Prior to the beginning of the 2023 NFL season, everyone in the media and even the fanbase had counted out Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams. McVay’s best days were behind him and he was considering taking a job in the booth. It was rumored that Amazon offered him $100M over five years. The Rams bought their championship, were now paying the price, and McVay wanted no part of the rebuild.
Most media outlets had the Rams ranked in the bottom-5 in their preseason power rankings. NBC Sports’ Mike Florio ranked the Rams 29th in his and said, “Last year was bad. There’s a decent chance this year will be worse.”
The win total for the Rams coming into the season was set at 6.5 which was among the lowest in the league. Fast forward eight months later and the Rams six at 6-6 and need just one more win to exceed their projected win total. Even if they don’t make the postseason, with games against the Washington Commanders and New York Giants still on the schedule, there’s a good chance that the Rams do just that.
Recency bias has a tendency to cloud judgement and that’s exactly what happened with the Rams coming into the season. It’s as if people forgot that the Rams dealt with a historic number of injuries on the offensive line in 2022. While Sean McVay had his mental struggles, and those were well documented, did people really think that if McVay decided to come back, he wouldn’t be refocused and re-energized?
When it comes to making offseason predictions, it’s easy to look on paper and count a team out or sharpie a team into the Super Bowl. However, there have been several example of how much coaching matters at the NFL level. Year after year, Mike Tomlin leads the Pittsburgh Steelers to a winning record. However, you look at a similar situation of a team with a good defense, good offensive weapons, but poor quarterback play in New York and it’s a complete disaster.
In 2017, Sean McVay took a team that hadn’t had a winning record in 14 years or been to the playoffs in 13 to have both in his first season. McVay won Coach of the Year for that feat. However, it can be argued that what McVay has done this season with this roster is more impressive.
Again, this was a team and a roster that was seen as tanking. The team traded away Jalen Ramsey and outright cut Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner. Outside of drafting rookies or signing replacement level players, the front office didn’t do a lot to replace those losses.
That doesn’t mention how he navigated changes to the offensive side of the ball when the Rams traded Cam Akers and Van Jefferson who were both seen as key starters coming into the season.
It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but in the Team Overall Ratings, the Madden video game had the Rams as the second-worst team ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals. Again, that doesn’t mean a lot, but it does speak to the perceived talent level on the roster heading into the season.
If McVay takes this Rams roster that the media thought was tanking from 3-6 and 16 percent chance at the postseason to the playoffs, he needs to be a serious contender for Coach of the Year.
Outside of 2017 when he did win the award, accomplishing that in a year many thought he may retire or step away may be his most impressive accomplishment as a head coach outside of the Super Bowl win.
This offseason, McVay completely re-hauled major pieces of his coaching staff. Liam Coen left to go back to Kentucky and was replaced with Mike LaFleur. Ryan Wendell replaced Kevin Carberry on the offensive line and Nick Caley was hired to be the tight ends coach as Thomas Brown left to be the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. That doesn’t mention the hiring of Chase Blackburn as the special teams coordinator.
McVay spent time in the lab this offseason cooking up what would become one of the more successful run games in the NFL. With the implementation of duo and a gap scheme that allows them to run at defenses, the Rams run game has done a complete 180.
Ever hear me talk about the Rams run game and Duo and wonder what I’m going on about?— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) December 5, 2023
This week, I did a deeper dive on Wind The Clock to show how the Rams are using various pitches in the run game and how Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp unlock it all. https://t.co/67WTMOTOqO
Los Angeles ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing success-rate this season. They ranked 29th in that category in 2022 and 19th during their Super Bowl run in 2021.
The Rams missed on Allen Robinson last offseason. This year, they drafted a fifth-round rookie named Puka Nacua who has taken the NFL by storm. Nacua just eclipsed 1,000 yards last week. How many other teams would Nacua be having this level of success with?
Despite being counted out almost completely, McVay has shown why he was so special to begin with. He’s an offensive mastermind with the ability to connect and coach up his players.
This isn’t to take credit away from coaches like DeMeco Ryans who has done a great job with the Houston Texans this year or even Dan Campbell in Detroit. However, McVay currently has +3000 odds at Coach of the Year which is tied for 12th and is the same as Kevin Stefanski.
Coming into the season, the Rams were seen as one of the worst teams in the NFL. Heading into Week 13, they are in the thick of the NFC Playoff race with a 50 percent chance to get in. If McVay takes this Rams team to the postseason, he needs to be one of the top contenders for Coach of the Year.