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Sean McVay Talks Putting Up Points, Mike Thomas’ Return, And The Rams Road Ahead

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Following a road win in Dallas, LA Rams’ head coach Sean McVay provided some insight on what he’s seeing from his team, and how they’ll look to improve on an impressive start

Los Angeles Rams v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Head Coach Sean McVay – October 2, 2017

(Opening Remarks)

“First of all, I just want to start by letting the people know that we’re affected by the Las Vegas tragedy, that they’re in our thoughts and prayers. It’s so unfortunate that one person’s decision to do something like this can affect so many people. It just makes you so appreciative of the blessing that you have to be able to do what we do, but it also gives you a real perspective on some of the things that go on in this life that are so much more important than this game. For that occur, I just want to continue to let those people know that they’re in our thoughts and our prayers as an organization and just wish them nothing but the best and we’re with them all the way. But, it’s certainly something that is very unfortunate that takes place and it’s amazing how one person’s decision like that can affect so many people in a negative way.”

(On if the team is injury free)

“We are. (WR) Tavon (Austin) got hit in the shin, but he’ll be fine. Fortunately, everybody else came out clean.”

(On if he foresaw the amount of points the team has put up through four games)

“I think the best thing that you can say about these guys and really our coaching staff – with the offensive coaches and the offensive players is they’re just taking it one day at a time and I don’t think you ever really think about in the first quarter of the season what that is. I think it’s, ‘How can we try to be the best that we can possibly be each and every week?’ And I think to the players credit they’ve made a handful of plays. I can’t say enough about our offensive coaching staff and their ability to prepare those players for some of the looks. They were able to get it done in a tough road atmosphere yesterday. Coming away with 35 points – what a great job (K) Greg (Zuerlein) did to go seven-for-seven on the field goals and two-for-two on the PATs. I’d like to have a couple more PATs. But, the guys have done everything we’ve asked and we’ve got a lot of good players and we’ve got a lot of great coaches leading the way and I feel very fortunate to be a part of that.”

(On if he’s seen teams start to make adjustments on defense based on what he’s done on offense so far this season)

“I think really, just like we prepare for the defensive looks that we’ve seen, they’re doing the same things and they’re adjusting and they’re playing situations and they’re going through their normal preparation. I think to our player’s credit, there’s a couple different ways that we’ve been able to attack people and you always want to be mindful from a self-scout standpoint of what you’re doing and what they’re preparing for. But, when you’ve got a variety of playmakers, you’ve got linemen that are doing a good job of all playing as one unit up front – a back that’s doing some special things and a quarterback that with the exception of the Washington game is turnover free, you’re going to give yourself a chance to play pretty well offensively. Like you guys have heard us say over and over, it’s just four games. We’ve got 12 left for sure and the truest measurement of performance is that consistency and that’s what we’ve got to see against a great Seattle team coming in here next week.”

(On if he is seeing teams stacking the box less against him this season)

“I think when you look at Dallas specifically, (Cowboys Defensive Coordinator) Coach (Rod) Marinelli has done a great job of – that’s kind of been their identity when you get into some of the ‘11’ personnel groupings that we were heavily in yesterday, where he’s mixing up some single-high structures where if you’re in ‘11’ personnel you’re getting seven-man boxes and in some of the ’12’ and ‘21s’ you’re going to get eight-man fronts. But, they have played split safety looks throughout the course of the year and they do a great job accompanying that with movement and being able to fit things up with a seven-man box and kind of playing a coverage mindset deep to short. So, I think Coach Marinelli and the Dallas defense has done an excellent job mixing it up – whether that’s because of some of the things that we’ve done or that’s just them playing their defense, I’m not really sure. You’d have to ask him. But, I thought our players did a nice job being able to execute versus both looks and that’s what it’s going to take, you’ve got to be able to make people honor both the run and the pass.”

