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Rams midseason grades: Sean McVay needs to get better results on offense

The LA Rams have been dropping in the rankings on offense for the last few weeks

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Los Angeles Rams v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

I was in a scriptwriting class a couple of years ago with a guy who I’m happy to plug named Tom Vaughan. He wrote the horror movie Winchester and he’s a Houston Texans fan, so you know he’s not afraid of terrifying twists, horrifying turns; I’m picturing Bill O’Brien in a black veil. What I’ve learned since moving to Los Angeles 11 years ago to pursue writing for films or television is that I’m fantastic at telling someone my idea for a movie that will surely blow audiences away but not ranked in the top one million of executing that idea into a script.

I’ve since refocused on television.

But one thing that Tom taught me that I have not forgotten since because now I see it every time I watch a movie is that every film has a midpoint. Every film. Tom said that the way he learned to become a writer as a young guy in Houston was to watch as many movies as he could, day after day, taking notes about the structure and story. Eventually, he saw the same formula that I’m sure many of the people who wrote those movies knew going in because of what they learned from a professor, or mentor, or Syd Field. Today perhaps it’s Save the Cat!

And the most recognizable crux within that formula is the midpoint.

If they ever reopen movie theaters and you end up back in a red seat by your sweetie, see if you can judge when your halfway through the picture without looking at your phone. If you’re watching a two-hour movie, then right around the one hour mark of that film, something really, really good or really, really bad is going to happen to that lead character.

That’s how you’ll know, without looking at the timestamp, that you’ve watching roughly 50% of the movie.

The lead character has been working towards having a moment for maybe 45 minutes to an hour and by the midway point, there’s a lot of reasons to either give the audience what they want — ever so briefly before taking it away again — or to make it look like all hope is lost.

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” - Alfred Hitchcock

Sounds like Hitchcock would have liked a New York football team.

Pick a movie and it has a midpoint. Pulp Fiction has a midpoint. When Butch realizes that Fabienne didn’t pack his father’s gold watch and he risks everything to go get it, that’s the midpoint. It occurs at 1:26:55. The movie is two hours and 58 minutes long.

Watch movies and look for the midpoint. Or seek those offbeat non-studio, potentially unsatisfying movies that don’t. I haven’t seen Gummo in a long time, but it might not have a midpoint. Also, watch Gummo. See how offbeat feels.

Especially since the LA Rams have not given you much of an “offbeat” season or narrative. Most teams may not have such an obvious midpoint during the 2020 campaign as the Rams appear to have right now. And while not every team has a clear protagonist, the person who needs to learn something along the way so that he or she can triumph by the third act, LA’s refuser of a call to adventure is quite obviously Jared Goff.

His midpoint is not of the falsely optimistic variety. It’s been a tough few weeks on the Rams audience.

“I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.” - Frank Capra

The LA Rams hit their lowest point of the season so far in a 28-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, a team who is experiencing the other kind of midpoint. The pleasing variety. But as we saw in Titanic, when Jack gets the “good news” that Rose is choosing him over Cal, even though he’s a young-ass Leonardo DiCaprio who is about to hit American speakeasies for the first time, we don’t always account for the metaphorical and literal walls of ice that await.

Deep down Jack knew that Rose would probably forget his dad’s gold watch one day and force him to shoot John Travolta in the crapper.

Now let me get back to torturing my own audience by delivering unto you some midseason grades for the Rams and while our protagonist awaits his report card, let me first turn to the Obi-Wan.

(Star Wars: A New Hope: the Millenium Falcon comes out of hyperspace to discover that Alderaan has been destroyed. 63:05 in a movie with a runtime of two hours, five minutes.)

Sean McVay, head coach

Grade: C+

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” – Alfred Hitchcock

McVay says he does not need a script going into games and for the first five weeks that was fascinating because the Rams were the best opening drive and best first quarter team in the NFL. In the last three, that has not been the case and the lack of a strong start exacerbates the offense’s biggest issue: the middle of the game.

The Rams ranked first in net yards per pass attempt only a few weeks ago but now they are 13th. A lot of what raised up their average to this point has been fourth quarter shots in games that were not close. One example being two weeks ago against the San Francisco 49ers, Goff’s 40-yard touchdown to Josh Reynolds when down 24-9 in the final four minutes. The team’s longest run is the 46-yarder by Cam Akers, which came when the Rams were leading 30-10 in the fourth quarter.

Up or down, what debatable success LA has had offensively (they are 21st in points per game, 10th on third downs, 19th in the red zone, 13th in passing yards, seventh in rushing yards, 14th in yards per carry, 23rd in points per drive, 26th in turnovers) has mostly come in the first quarter early in the season and in the fourth quarter of their three losses.

Defensively, Los Angeles is feeling as good as a lady with a pot belly, but that won’t help McVay deflect why an offensive “guru” can’t turn the NFL’s third-highest paid player of 2020, two of the top five receivers in the division, two day two picks at running back and one of the most respected left tackles in the league into an offense that scores more than 24.1 points per game; the Rams rank lower in scoring than the Dolphins, Raiders, Bengals, Vikings, Chargers and Lions.

Next season, LA has committed the sixth-most cash to its offense thanks to $35 million going to quarterback and $31 million going to the receivers. McVay has to figure out how his offense will be better without being able to make very many notable changes for the second year in a row, unless it’s a subtraction.

With the extra wild card and the Chicago Bears as their main competition right now, the Rams have a decent shot to return to the postseason. But with an offense that has scored 20 or fewer points in half of their games at the midpoint, how much longer can we expect McVay’s side to compete with the offenses that feature Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and even Kyler Murray in his second season?

That’s an NFC gauntlet that McVay will need his defense to destroy like its making a 2000 Baltimore Ravens-sized point.

But if he wants more credit and a higher grade for the midpoint turnaround that the Rams will need over their next four games (Seahawks, Bucs, 49ers, Cardinals) in order to reestablish themselves as a top-eight team, then it’s the offense that will need to perform better. Much better.

Script or no script.

“Audiences are harder to please if you’re just giving them effects, but they’re easy to please if it’s a good story.” – Steven Spielberg

In other words, less talk about “eye candy” and more points.


What is Sean McVay’s grade at the midpoint?

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