Sean McVay and the Rams have hit the Bone Thugs-N Harmony portion of their season because they’re at the crossroads. Last Sunday was their second chance to win a playoff spot (and have a shot at the division) but they couldn’t even score a single touchdown. It was another game in which the Rams absolutely dominated on defense but the offense sputtered before careening off the road into a ditch so it was all for naught.
The Rams are now on their first two-game losing streak of the season and their backs are against the wall. Sunday is basically a loser leaves town match against the Cardinals, although a Bears loss would legally put the Rams into the playoffs regardless but barely. To make the hole that much deeper they’re playing without Jared Goff, Cam Akers (questionable), Cooper Kupp, Darrell Henderson, and Andrew Whitworth. That’s a tough ask even against a Cards team that has a wounded Kyler Murray playing or possibly something called a Chris Streveler.
McVay has allowed the Rams to have dumb losses that put them in this situation despite having a team with all the tools to be a Super Bowl contender, and a loss Sunday, even if it still resulted in a playoff birth, would signal something needs to change.
It would be unfair to pin this hole entirely on McVay, but he should be able to beat a lesser Cards team with John Wolford. In fact, not having Goff in the game presents him an opportunity to do all the things he clearly wants to do but CAN’T with Goff. He can still run multiple tight end packages and yes having Kupp isn’t ideal, but it gives him a chance to use rookie Van Jefferson a lot more and Jefferson has a lot of the same skill sets as Kupp.
Xavier Jones has received plaudits from the Rams’ defense including from Aaron Donald which is Nic Cage level high praise. McVay has the tools to pull out a win and see what happens against either the Packers, Saints, or Seahawks.
This game has deeper implications because if Wolford, AKA “The Wolf of Ball Street,” can perform to the level of or even exceed Jared Goff then the Rams will find themselves in the same situation the Eagles find themselves in with Carson Wentz. Fans’ frustrations with Goff have crested this season after he essentially cost them games against the Niners, Jets, and now Seattle. He hasn’t looked good for most of the year and the excuses he had last year (tattered OL, no running game) are no longer available. The running game and line are much better than they were a year ago and Goff’s play hasn’t returned to its 2018 highs. McVay’s play-calling signals that he doesn’t trust Goff to make deep throws anymore. Sure, some ardent Goff defenders sight that after trading Brandin Cooks for the Van Jefferson pick cost the Rams, losing a reliable burner.
True, the Rams don’t have a traditional deep threat but that doesn’t erase the fact that he’s struggled mightily to hit his other awesome weapons deep when it matters most. His turnovers have gone up and every time he drops back to pass fans cringe like they’re watching someone bomb at an open mic night. He’s clearly not progressed since 2018 and unfortunately for him, the defenses have. They know what kinds of throws he can make and they know to wait around for him to try and force a play into existence because that’s when the picks happen. He still holds onto the ball too long, and while he can go into giraffe mode, he isn’t really that mobile.
Wolford on the other hand is. His skill set is very different from Goff’s and he’s been asked to act as the mobile QBs they’d face, be it, Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray. If he can roll out the way McVay clearly wants to do with his offense then it could look dicier for Goff when he returns.
That’s not to say McVay can simply give Les Snead the cue to drive Goff to the Angeles Crest and let him run free because his contract is, to paraphrase attorney Lionel Hutz, a contract that is UNTRADEABLE. Not even the Eagles would think about trading Wentz for Goff (maybe after a few drinks but they’d still not do it) and for the fans huffing varnish there is no way they’re trading for Deshaun Watson. Even Bill O’Brien wouldn’t do that and he’s traded a Danish for a doorstop.
The Rams are stuck with Goff for at least two more years and after that, it’ll still sting financially to cut him but not as much. They’re also not likely to draft a QB with their second-round pick but they’ll likely add a veteran that isn’t Blake Bortles.
Again, if Wolford is the mini Doug Flutie that McVay declared him to be then they can at least bench Goff or just do what the Eagles are doing and bench him while saying he’s hurt. Not an ideal locker room situation but that’s what the Rams get for extending him too early.
McVay has done all he can for Goff, and the offense appears hamstrung by the giraffe hitting his head on his increasingly lower ceiling. Now, McVay isn’t blameless here as his play-calling choices, limited as they may be, are also becoming predictable. Every fan knew that he’d do a long screen to Malcolm Brown on third-down, they all knew they wouldn’t try to throw it in the red-zone, and other such plays that stymie the Rams even when it’s a good Goff drive. He has a chance to show he can be more creative than that and if not, perhaps he needs to empower offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell more.
The Rams are up against it and it’s by their own design. They’ve allowed themselves to fall into this hole and even if they back into the playoffs (Go Pack Go) it’s clear that this team has underachieved thus far. The highs of the Bucs, Pats, and first Seahawks win are shadowed by the lows of the Jets, Dolphins, and Niners losses. Sunday is a chance to re-establish who they are and what they can be even without some of their biggest pieces on offense. If they make it to the playoffs they’ll have more horses, but mentally they need to prove they can bring it every week and that starts with McVay. He knows it, he’s acknowledged it, and now he needs to show it.
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