ATLANTA – Vic’s right. I do love Sean McVay.
(Even if, at 33 years old, he’s younger than me.)
He is new. He is fresh. He’s got the photographic memory. He’s got the dynamic personality and good looks. OK, we should probably stop there.
All of that is secondary to what truly matters. That would be McVay’s genius as an offensive playcaller. I don’t use that label lightly, but it fits here.
There’s a reason teams are scrambling to hire their own version of McVay as head coach. This offseason, his former offensive coordinator (Matt LaFleur) and current quarterbacks coach (Zac Taylor) have landed head-coaching jobs. That’s right, at 33 McVay has his own coaching tree. That’s because the NFL is all about offense at the moment, and there is no better offensive mind working right now. McVay is doing things with the Rams that are revolutionary in the slow-to-change world of the NFL.
Writing for the Undefeated this week, former NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth laid out why the genius label fits McVay. The Rams favor putting wide receivers in tight formations – a lot. Foxworth found that the Rams’ offensive formations are less than 20 yards wide at the snap 60 percent of the time. No other team in the league did that more than 40 percent of the time.
The Rams also took hurry-up offense to the next level in 2018. Los Angeles snapped the ball within five seconds of the referee placing it 127 times this year, while Foxworth found most other teams did so less than 40 times.
The Rams operate out of “11” personnel – meaning one running back and one tight end – more than any team. They use motion constantly.
But we don’t have to go too far into the football weeds to see McVay’s impact.
Before McVay arrived, quarterback Jared Goff was viewed as a potential first-round bust. Now, at just 24 years old, he’s got one of the brightest futures in the NFL. That’s because of who he plays for.
McVay had Goff use play-action 35 percent of the time this season, far more than any other starting quarterback. When he does that, Goff’s passer rating is 20 points higher. Watching Los Angeles, it appears their wide receivers are open all the time. Guess why that is?
McVay has exploited rules changes that limit hits against defenseless receivers. He’s used the middle of the field, which is usually off-limits. In short, he does things nobody else thinks to do.
That’s not to say Sunday will be a slam dunk for the Rams. There is a reason Bill Belichick has led the Patriots to nine Super Bowls. He has built a compelling case to be considered the greatest coach of all time, but the door closes one day, even for legends. Belichick is 66 now, double McVay’s age. The end has to be near.
This is not a good matchup for New England. Pressuring Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has always been best way to defend him, and the Rams have the best interior pass rusher in the NFL in Aaron Donald. On defense, New England plays more man coverage than any other team. Guess what the Rams' tight formations are best at beating? You got it – man coverage.
Belichick's calling card on defense is taking away an opposing team's top weapon. That presents a problem against the Rams. Who is their top weapon?
Most people would have answered running back Todd Gurley at the beginning of the season, when he was an MVP candidate. But Gurley hasn’t looked the same since missing the final two games of the regular season with soreness in his left knee.
No worries, though. The Rams simply picked C.J. Anderson up off the scrap heap and have watched him pile up 466 rushing yards in four games. When Cooper Kupp went down earlier this year, Josh Reynolds simply took over.
In the NFC Championship Game against the Saints, running room wasn’t there, so McVay put the game in Goff’s hands. The quarterback responded by throwing for 297 yards. Old friend Robert Woods has transformed from a capable No. 2 receiver to the Bills to a dynamic, 1,000-yard receiver under McVay's guidance.
With his team needing a spark against the Saints, McVay gave the green light to a fake punt. Naturally, it worked. Everything he’s touched this season has turned to gold.
"You're going to get to see that strategy play out in the X's and O's in this Super Bowl," former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner said. "Sean's going to give you little wrinkles. Guys are going to be motioning and moving and he's going to make everything look the same. You're going to have to try and decipher it."
So those are the tactical reasons the Rams will win. When that happens, it's going to be a good thing for the game. Football is supposed to be fun, and nobody looks like they're having more of it than McVay. Conversely, nobody looks like they're having less of it than Belichick.
It's unlikely we will see anything like the Patriots' dynasty ever again, but it's time for it to end.
Which means Sean McVay’s time is now.