completing just 55 percent of his passes, a league low among starters. Running back Todd Gurley is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, which is abysmal. And the Rams are averaging a third-worst 15.8 points per game, which is mere percentage points from being an NFL worst.
Yet somehow, some way they are in first place in their division and set up for an outstanding first half to the season with some winnable games looming ahead.
And that's changed the perception of the team -- even in its own locker room.
"I feel when you win and you're a 3-1 team, that will change the look of your team," said linebacker Mark Barron. I think that's where we are now and we are going to keep building on it."
And the confidence is growing.
"It's a young group and it's a close group. They practice, they prepare and they have confidence in each other," said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. "And they do it together -- the offense is pulling for the defense and vice versa. We have a combination of players on special teams that are doing their jobs. It's nice, it's not easy -- you look around the league and there are some good teams that don't have the same record that we do. Finding ways to win at the end is very, very important, it carries you a long way."
As an old adage says, you are what the record says you are.
The Rams are in first place. So positive feelings abound.
The question, if not concern, is how -- or can -- the Rams keep winning with an offense as putrid as the one they've run out on the field the first four weeks of the season?
In other words, is any of the sustainable? Can the Rams really rely on stellar defense and special teams to continually save the day? As Alec Ogletree did against the Seattle Seahawks and Robert Quinn against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and punt returner Tavon Austin against the Arizona Cardinals?
And carry an offense that is among the worst in the league?
That doesn't seem likely, which is why it's incumbent on the offense to get straightened out.
The key is to get Gurley untracked, but that's proving difficult as opposing defenses are loading the line of scrimmage with eight, nine and 10-men fronts. Time and again, Gurley is being met at the line of scrimmage by safeties and line backers. Almost even before he reaches the line of scrimmage.
For that to change, Keenum and the passing game have to make plays down the field and make opponents respect them enough to drop more defenders off the ball.
"People respect him and respect where he's at," Keenum said. "People need to know where he's at on the field and I think people have a plan for him. We did miss a few throws down the field. We were really close on some of those big explosive plays that would be big after faking to Todd. We just need to keep grinding. There is an offense out there and I think we have some stuff. I had some throws that I would really love to have back. I know my guys can make the plays, but I know I can make a better throw, too. I think offensively we are in a good spot. We are not where we want to be but I think there is a lot of potential here."
For the Rams to keep this pace of wins up, that potential has to turn into reality.
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 6-5. This is a rare meeting between two franchises that rarely cross paths since first hooking up in 1970, with the Rams winning the most recent meeting in 2012.
GAME PLAN: The Rams won't stray far from the game plan they've employed during their three-game winning streak, but it's imperative they do it better and more efficiently. That means getting Todd Gurley activated in the run game -- he's averaging just 2.6 yards per carry thus far -- and getting more from QB Case Keenum in the passing game. The Rams have been decent in the underneath pass game, but in order to free up Gurley they have to drive the ball down the field more and at least make Buffalo linebackers and defensive backs respect that part of the Rams attack. Otherwise, they will crowd the line of scrimmage with eight, nine and 10-men just as every other opponent's done.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Bills LG Richie Incognito, who fancies himself as a tough guy vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald, who is playing as dominantly as any defensive player in the NFL right now while wreaking havoc in the pass rush. Donald's combination of strength, quickness and agility could be a nightmare for the powerful Incognito, who isn't the most nimble guard in pro football.
Rams LG Rodger Saffold, who has played well upon returning this year from two shoulder surgeries in 2015 and helps anchor the left side of the Rams offensive line vs. Bills NT Marcell Dareus, who is making his season debut after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Dareus is a big, powerful athletic lineman who could give Saffold fits.