(On assessing the next four games)

“I think like you said, it’s really important that we are focused just on the Seattle team right now and do a great job with that preparation. But, what I think is always good is you can draw on your previous experiences in how we handle things. You look at the two road games that we’ve had, we’ve been fortunate to come away with wins in both of those and I think having the chance to experience a two-day trip, which we did when we leave on a Friday – that’s going to be similar to how we’ll approach the Jacksonville game in a couple of weeks. And then it’ll be a little bit different when you stay out in Jacksonville and then you go to London after that. But, these guys have been in these situations before, players that have been here that have played in London. We’ve got a handful of new acquisitions that have also done that, so I think it’s about taking it one day at a time, but then also helping the players understand that everything we try to do is strategic in a manner that is going to try to be set up to help us be the best that we can be whenever that game is. The players have really done a great job about being able to buy into that and I think that’s a credit to our coaches as well. But, that’s really – I know it’s like, ‘No duh, Sean.’ But, that really is our approach and I think that’s helped us because you have a tendency to want to look ahead, but really all you have is whatever this game is this week, your one day at a time approach and preparation. I think if anything, that this first quarter of the season has represented in the NFL it’s what a great, competitive league it is and no matter how good a team is, you better be ready to go and that’s no different for us. While we’ve done a lot of good things, certainly we know that (Seahawks Head) Coach (Pete) Carroll is going to have his team ready to go and if we’re trying to get our fourth win, it’s going to be a great challenge.”

(On if he thinks that RB Todd Gurley II can sustain 27 touches a game for the rest of the season)

“That’s a good question. I think a lot of it’s going to be how Todd’s feeling, but you also do want to make sure that you have a long term, big picture perspective in mind with Todd because of how important he is to us. So, I think that’s where you see Tavon did a nice job being able to take some off of him and then (RB) Malcolm Brown is a very reliable player that some of the contributions that he’s made might not have shown up. He had the hamstring (injury) that he got a couple weeks ago, so his carries were limited and his touches have been limited. But, I think what you saw him do, I loved the way he responded from the Dallas preseason game and then you saw some of the carries he got in that Chargers game the third week of the preseason. He’s a guy that’s very reliable, makes a big play on the screen yesterday and he did some things in protection that might go unnoticed, but he was a big part in being able to help secure (Cowboys DE Demarcus) Lawrence on the third and 10 that we ended up hitting to (WR) Robert Woods for 19 yards. I think we are going to always make sure how Todd’s feeling. (Director of Sports Medicine/Performance) Reggie (Scott) and his staff do an excellent job being able to communicate that as well as (Strength and Conditioning Coach) Ted (Rath) and his staff. Each week will dictate that, but I think when you just take into account that there is a 16 game season, you want him to be able to be fresh as the season progresses as well. So, whether we tailor that back or not is going to be predicated on how he feels. But, right now he’s done a great job.”

(On how he fights the urge to force the ball to Gurley)

“You do, but I think that’s where you also feel good about some of the playmakers around him. You’ve got a lot of confidence in a handful of our receivers. I think you look at how well (WR) Sammy (Watkins) and Robert (Woods) have played this year and then (WR) Cooper Kupp makes a couple clutch plays with the touchdown. You look at the second and long conversion that he goes for 24 (yards), drew the PI (pass interference) on the play-action pass and there were just a couple routes where we ended up getting some pressure, Jared got it to him and he creates after the catch. So there’s a lot of guys. I thought (TE Tyler) Higbee made a couple big time plays for us. (TE) Gerald Everett has had his number called and he’s delivered. The first third and eight was big to be able to get us in field goal range, so there’s a lot of different playmakers that we feel comfortable with and I think the best thing that Jared has done a good job of through the first quarter of the season is, ‘Hey, let the ball go where my progression based on the play call dictates.’ And that’s why I think you’re seeing guys get involved.”

