Sean McVay’s name is already mentioned amongst the best head coaches in all of NFL history. Since becoming the lead man for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, McVay took an organization very familiar with losing to two Super Bowls and to the playoffs in four of his five seasons. Even in 2019 when the team failed to make the playoffs, they still finished with a winning record. At age 36, he’s still the youngest member of the current head coaching ranks.
It took a catastrophic string of injuries and unfortunate luck to bring McVay’s momentum back to earth, and it’s likely the Rams are on the outside looking in on the playoffs in 2022. Offensive linemen that were never intended to see the field, or were even on the roster at the start of the year, have been thrust into the starting lineup. Matthew Stafford missed the most important game of the year because he was in the NFL’s concussion protocol. The defensive secondary has also been a revolving door, losing players such as Jordan Fuller, Troy Hill, David Long, Taylor Rapp, Cobie Durant, and Grant Haley at various points this season.
So the Rams will be starting their NINTH different OL combo in NINE games. And a backup QB. Everything is going fine.— Derek A (@Son_DeeRRF) November 13, 2022
The downturn in fortune brings to memory some interesting comments made by McVay this offseason when he was still basking in the sun of his team’s victory in Super Bowl LVI. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham wrote a profile on the Rams head coach titled “Welcome to the Sean McVay Moment”, with the below excerpt particularly standing out in light of how events have since unfolded:
THIS PAST JANUARY, on the day after the regular season ended, when franchises jettison failing coaching regimes, Veronika (wife of McVay) asked Sean, “What would you do if you were on one of those teams that wasn’t winning and you might get fired?”
“Well, that just wouldn’t f---ing happen,” he replied. “Why would you ever think that way?”
He knew it sounded cocky, as if he were somehow immune to the fate of all coaches, even elite ones. But underneath it was a stark fear, not of being fired — he knows that it’s part of his chosen life — but of the losing that would precede it. Before the Super Bowl, McVay found a deeper admiration for Bengals coach Zac Taylor, his buddy and former quarterbacks coach. Taylor stomached six total wins his first two seasons before guiding the Bengals to the final game. “I’ve never really had to lead in circumstances that were real adversary,” McVay says now.
Sean McVay never thought losing could happen to him, and it’s fair to understand why.
He inherited a quarterback in Jared Goff that had one of the worst rookie seasons possible. McVay altered Goff’s career trajectory and helped him become a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, despite some serious limitations inherent in his game.
The Rams built the first version of the McVay offense around running back Todd Gurley, but as the former Offensive Player of the Year’s knee deteriorated LA could no longer hide from Goff’s flaws. Even in the quarterback’s worst season (2019), the Rams still worked towards a 9-7 record. They missed the playoffs but the NFL added a wildcard berth the following year - they would had been in the tournament under the new rules.
If the head coach could turn in a winning season despite losing his best offensive player, significant struggles on the offensive line, and a limited quarterback - why would he ever think he’d face a losing record?
But now McVay understands what it means to coach under adversarial circumstances, and I’m not sure we can say he’s navigated the uncertainty well.
The head coach’s public spout with running back Cam Akers on the surface seems eerily similar to the fundamental disagreements that ran Goff out of town. McVay sets a high standard for the entire organization, but sometimes his methods of holding individuals to that standard can push players in a rut over the brink towards collapse. Both Akers at this point in his career and Goff in his final days as a Ram seem to second guess every decision they make, and both situations are likely headed towards the same outcome - moving on from Los Angeles.
With his franchise quarterback unavailable in the game with the highest stakes so far in 2022, McVay set his backup quarterback - who may or may not even be cut out to play in the NFL - up to fail. When teams are forced to start their backup quarterback, it’s usually an opportunity to return to the fundamentals and lean on a running game; however, the Rams ran the ball with John Wolford in the game 14 times to the backup’s 36 pass attempts. LA averaged 4.2 yards on those 14 carries, so the rushing attack was as efficient as it had been all season.
The Rams are all but out of contention in 2022, and with eight remaining games we will see an early glimpse on how this team expects to move forward. Can the McVay offense that took the league by storm from 2017 to 2021 return to its roots and find a spark that can carry them into 2023?
Sean McVay maybe basked in the California sunlight of his Super Bowl victory for too long, and that turned 2021’s ‘Sean McVay Moment’ into a raisin.
Don’t expect the fiery head coach to rest on his laurels, he’ll quickly reinvent himself and work towards the next McVay moment. His track record of success in the league is too strong, and it’s not often you see so many uncontrollable forces working against a team.
While 2022 was a disappointment for McVay and the Rams, they won’t be down for long.