Let’s not call it a failure. Let’s call it a learning experience.
The Rams, after all, won 15 games this year. They had a .789 winning percentage. They won their division and their conference. They played in the Super Bowl.
Some of you might remember two-plus years ago when I railed against the inept Rams under head coach Jeff Fisher. Facebook friends will remember the #FireFisher tag over and over and over again, ad nauseam. It was a terrible time to be a Rams fan. In fact, during one stretch between 2007 and 2011, just before Fisher, the Rams had the worst five-year record in the history of the game.
That’s pretty rough.
So getting to the playoffs in Sean McVay’s first year, and getting to the Super Bowl in his second, well, that’s pretty good. I’m happy with that. As ever, though, sports – like life – is about getting better. How can the Rams put a better team on the field next year? How can they win one more game? Talent matters, but once that talent is acquired it is the integration and leadership of that talent that becomes important. Here is what must happen if the Rams are to win one more game.
Sean McVay Needs Help
I love the guy, he’s made a spectacular difference to the organization. Players love him; he’s a player’s coach. He’s an innovative, smart, fiery, modest and motivating guy. That’s awesome. It’s what we needed after the wry, plodding, old-school egotist who served before him. But Sean McVay, like all of us, has strengths and weaknesses. The biggest, most glaring, weakness I saw this year was his inability to game plan. A few weeks back my wife, a more casual fan than I, said to me, “We always start slow and get in rhythm later.”
The Rams have arguably the most prolific offense in the NFL and they always start slow. That’s game planning. Whatever Sean comes up with during the week to prepare doesn’t work well at the start of games. Why? Bill Walsh, the legendary head coach of the dynastic San Francisco 49ers in the 80’s, was known for his “scripted” first 15 plays. His team almost always came out “in rhythm.” The great ones know the importance of early game momentum and Sean needs to figure that out. If it is not his strength, then he needs help.
The Rams do not list an offensive coordinator on their coaching staff. They have a run game coordinator and a pass game coordinator but not an offensive coordinator. McVay is the default offensive coordinator but he needs to realize that he can’t be, because he is the head coach. Head coaches have so many responsibilities that even if he wanted to be a great game planner, he might not be able to right now. He needs help. He needs an offensive coordinator, preferably someone versed in the planning of games.
Furthermore, it needs to be someone he can trust to make decisions for him. In the Super Bowl this year Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator for the Patriots, called his offense together in the 4th quarter and told them to forget the game plan. They were going to run some plays they hadn’t practiced in order to move the ball. The Patriots scored the only touchdown of the game on the subsequent drive. Bill Belichick, the head coach of the Patriots, trusted his offensive coordinator to make adjustments and it won the game. Sean McVay stuck to his playbook, stuck to everything that was not working, and it lost the game. Sean McVay needs help developing game plans and making adjustments. Go get some help, coach.
Jared Goff Has to Learn What Sean McVay Knows
Bill Belichick and his defensive coordinator (Brian Flores, now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins) put together a brilliant game plan against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Among the many adjustments the Patriots used to combat the Rams high-flying offense was a plan to nullify the Sean McVay/Jared Goff communication system.
For those who don’t know, all coaches can talk to their QBs in their earpieces up until 15 seconds before the snap of the ball. McVay speaks to Goff right up until that moment, helping him identify what the defense is doing. It works great, because coaches ostensibly watch more film than players do.
But the Patriots countered that by calling two defensive alignments. They would line up in the first one until 15 seconds before the snap and then they would shift into another defensive alignment after, negating the wisdom of Sean McVay. Can Goff react to what he sees effectively, without McVay in his ear? Apparently not.
The Los Angeles Rams averaged 33 points per game all year long and managed only 3 points in the Super Bowl. They punted a record number of times for the big game. Jared Goff does not know what Sean McVay knows and he needs to learn it. This offseason, coach needs to sit with QB and teach him the ancient ways of Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas. Son, you have got to read defenses in this NFL, be better prepared for what they throw at you, and counter it with confidence and poise. If you don’t, every defensive coordinator in the NFL who watched the Super Bowl (that would be all of them) is going to do the same thing to you that the Patriots did, every time. And your career is done.
The talent is there. There will be some holes to fill in the offseason, but I have every confidence this coaching and personnel department will get that done. We saw that last year, with the aggressive pursuit of free agents and trading partners. The Rams fielded a more talented overall team than the Patriots did. Now the staff that binds that talent together, and the QB who is the default field general of that talent, need to improve mentally. If they do that, then this exciting young roster and this energetic young coach will do the one thing next year that they failed to do this year … win one more game.