Sean McVay Faces His First True Bout of Adversity

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

The Rams experienced their first humiliating defeat in the Sean McVay era in a 55-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Jared Goff looked truly ineffectual and many immediately asked if Les Snead regretted giving him that massive extension.

Goff threw three picks and fumbled, Todd Gurley had two touchdowns but only five carriers, and for the first time, it looked like the entire team was lost.

Entering the game the defense hadn’t given up a touchdown to a receiver and in this game they gave up four. Sean McVay described the game as a wake-up call and said he needs to be better, but for the first time in his three years as head coach, that doesn’t seem like enough. McVay rightfully had massive benefit of the doubt given how much success he’s had in his two years. Thursday night’s game in Seattle represents the first time in his career that Sean McVay has to prove he can course correct.

McVay deserves a lot of credit for coming in at the age of 31 and creating a culture that his players immediately bought into. His offense was the toast of the league and many teams scrambled to hire anyone who worked or met McVay. Even when they had rough losses to the Bears or Eagles no one doubted that McVay could solve it. When he got disemboweled by Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl, everyone attributed that in part to the drama surrounding Gurley’s knee.

To his credit, McVay was contrite in taking all the heat for the offensive no show and the ensuing months suggested that it’s consumed him. Through four games its clear he’s trying to crack the 6-1 defense that befell him in February, but the problem is that he hasn’t.

As dynamic as McVay’s offense is, it requires a consistent running threat in order to be effective. The Rams were number one in play-action in 2018 doing so on 36% of the time. The reason for this was because teams had to respect Gurley, and he still ran all over them.

Teams don’t fear that anymore because as fast and loose as the Rams want to be in regards to his knee, it’s clear he’s not the same.

Gurley’s frustration at being asked about whether he’s on a “load management” regimen is clearly wearing on him. His body language seems off, and his face during this weeks press conference said it all. It doesn’t help that McVay is perpetually coy about the situation. The gamesmanship is understandable but at the same time, he’s not doing Gurley any favors.

The good news is that for all the imbalance, they actually found a formula in week one. They ran the ball effectively against Carolina with Gurley and Malcolm Brown splitting 25 carries. Since then, McVay slowly moved away from that type of balance. He’s doubled down on pass plays and it’s unclear if he won’t or simply can’t give that kind of balance every week. On Sunday the Rams ran a total of 11 run plays which is the lowest in the McVay era.

Thursday will be a big test to see if McVay has the willingness to establish the run early and that won’t be an easy task given that the Seahawks have Jadeveon Clowney and a very good defense to deal with. The Bucs had an aggressive pass rush with Shaq Barrett being the latest rusher to make Goff’s life hell. If they can’t establish any form of a run against Seattle, then the Rams are done.

Sean McVay abandoning the run has effectively put way too much on Goff’s shoulders. Granted, he’s the franchise QB, but having him throw 68 times against the Bucs is asinine. The offense is horrifically unbalanced and that’s led to some (not all) of Goff’s turnovers. The interior of their line has less resistance than the Springfield Dam and that makes it hard on Goff who isn’t all that mobile. Whenever the team becomes too pass-heavy they sink as evidenced in their loss to Atlanta during McVay’s first year.

The other aspect of the offense that’s started to sink McVay’s machine is that defenses know that he communicates his plays to Goff until the second the comms system turns off. They disguise their coverage until that point and then Goff is in trouble. McVay needs to find a way to communicate the play quicker or a different means of getting the play in at the last possible second. It would also behoove him to try and use his backs in passing situations as that’s an underserved aspect of his offense and the more diverse he makes his plays that better off he’ll be.

Perhaps this Bucs game was a wake-up call and he will see the light. The problem is he hasn’t faced this type of adversity before. This feels like the first time that everyone is picking apart the Rams’ infrastructure and acting as though the league has solved Sean McVay. A win in Seattle won’t put all those doubts to rest but at the very least, he proves that he can adjust when his system fails.