Once it was clear that the Rams were going to miss the playoffs it became clear that Sean McVay wanted to make drastic changes all over his staff. Much to the chagrin of fans, they moved on from the legendary Wade Phillips and special teams guru John Fassel (now with the Cowboys).
McVay also signaled that he was spread too thin this year and needed an actual offensive coordinator which he hadn’t had since Matt LaFleur left for Tennessee two seasons ago. It wasn’t clear if McVay would go with youth or experience? It turns out McVay believes wisdom’s a gift he’d trade for youth because he went with two young coordinators in Kevin O’Connell on offense and Brandon Staley on defense. This time McVay is the most senior voice in the room which is a dramatic turn from where he was when he took the Rams’ gig at 31. So what will these two youthful voices bring to the Rams?
Kevin O’Connell was a highly sought after coordinator. He was linked to the Eagles and Browns and had spent the past three seasons in Washington. O’Connell succeeded McVay as Jay Gruden’s OC where he had previously been the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
Prior to that, O’Connell was the quarterback’s coach in 2015 and an offensive assistant to the 49ers in 2016. It’s clear O’Connell’s presence won’t bring a radical departure to what McVay does on offense and gives him the familiar-sounding board he lacked last season. It was reported by Ian Rappaport that McVay felt he was spread too thin and on the field, it showed.
Often times last season it wasn’t clear that the offense was running the right scheme week to week. They ran a largely 12 personnel against the Seahawks in week 14 to great effect only to see it abandoned for the traditional 11 personnel to disastrous results against Dallas a week later. There wasn’t much adjustment in-game and the Rams’ once-vaunted offense looked like a shell of itself. O’Connell should make the offense more consistent and relieve offensive line coach Aaron Kromer from being the run game coordinator so he can focus exclusively on rebuilding that unit.
It still isn’t clear who will be the new running backs or quarterbacks coaches as those spots need replacements, specifically a quarterbacks coach who can salvage Jared Goff. Perhaps O’Connell fills that void as well considering he played quarterback in the NFL for four seasons before becoming a coach. Sean McVay desperately needed another voice in the room and a rising star like O’Connell is just the right person for the job.
On defense, McVay surprised everyone by going with someone with absolutely zero experience at coordinator but who at the age of 37, was a respected positions coach.
The big question surrounding Wade Phillips’ replacement was if the Rams would continue to run the 3-4 or make the switch to a 4-3. A switch to a 4-3 would present problems as the Rams don’t have the personnel on hand for such a transition. Fortunately, McVay didn’t go down that road because he hired a coach who exclusively works in the 3-4.
37-year-old Brandon Staley hasn’t served as a coordinator before but his years as a linebackers coach under Vic Fangio put him on McVay’s radar. Fangio is someone that’s given McVay headaches in the past two years. Along with Matt Patricia and later Bill Belichick, Fangio figured out how to slow the Rams down using the 6-1 defense. When Fangio got hired to be the Broncos head coach he made it a point to take Staley with him as he valued his input.
In Staley’s brief time as a coach, he’s only been an outside linebacker coach but that’s afforded him the opportunity to work with Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Bradley Chubb. The Rams have needed someone to get the most out of their linebackers.
Cory Littleton is likely going to be the one the Rams keep over Dante Fowler Jr and they need to ensure he keeps getting better. Furthermore, they have a crop of young guys that need work if the defense is to become more consistent.
It’s unclear if the Rams are going to keep Clay Matthews so having a coach who can get the most of young players is imperative. The Rams have been trying to get something out of their linebacker corps since Wade arrived and while Littleton has become a star they haven’t gotten much out of anyone else, not to mention the fact that the pass rush was lacking this season.
Hiring Brandon Staley is perhaps a gamble but given his pedigree, it’s likely a worthy one. He won’t change the defensive scheme and he might be the one to unlock the Rams’ cavalcade of young linebackers.
He gets two stars upfront in Littleton and Aaron Donald to build around with potential studs like Greg Gaines, Sabastian Joseph-Day and Obo Okoronkwo to develop while the Rams bring in some cheap vets and or draft some replacements for Michael Brockers and Dante Folwer Jr.
It’s unfortunate the Son of Bum won’t be around anymore but his dismissal was largely derived from McVay’s desire to have someone who would be better at in-game adjustments. It isn’t certain that Staley can be that guy but if he is then the defense is primed to take a leap in 2020.
There are a myriad of questions left for the Rams to answer and they still need to hire another special team coordinator but these two moves signal more drastic changes abound for a team just one year removed from the Super Bowl.
Despite all the instability, the Rams still finished with their third straight winning season and were a game and a half out of the playoffs in what was a competitive NFC. Now that the Rams have some new voices and McVay won’t be spread too thin the team can get back into championship contention.