By Clark Judge | Oct. 12, 2018
The toughest place to coach isn’t Dallas, where Jason Garrett has less job security than he does playmakers. Nor is it New York, where Todd Bowles and Pat Shurmur serve as tabloid bait now that Aaron Boone has left the building.
Nope, the toughest job is in L.A., and I’m not talking about the Chargers. I’m talking about Sean McVay and the Rams, and I know what you’re thinking.
Let me explain.
I know McVay doesn’t have spoiled divas dressed as wide receivers (see N.Y. Giants and Pittsburgh) to distract him and his team … or significant injuries that cripple his defense (Atlanta) … or an offense that just lost all hope along with its starting quarterback (see San Francisco) … or a club suffering a Super Bowl hangover (see Philadelphia).
In fact, he doesn’t have anything close. The guy’s one of two coaches who hasn’t lost this year.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a problem … if you want to call it that … because he does. Or he will. And its name is complacency.
No, the Rams aren’t there yet. The season started just over a month ago. But how do they … how can they … avoid it when they’re lapping the NFC West and coasting into the playoffs by late November?
You think I’m kidding? Look at the standings, people. With five victories, the Rams have one more than the rest of the NFC West combined. Plus, they’ve already drilled Arizona and survived Seattle (the 12th Man, not the Seahawks). So who’s out there to threaten them? Wake me up when you have the answer.
But that’s where the rubber meets the 405 for Sean McVay.
The guy doesn’t get paid the big bucks to win a division. He did that last year. His job now is to take the Rams deep into the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, to their first Super Bowl since 2001 and L.A.’s first since the Raiders went to Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984.
No sweat, right? I mean, he has one of the league’s top-rated quarterbacks in Jared Goff. Todd Gurley is a Fantasy Football blank check, scoring 44 touchdowns in 49 career games and 28 in his last 20 starts. His offensive line is one of the premier units out there. He has wide receivers galore. And his defense … okay, so it sprung some leaks lately. But how good do you have to be when the other side of the ball is putting up 30 or more every game?
And the Rams are.
So what’s the issue? Time, people. We’re five games into the season, and the Rams already are three games up on the rest of their division. Sean McVay and the Rams can’t keep doing victory laps forever. At some point, they’re going to get bored and tired and distracted and … yes, complacent.
Hey, it happens. And it will happen to L.A. unless McVay can do for his team’s psyche what he does for their playbook, and that’s to stimulate it with imagination, creativity and some sense of urgency. No, I don’t know how. I just know he must.
Maybe he dangles individual achievements in front of them except … well, except that Gurley was already last season’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year. And defensive tackle Aaron Donald? He was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year. And McVay? If you said, “Last season’s Coach of the Year,” your next order at Denny’s is on us.
Look, most teams build toward the playoffs through the season, and let’s use New England as Exhibit A. The Patriots typically suffer their most … or worst … beatings early, then get their act together for November and December when nobody is better. The last five years, they’re 31-10 during that time. The last two they’re 14-2.
Then there are others like the 2005 Steelers, the 2007 Giants, the 2010 Packers and the 2012 Ravens that make last-minute drives to the finish, frantically fighting to avoid playoff elimination and playing as if there’s no tomorrow … because there isn’t. Then playing their best football in the postseason.
So tell me: How do the Rams play their best football in January when they’re already playing it? I mean, how much better can they be than they already are?
The Patriots lapped the field in 2007, going 16-0. But then look what happened. They faded as the season wound down, barely overcoming San Diego in the AFC title game when Philip Rivers played on one leg and LaDainian Tomlinson bowed out after one series. And then they succumbed in Super Bowl XLII to a Giants team that barely won more than it lost (9-7) in the regular season.
So how does McVay avoid a happily-never-after ending? That’s up to him. The calendar says he has three to four months to figure it out. Reality says he’ll be on the clock in half that time.