(On what he’s seen from Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips in terms of in-game adjustments)

“Yeah, I think the biggest thing is there was a lot of things that we had been prepared for. It’s an excellent offense that they played against yesterday. But, he’s got a nice, even-keeled, calm demeanor about himself that you just communicate, ‘Here’s what we need to do and this is something that we put ourselves through the week of preparation, trust your approach, trust that preparation and then let it lead to good performance.’ And to the defenses credit, they answered the bell in the second half and there was a handful of plays that ended up being the difference in us winning and losing that football game. Their ability to step up was crucial. You look at a couple of the three-and-outs that they got, the turnover where (DT Michael) Brockers forces the errant pass and (LB) Mark Barron makes the great interception, I thought was huge. Anytime that you’re able to win the turnover battle 2-0, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win games in this league just when you look at the history of the league and how that affects wins and losses. That would be the biggest thing that I would say – it’s like most great coaches that I’ve been around, there’s a way of correcting in a manner that guys understand it’s for the right reasons. Then there’s a calm demeanor about it, so that guys don’t feel stressed when you’re doing it and then they went out and did it. I’m really pleased with the effort that they had.”

(On if he’s concerned at all about the numbers that the defense has been giving up)

“I think when you look at it, we’re concerned with what comes up on the tape. Sometimes there’s going to be plays that are made. I think a lot of times, if you get too caught up in the numbers, you can get a little bit mislead. To their credit, they get the one run that comes out for a big gain, (Cowboys WR) Dez (Bryant) made a couple catches. (Cowboys QB) Dak (Prescott) showed why he’s a special player, being able to create off-schedules. But, what we try to do a good job of is that while that can sometimes give you good indicators, it’s what is showing up on the tape based on whatever that call is. Are we playing the alignment, the assignment and are we playing with the technique and the effort that we coach? If that shows up, we feel good about that. I think a lot of that stuff is the things that we feel like maybe we’ve fallen short and really this isn’t just exclusive to the defense, this goes for offense and special teams as well. We feel like they’re correctable things and can’t say enough about how receptive our plays have been to correcting those mistakes and everybody takes accountability for that. But, I think the thing that has impressed me the most about this group and it is the first quarter of the season – whether you look at the Washington game, you look at the San Francisco game and then you look at yesterday – we faced adversity in all three of those games. We didn’t get it done in Washington, but the thing that you sense from our team is that they are a mentally tough team that continues to just take it one snap at a time. You never feel like there’s not a belief that we can find a way to get it done and I think that’s a real credit to our players and the mental toughness that they’ve displayed throughout that first quarter of the season. And I think that will continue to serve us well moving forward if we can continue with that approach.”

(On converting in the redzone and how kicking extra points is better than settling for field goals)

“I think when you look at the – we were one-for-four in the redzone. And credit them, they did a nice job, but I look at a couple of the play calls that I made. I think we’ve done a good job of running the football. The one series where we end up going three passes in a row, that’s where you look at yourself critically as a play caller and say, ‘Let’s not lose sight of some of the things we’ve done a good job that have allowed us to succeed at a pretty good rate so far.’ So, I think some of it’s play calling and then I also think defensive execution. I really was bothered by the last call that I made, credit (Cowboys Defensive Coordinator) Coach (Rod) Marinelli. Third-and-four, you’d like to punch that in with a touchdown. He brought a zone pressure off the slot with (Cowboys CB Orlando) Scandrick. It was a great call and it wasn’t a very good play call that I gave our guys and fortunately, the defense made it right and (K) Greg (Zuerlein) ended up kicking the field goal. But, I think what you try to do is, you look at those things that can be corrected. We did move the football fairly well, but I think just looking at the redzone overall that’s something that we need to do a better job of, and I think it starts with me.”

