Do The Rams Have A McVay Problem? Is Kevin O’Connell The Answer?

Rams Head Coach Sean McVay After Joint Practice With The Chargers. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | The LAFB Network

Do The Rams Have A McVay Problem? Is Kevin O’Connell The Answer?

“This is a sick taste in your mouth. I’m looking inward. I have got to do a better job,” McVay said in a post-game interview after last week’s loss to the Dolphins. “I can’t wait to look at this and work to get it fixed. That’s all I know how to do.”

Sean McVay has two weeks of navel-gazing. The extra time is a very good thing because they face the division-leading, Seattle Seahawks, in week 10. The Rams record would be in a good place in most other divisions, but in the NFC West, it lands them in third place. This game has huge divisional and playoff implications. 

Last season, the Rams finished with a winning record but missed the playoffs. As a result, the football world questioned if Sean McVay was simply a one-trick pony that the NFL had figured out. The one-trick pony narrative has reared its head once again. But this year, there has been a call for McVay to relinquish his play-calling duties and hand them over to OC Kevin O’Connell. 

The Rams are a proactive, if not reactive, franchise. They have a problem, they seek an answer to that problem. Last offseason, the Rams identified that Jared Goff needed to be molded into the QB that could execute McVay’s offense. Their answer was to hire Kevin O’Connell to be Goff’s QB whisperer and the team’s offensive coordinator.

The title offensive coordinator might be considered a stretch for O’Connell. Not taking anything away from him, but Sean McVay has never had an offensive coordinator in the common sense of the word and it is quite evident why. He has unwavering confidence in his abilities as a play-caller. But what about when that self-confidence costs the Rams a win?

The Rams have identified a problem. But, do the Rams have a McVay problem? 

The answer: Occasionally. Despite this narrative, McVay remains one of the NFL’s best play-callers. That said, no coach is without their flaws. Good coaches learn from their losses and mitigate their flaws. McVay’s problem is he hasn’t learned from some key losses. He reverts to some bad tendencies when the game gets out of control or his game plan isn’t working. In those situations, he is stubbornly over-reliant on Jared Goff passing the ball, making his team utterly predictable. 

Most famously, this happened in Super Bowl LIII. The Patriots threw Jared Goff off his game by getting pressure on him on 42% of his passing attempts, sacking his four times. The passing attack was not working. Yet, he ran the ball only 26% of offensive snaps. 

The next season, not running the ball was a persistent problem, particularly in losses. The Rams rushed for fewer than 90 yards six times. Their record in those games was 0-6. They were 9-1 in games with more than 90 yards rushing. 

This season, it seemed that McVay had figured out how to balance the ground game with the passing game. In fact, the Rams lead the league in runs per game. As opposed to last season when they finished 18th. The major swing could be seen as a direct result of O’Connell’s influence on McVay. According to The Athletic, O’Connell was a big believer in establishing the run and being a run-first offense while OC in DC. 

In the last two losses, the run:pass ratio has shown that McVay may be bucking that positive influence and reverting to his pass-heavy ways. Why could that be, other than staunch stubbornness to play hero ball when behind or being shut down? 

The run:pass ratio against the 49ers and the Dolphins was about 1:2, while the rest of the season has been nearly 1:1. Adding to that predictability, McVay overused empty sets against the Dolphins, despite an enormous amount of pressure when in those sets. It’s one thing to rely on Jared Goff. It is an entirely bad thing to rely on Goff under pressure. He fumbled twice and threw two interceptions. And that was pretty much it for the Rams. Situationally, there is some legitimacy to the one-trick pony narrative about Sean McVay. Last Sunday’s loss certainly makes it look like Brian Flores knows exactly how to beat him, now that he has out-schemed him twice. Once as a Patriot and now as the head coach of the Dolphins.

Regardless of how true that narrative is, (McVay has a .679 winning percentage), it could become a compelling one for Rams brass. For them, it could make O’Connell look like a new shiny penny, especially if he is credited with the running game’s success. It also casts doubt on whether or not McVay can win the big games or can even put them back in the position to play in the big games. 

Is the answer to the Rams Sean McVay problem, Kevin O’Connell? Probably, but not as a play-caller. 

O’Connell has had little to no experience calling plays. O’Connell only assumed play-calling duties once Jay Gruden was fired and the Football Team didn’t fare much better with O’Connell at the helm. Not that it was entirely his fault, but nonetheless the Rams shouldn’t be so eager to hand the keys of the Ferrari off to this Ferris Bueller just yet. 

What McVay needs, and hasn’t had, is a coordinator that is also a right-hand man. While McVay is a wunderkind of an offensive mind, he is still a young head coach. Like many a young superstar, he has a tendency for poor decision making, situationally.  And Kevin O’Connell can be that right-hand man. He has already, seemingly, led McVay in the right direction with the running game and, with a few exceptions, has helped Goff’s accuracy and decision making. 

These kinds of successes out of O’Connell will earn McVay’s respect. 

McVay has long claimed that his game plan is collaborative with his coaching staff. With that and the trust O’Connell is building, his voice will carry more weight the more he is contributing to the wins. Hopefully, McVay’s two-week introspection includes a few stern talking to’s from O’Connell.