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Where does Sean McVay rank among offensive play callers in NFC West?

Emergence of Cardinals, dominance of 49ers, questions on Rams create interesting debate on play callers

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a dominant road win in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks in which the L.A. Rams were praised for getting receivers Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell open often for big plays, head coach Sean McVay is back to answering questions of whether he abandons the run too quickly in losses.

As noted by Blaine Grisak, the Rams ran the ball 10 times in Monday’s loss to the Bengals even though Cincinnati has struggled mightily against the run.

L.A. has yet to rush for 100 yards in any game this season and the Rams rank 26th in rushing yards, 28th in yards per carry, and traded Cam Akers to the Minnesota Vikings for a case of Liquid Death.

Matthew Stafford has thrown four interceptions against two touchdowns and dating back to last season, that makes for 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions over the quarterback’s last 12 starts. Stafford hasn’t had Cooper Kupp this year—McVay says he still “hopes” that Kupp will be able to return after missing the minimum of four games on IR—but is not lacking weapons thanks to the emergence of Atwell and Nacua.

So is play calling the problem?

Nobody has lost more offensive coaching assistants than McVay over the last six years: Matt LaFleur, Zac Taylor, Kevin O’Connell, Thomas Brown, and Shane Waldron are all head coaches or offensive coordinators now. How has that constant turnover impacted L.A.’s offense? What about the swing-and-miss on Liam Coen as offensive coordinator in 2022, while the jury’s out on replacement Mike LaFleur? Does McVay still have “it”?

Or is he falling behind in the race for best offensive game plans in the NFC West after owning the division for several years?

Tied for 3rd: Shane Waldron, Seahawks and Drew Petzing, Cardinals

Few new coordinators are off to better starts than Petzing and the 36-year-old could end up in the head coach interview circuit after the season if this keeps up. Despite having Josh Dobbs at quarterback—most likely to be ranked 32nd in the NFL going into Week 1 because his place as a starter was not predicted by ANYONE until days before the season—Petzing has orchestrated an offense that has been much more efficient than L.A.’s.

The Cardinals rank second in the NFL in yards per carry, 12th in scoring, and 16th in net yards per pass attempt. Dobbs has yet to throw a pick through three games and is coming off of a win against the “vaunting” defense of the Dallas Cowboys.

If there’s an early favorite for assistant of the year, he’s in the place you’d least expect it: Arizona. Petzing was on the Cleveland Browns for three years following a long stint in Minnesota with the Vikings. Before then, he had jobs in the Ivy League with Harvard and Yale.

It’s still not a big enough sample size to guarantee that Petzing is for sure better than Waldron, who is in his third year with the Seahawks after being poached from McVay’s staff, but the Cardinals are gaining ground in a hurry.

Waldron has mixed in a heavy dose of 12 and 13 personnel with the Seahawks this year, utilizing Seattle’s advantage with their two-headed running back monster of Zach Charbonnet and Ken Walker to compensate for their disadvantage on the offensive line after losing starting tackles Abe Lucas and Charles Cross. The Seahawks are a more interesting offense this year than they’ve been the previous two seasons with Waldron, but then again Seattle was inept against Raheem Morris in Week 1.

2nd - Sean McVay, Rams

Neither Waldron nor Petzing has proven to be up there with the Super Bowl-winning McVay yet, but let’s be fair and say that anything could happen in the next three months because the Cardinals have shocked the world just by the fact that they are anything but “tanking”.

McVay needs to flex his muscles as the “mastermind” who started it all, otherwise he won’t be second on this list after the season...unless Petzing or Waldron are hired to be head coaches and leave the division that way. If we were ranking literal offensive coordinators, I think it’s fair to say that LaFleur would rank fourth in the NFC West. We just don’t know much about his influence on the offense, we only know that he was fired after two seasons as the coordinator on the Jets and that he’s the brother of Matt.

1st - Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

Third in scoring, third in net yards per pass, sixth in yards per carry, and Shanahan has proven to not lose a step despite having a seventh round quarterback and even though he lost Mike McDaniel two years ago, now considered the most innovative offensive genius in the NFL.

I’m not sure if Shanahan’s game plan is quite as good as advertised—partly because he’s just rated so highly by most—but results speak louder than rankings and the 49ers have scored 30 in all three contests this season.

The fact that San Francisco can put out five skill players on any given play and you aren’t quite sure which of them is a runner, a receiver, a blocker, or a tight end, that makes it so much harder to defend against them. Even without Brandon Aiyuk in Week 3, the 49ers were just as potent.

Shanahan can of course also claim that he’s outsmarted McVay head-to-head having won the last nine regular season matchups in a row. We will have to wait until Week 18 to see how the next one goes.