(On how much time he spends going over his play calls)

“Oh, a lot. It’s like I said, it’s not necessarily whether they work or not, it’s just based on what’s shown up, do you make sure that you have answers and that you can at least provide the players with the best case scenario? Because it’s a guessing game. A lot of times you’re lucky or you get a play call where players make it right if that’s not what you’re anticipating have happen. I think the biggest thing is, if you’ve got certain calls that you’re making that go away from some of the preparation, or you maybe could’ve been a little bit more thorough to avoid those situations, that’s where you’ve got to look at yourself. There was a situation where (QB) Jared (Goff) takes a big shot, where we went on the quick count and we’re throwing four-vertical – based on the way that we had set some things, there was something easily that I could have avoided. That’s where the experience factor comes in to play as well. The more that you do this, the more that I’ve been humbled by this game and you have an appreciation for being able to draw on your previous experiences whether they’re good or bad and then how that effects your future approach. A lot of these things, for the first time you say, ‘Alright, well let’s make sure we learn from it.’ As long as we’re not repeating those mistakes, or you’re doing the things and have trust in your preparation, you can always live with some of those calls.”

(On if there is time for him to pat himself on the back after such a great offensive start to the season with a team with previous offensive struggles)

“I think a lot of it is a credit to you’re a part of that. I think if you look at what are the things you can control to avoid it? I think what good coaches do is, they put their players in situations to have success, but ultimately, those players are the ones that are making those plays. You feel fortunate to be a part of that and I think the players have done a good job, but I also can’t say enough about our coaching staff. Everybody talks about Jared and what he’s done and he’s done an excellent job, but I also think it’s important to know how heavily involved (Rams Offensive Coordinator) Matt LaFleur and (Quarterbacks Coach) Greg Olson are in his development and those day-to-day things where he’s got an ownership on what we’re trying to get done. You look at (offensive line coach) Aaron Kromer with the offensive line, I mean I could go through our whole offensive coaching staff, so everybody has a part. But I think ultimately, when you’re responsible as a play caller and you’re in a head coaching role like we’ve talked about with that ownership, that accountability, you’ve got to make sure that you’re doing the things that you’ve asked your players to do as well.”

(On if he is going to keep seven wide receivers with WR Mike Thomas returning this week)

“Yeah, we’ll keep seven receivers. Those six we have a lot of confidence in. We’re going to keep seven, we’re going to get Mike up. How we handle what that does to that spot that he’ll take place with is something that we’re going through those discussions right now. We don’t actually have to make that decision in terms of, when his roster spot effects somebody else for a couple days. But those are discussions that we’ve started to have weeks in advance, but you also know that, unfortunately sometimes guys get injuries. Thank goodness that we did come out of that game clean. We’ll have to make a tough decision on one of the players that’s currently on our roster, but it will not be from that receiver room.”

(On if he sees an immediate role for Thomas)

“I think it’s going to be how Mike feels, but yeah I think what Mike’s done through the offseason program when he was available after he got back from the foot injury in training camp – Mike’s got a lot of value. He’s got some speed, I think he’s continued to improve the nuances of playing the position. Then he’s also a big asset to ‘Bones’ (John Fassel) and the special teams, so how that effects the 46 on gameday is something that we’re going to monitor as the week progresses. But, Mike’s a guy that we’re glad to get back.”

(On if Thomas can be an option as a kickoff returner)

“He could be, but I think what you saw Pharoh do yesterday, Pharoh did a great job and Pharoh responded after the one tough play in San Francisco like you would’ve expected him to respond. That wasn’t something we were surprised about but Pharoh’s a great competitor. I think you look at the confidence that you have in (WR) Robert Woods as your ‘Z’ receiver, but when Pharoh comes in, very reliable, you trust him and I think that really how you feel about your whole receiving group as a whole. Not to mention it’s six receivers, but you look at what Tavon Austin presents in terms of the way that you’re able to utilize him. He’s such a dynamic piece that to be able to just say that he’s exclusively receiver, I don’t think would be fair to the skillset and the way that we’re using him. You’re kind of almost stealing a spot with that as well.”

