NFL:

Coach worked won­ders with Cousins and is poised to do the same with Goff

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Jar­rett Bell FOL­LOW NFL COLUM­NIST JAR­RETT BELL @Jar­ret­tBell for com­men­tary, break­ing news and anal­y­sis.

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.

MCVAY BY USA TO­DAY SPORTS

JEFF HANISCH, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Rams coach Sean McVay, right, who had been of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Wash­ing­ton, will face his for­mer team on Sun­day.

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