Coach worked wonders with Cousins and is poised to do the same with Goff
Columnist Jarrett Bell says Sean McVay’s impact with the Rams will largely hinge on quarterback Jared Goff
When Andrew Whitworth made the cross-country free agent move last spring to join the Los Angeles Rams, the veteran left tackle had a hunch that he’d joined an offense poised to go places with its new hotshot coach, Sean McVay.
Then Whitworth talked to Washington’s Kirk Cousins. That conversation was something of a clincher.
Cousins’ stock had soared from fourth-round pick to the first quarterback in NFL history to play under the franchise tag in consecutive seasons, an ascent that had McVay’s fingerprints are all over it.
“You could just tell on Kirk’s face, the fact that Sean was gone, how upset he seemed,” Whitworth told USA TODAY Sports during training camp. “That let me know everything I needed to know about Sean. Kirk was that upset about losing a guy.
“To me, that set off some lights.”
Cousins chuckled when Whitworth’s testimony was relayed, recalling that chat with Whitworth at the players union’s annual meetings in Phoenix.
“I think the world of Sean and would give a ringing endorsement to anyone who asks,” Cousins said.
McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history at 31, must again prove his worth as a quarterback guru with Jared Goff. The Rams mortgaged a bundle in trading up to draft the young passer No. 1 overall last year, only to see the Cal product flounder inside the NFL’s worst offense.
It’s striking that Cousins heads into Sunday’s matchup against the Rams coming off a sour, three-turnover performance during a Washington loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that marked his first game without McVay, who was busy overseeing the best performance of Goff ’s young career (72.4% completion rate, 306 passing yards and touchdown without a turnover) in a 46-9 romp over the Indianapolis Colts.
There are many variables that dictate whether a young quarterback will succeed. In Goff ’s case, the Rams have significantly upgraded his supporting cast. Whitworth, after 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, signed a three-year, $33.75 million deal to anchor the offensive line. Los Angeles signed smooth wideout Robert Woods, a Southern Cal product, then traded for his former Buffalo Bills teammate, Sammy Watkins, a dynamic playmaker when healthy. The draft netted an intriguing slot receiver in the third round, Cooper Kupp, who became Division I’s all-time leading receiver at Eastern Washington. Even the defense should be better now that coordinator Wade Phillips is calling the shots.
But it’s now up to Goff and McVay, inextricably joined at the hip, to live up to the expectations that landed them in L.A. The Rams hired McVay, who sprung a surprise during his interview process and asked to visit with Goff (he just so happened to be working out in Southern California away from team headquarters) largely because of his work with Cousins in three years as Washington’s coordinator.
“We want to become a precise offense,” McVay told USA TODAY Sports during training camp. “All of these plays are designed to come out in a special timing and rhythm. The great ones have the ability to progress within the pocket and then also know how to extend the play if the pass rush allows.”
In addition to poise, McVay said Goff needed to hone his drop-back concepts as he continues the transition of playing under center. Another key: “Reading with his feet,” McVay said.
Play-calling will help, as McVay’s system is stocked with rhythmic play-action passes. So far, so good.
Last season, with Rob Boras running the offense under thencoach Jeff Fisher, an uncomfortable Goff hardly looked like the top player in the draft. In seven games, he completed 54.6% of his passes, with 5-to-7 touchdownto-interception ratio factoring into an abysmal 63.6 passer rating.
It helped Goff that Phillips’ defense produced two pick-sixes Sunday, allowing him to play from ahead. The Rams largely managed to stay out of third-andlong situations, and Goff sprayed the ball to eight targets. McVay did a splendid job of keeping the Colts off balance with his assortment of calls, including jet sweeps, play fakes and bootlegs.
“You’ve got to have a guy that can handle calling all those plays and formations,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said, “but then you have to execute it, and Jared did a good job.”
Cousins knows what that’s like. “He’s not just spinning a Rolodex and picking a play out at random,” Cousins said of McVay. “There’s an intention and a mastery of football that enables him to design those plays.”
All of which fuels quite the intriguing subplot for Sunday.
Rams coach Sean McVay, right, who had been offensive coordinator in Washington, will face his former team on Sunday.