It’s been nearly two full years since we’ve seen Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams team be competitive, and it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of just how much the young head coach has changed the landscape of the NFL. Ben Solak of The Ringer took a trip down memory lane this week and reflected on the Rams’ 2018 barnburner against the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly, Solak contemplated the fallout from this historic Monday Night Football game and the impact Patrick Mahomes has made on quarterback prospects, McVay’s fingerprints on offensive design and playcalling across the coaching landscape, and how Todd Gurley’s ill-fated contract extension continues to weigh on the running back market.
It’s been 5 years since the Chiefs and the Rams met on Monday Night Football and played one of the best games ever.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) November 15, 2023
I watched the game back to remember what we knew about offense then, where we thought offense was going, and if we were right.
The piece addresses how Mahomes’ unique creativity and almost unprecedented success outside of offensive structure has redefined the way we view the NFL’s prototypical quarterback and has paved the way for non-traditional passers to be taken towards the top of the NFL Draft: Kyler Murray. Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Josh Allen, etc.
This analysis should also weigh heavy on the Rams as they consider the future of their franchise quarterback. A limited athlete at quarterback can limit multiple facets of your offense and we are seeing these difficulties play out in real time with an aging Matthew Stafford. The degree of difficulty is elevated for the offensive line in pass protection where they are forced to be nearly perfect in order for downfield concepts to open up. Running backs don’t have the luxury of a defender being forced to account for the QB as a runner. Receivers need to win within the rhythm and timing of the offense while we watch Travis Kelce and others accumulate yardage by finding holes in coverage while Mahomes buys time with his legs.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Solak’s analysis were his thoughts on Gurley and the running back position at large. Gurley was injured late in the 2018 season, and the game against the Chiefs was the start of his downfall in Los Angeles. The star back ran only 12 times for 55 yards in this matchup despite producing like a potential MVP candidate up to that point. While Goff and the passing offense amassed 54 points, Gurley was largely unproductive:
The $60 million contract L.A. gave Gurley in 2018 and Gurley’s subsequent fall were watershed moments in the league’s understanding of running back value. When they’re fresh and healthy on rookie deals, they’re great, but those touches sure accumulate fast, wearing down the tread on the tires. As productive and talented as Gurley was—and he was certainly both—we know now that his success as a rusher was far more the result of the offensive system and offensive line than it was his individual merit. We also know that his role in the game—ballcarrier—has less impact on offensive success and scoring capacity than pass catchers, pass throwers, and pass blockers do. Throwing is king in the modern NFL.
On a night of star performances, it’s the absence that speaks volumes here.