(On if he emphasizes, as a play caller, to get TE Tyler Higbee involved)

“I think we have certain plays that we’re running to attack some of the coverages that a defensive might show on a week-to-week basis. You never know exactly how its going to play out. But I think you have confidence that if he’s in the spot where the play call dictates the ball could go that he’s going to be able to make that play. And I thought it was great for him on the second play of the game to make a great catch like that when we’re running kind of a seam wheel concept and then get up and go for 29 yards. And then I think one of the plays that might not be noticed, you look they stopped the clock to challenge it – it really gets us into field goal range almost where it can kind of alleviate your approach in terms of the way some of your play calls are dictated at the end of the first half – he makes a great catch on the right sideline for a positive gain when Dallas got a great rush, Jared steps up and makes a throw. I was pleased with Tyler’s effort. I think he’s doing a lot of good things in the run game. So I would say that you’re not necessarily conscience like we’ve got to get Higbee some touches. But you’re calling plays where, ‘Alright he’s the primary and you’re hoping that hey if we get the look at we what, you got a lot of confidence in his ability to make that play.’ Just missed out on a big play opportunity. To him on the bootleg, where he’s down the field and that was something that we connected on during practice and you’re just a couple plays away from being able to make another explosive play between Jared and Tyler right there.”

(On if he thinks S Lamarcus Joyner will make it back on to the field)

“It’s hard to say right now, he is week-to-week. I thought he made a lot of good progress, because initially anytime you hear a hamstring for a player like him, where his game is predicated on speed similar to what we were dealing with (WR) Tavon (Austin) earlier this offseason. It’s hard to really say. I think the encouraging thing was watching the progress that he made with Reggie and his staff last week. Whether he’s available for this week, I think we’ll get a better feel as each day progresses. But, Lamarcus is doing a good job of controlling what he can right now. We don’t have an idea, but as the week progresses I think that’ll become a lot more clear whether he’ll be available or not.”

(On how much he thinks T Andrew Whitworth has impacted the team this season)

“A lot. I think you look at a great front that we played yesterday, you look at the pressure they’ve been able to put on their opponents through the first few weeks of the season. I think he’s made a huge influence and impact on our team, not only on our offense, but on our team. He’s a pro’s pro. We’ve said it over and over. But he’s just got a nice way about the way that he goes about his business. He knows what it looks like to do it the right way and guys respond to that. We’ve got a bunch of good people in this locker room that they see a Andrew Whitworth and the way that he’s played through the course of his career and the way that he goes about his business. He’s really helped that offensive line room. I think (G) Roger Saffold’s done a lot of great things too, he’s playing at a high level. But what that mentorship I think has provided especially for a (T) Rob Havenstein, you look at the performance that he had yesterday against an elite pass rusher and a lot of times he’s one-on-one. I think the world of (Cowboys DE) DeMarcus Lawrence and I thought Rob played a great game for some of the situations we put him in. He competed great, handled his own and I think Andrew’s had a huge part in helping Rob continue to grow and learning the nuances of the tackle position – so can’t say enough about what he’s done for us. He’s been huge for me, too. You look at, as a player, being able to empower them, trust their approach and their opinions when you want to get a feel for the pulse of the locker room. It’s not just him, but there’s a handful of guys I could point out, but he’s a guy who I’ve heavily leaned on as well with regards to how we handle certain things.”

(On if he thinks it’s rare that a player, like Whitworth, has such a major impact in his first year with a team)

“I think so, but there’s a lot of new faces in this locker room and I think the best thing you can say about it is everybody’s pushing in the same direction. I think it’s also a credit to the way that he came in, where it’s not immediately, ‘I’m coming in and I’m trying to just always talk where people are listening.’ It’s he came in, he demonstrated what it looked like by just putting his head down and going to work. And I think players recognize that and then it makes you so much more receptive to when he does want to start to offer some advice and his opinion, it’s not a forced thing. It naturally comes out and a lot of times, it might even be players seeking him out, as opposed to him feeling like he’s always got to deliver that information. But I think the best part about it is, that’s who Andrew is as a person, so guys feel it come off as authentic and genuine as opposed to forced. And I think that’s why people have been so receptive to the way that he goes about that.”