Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is not just an avid student of the game but a fan of great coaching. That said, in the moments leading up to Super Bowl LIII, he fell slightly short of appearing teenage-girlish giddy with the privilege of facing the NFL head coach he respects and admires as much as any, if not more: Bill Belichick.
Well, Belichick and his New England Patriots (featuring Tom Brady) went on to not only beat the Rams in McVay’s biggest game to date, but thoroughly stifle McVay’s offense to the point of an embarrassment that hasn’t quite faded away approaching two years later. It was some serious schooling that Belichick did that day. He may never fully admit to enjoying it on the level that one can imagine a Hall of Famer would when taking on the latest, greatest and next best thing in coaching.
Ever slight that it appears, McVay’s ego took a hit that day. Belichick, perhaps by glorious design, humored him right off focus. By game’s end, McVay no longer wore the face of a giddy school girl but a woman scorned.
The Measuring Stick Game Sean McVay Has Been Waiting For
The Week 14 Thursday Night Football match-up features the two teams presently responsible for the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever played: 2018 Super Bowl LIII’s 13-3 New England Patriots victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Some (myself included) thought the game itself was better played than the post-game criticism warranted. Even still, it left a lot to be desired. Most experts had it tabbed as a wild shootout and Las Vegas oddsmakers saw the Patriots as 2.5-point favorites with an over/under at a whopping 57. For that reason, bettors buying the hype found it to be an even bigger disappointment.
Thursday night’s game, seen as a redo or redemption game only in the hearts of Rams fans, all but guarantees to end up more entertaining. The most interesting storyline (at least, to students of the game) just might be the one no one is talking about as yet. Specifically, the maturation of Sean McVay.
To Be the Best, You Have To Beat the Best
Sure, we all know or have heard all too often – most might even agree – that Bill Belichick is or is one of the greatest NFL head coaches of all time. He’s once again being mentioned as a consideration for 2020 Coach of the Year honors. Possible, with the magic he’s pulling off and with everything he’s had to deal with this season (so far). But for the most part, this future Hall of Famer reached his coaching summit years ago in the way of upside and potential.
McVay, on the other hand, has had such an amazing start to his head coaching career. People (most fans and media types alike) too often forget that he was in his head coaching infancy a mere three seasons ago. They’ve labeled him genius and called him boy wonder. They’ve taken all of it back only to start back up the hype and praise engine again.
People, greatness is achieved over time. Witnessing it and recognizing its character doesn’t take as long. Coach McVay is no more today that same coach who coached Super Bowl LIII’s no-show offense than Belichick’s 2020 team is compared to the team that won that game.
Defensively, Rams Key Priorities Should Be…
Limiting Cam, of course!
The game itself will no doubt begin with every bit the post-season feel. However, if the Rams coaching staff has diligently studied, at the very least, last week’s Patriots dismantling of the Los Angeles Chargers they should have Cam Newton’s number by halftime. He excelled at setting up the Chargers defense with modest drop-backs designed to buy time. Cam would quickly scan the trenches for weaknesses before shifting into drive for several yards on expected pass plays. However, Aaron Donald is present this week. There will be a lot less Newton up the middle.
The Rams linebackers will have their hands full countering numerous jet sweeps to running backs but should adjust well enough. And then there’s that Rams secondary. Newton is in for a long day full of pressures and hurries, so quite possibly sacks and interceptions, too.
Offensively, Rams Key Priorities Should Be…
Unlimiting Cam (and Malcolm and Darrell), of course!
Establishing a run game early is what usually helps the Rams most, especially in scripted plays. The possible return of running back Cam Akers (listed as limited: shoulder) is inspiring. Malcolm Brown would certainly be a change of pace in the flow of this game and would definitely add wear and tear should he get some pound opportunities in the first half. Darrell Henderson is extremely capable of making a few fantasy football players happy if Akers can’t go.
The Rams can be expected to dish out a healthy serving of Cooper Kupp. The highly-talented but underrated receiver did not play in the Super Bowl and figures to be a major factor Week 14. Rookie receiver Van Jefferson was a key factor last week versus the Arizona Cardinals and it would be ultra-wise for McVay to bombard a Belichick-coached team with all the talent at his disposal if for no other reason than future data should the two meet again down the road.
Last Word on Sean McVay and the Game Within the Game
It’s highly unlikely that either head coach would publicly exude more enthusiasm towards this Week 14 event than what’s normal for both. But make no mistake, Bill Belichick has no intentions of going gently into that good night despite the opinions of experts oddsmakers (Patriots +5, opened at 6.5). What’s more, any greatness Sean McVay will ever allow into his psyche will be held to the standard of what lies ahead and above, not what (or who) is currently rising with him with as little accomplishments.
This is Game 2 of a developing chess series that is a young upstart challenger in Bobby Fischer versus the seasoned defending champion, Boris Spassky. In Game 2, I’ve got Bobby by nine points.
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