Li­ons stuck in the past while the Rams are fu­ture of the NFL

Rams play­off spot isn’t a sur­prise. They’ve been one of the best teams in foot­ball all year

Gulf Times Sport - - SPORT - By Shawn Wind­sor

The Los An­ge­les Rams clinched a play­off spot on Sun­day af­ter­noon at Ford Field. This isn’t a sur­prise. They’ve been one of the best teams in foot­ball all year.

I men­tion this to re­mind you that these same Rams lost 12 games two years ago. That’s right: 12.

Then fired their coach. Hired a 30-year-old of­fen­sive wizard. And led the NFL in of­fense the next sea­son.

Pre­pos­ter­ous, right?

Well, that isn’t the half of it. That same coach, Sean McVay, now 32, is the talk of the league. Or at least his mind is. And that mind has turned the Rams into a Su­per Bowl favourite.

In less than two years.

So ... it can be done. That’s the good news.

The bad news?

The Li­ons are a long way from the kind of of­fen­sive at­tack we saw Sun­day in the 30-16 loss. And the Rams weren’t at their best.

Matt Pa­tri­cia de­serves some credit here. He mixed up the back end of his de­fense and con­fused L.A.’s young quar­ter­back, Jared Goff. Goff also missed some throws he’s been mak­ing most of the year.

Still, the Li­ons’ ef­fort and scheme held the Rams al­most a touch­down un­der their scor­ing av­er­age and more than 100 yards un­der their to­tal yards av­er­age. It was an im­pres­sive plan and dis­play de­signed by a coach who ar­rived in Detroit as some­thing of a wun­derkind him­self - Pa­tri­cia is just a lit­tle older.

And yet, de­fense is not the fu­ture of the NFL. Not the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, any­way. The top teams in the league this year are also the top of­fenses. This isn’t a co­in­ci­dence.

Now, maybe league brass will tweak the rules the next few years and give de­fenses the kind of phys­i­cal free­dom they once had. But I doubt it. Sci­ence and wor­ried fam­i­lies of teenage sons should keep that from hap­pen­ing.

Which means the Li­ons have some catch­ing up to do. In per­son­nel, sure. But mostly in struc­ture and phi­los­o­phy.

While Pa­tri­cia em­ploys an ag­gres­sive and nim­ble out­look on de­fense, un­afraid to mix up his strat­egy week to week and to de­mand that his play­ers keep up, he hides be­hind an oddly con­ser­va­tive out­look on of­fense.

You can point to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Bob Cooter all you want. He isn’t build­ing any kind of game plan with­out Pa­tri­cia’s ap­proval.

Too many times Sun­day the Pa­tri­cia-Cooter tan­dem di­alled up fee­ble-minded plays when the down and dis­tance and, frankly, sea­son, called for some­thing bold.

Run on third-and-long? Toss a quick out on the same? Hand off up the mid­dle in­side the red zone when a shot at the end zone through the air was there to take?

You can quib­ble with any call when it doesn’t work, and I’m not here to do that. Partly be­cause it’s silly to as­sume a dif­fer­ent call would’ve worked in its place. The math doesn’t work like that.

And while of­fen­sive style and ap­proach can be about per­cent­ages, it’s about some­thing harder to see as well.

When the Li­ons break the hud­dle with al­most no chance of pick­ing up a first down be­cause of a play call that the fans - and the play­ers - can sniff out, maybe that par­tic­u­lar call is part of the long view, meant to keep the sta­tus quo un­til the of­fense gets the ball back on the next pos­ses­sion.

The prob­lem is it’s tough to know if that next pos­ses­sion will come. Or if it does, how the pa­ram­e­ters of the game might have changed by then.

Mean­ing some times you’ve just got to throw the damn ball. Take a chance.

This isn’t to say that the young Rams coach favours toss­ing it out around 60 times a game. But from the start of the game Sun­day, the dif­fer­ence in how each of­fense at­tacked was strik­ing.

It’s true that McVay en­joys a ros­ter of speedy - and healthy -re­ceivers and one of the best run­ning backs in foot­ball. (Hello, Todd Gur­ley.) It’s also true McVay took over a four-win team with a sec­ond-year quar­ter­back the pre­vi­ous coach didn’t think could play and ...

... well, you get the idea.

Goff didn’t have his most ef­fi­cient pass­ing day in Detroit. Yet this didn’t stop McVay from drop­ping his young quar­ter­back sev­eral steps be­hind the line of scrim­mage and let­ting it fly down the field.

It was, I don’t know, re­fresh­ing, and looked like post-mod­ern foot­ball, just as most of the best teams in the sport do when they play of­fense. It’s a re­lent­less, ae­rial as­sault, where the pass is used to set up the run, not the other way around.

The Li­ons, on the other hand, are stuck in mud, and be­fore you blame the in­juries and trade of Golden Tate, re­mem­ber that this of­fense wasn’t much bet­ter at the start of the sea­son.

Mean­while, McVay re­port­edly reached out to of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Kliff Kings­bury last week. The innovative mind be­hind the high-scor­ing teams at Texas Tech.

Kings­bury got fired by the good folks in Lub­bock, Texas, be­cause his teams didn’t win enough; at some point you have to play de­fense. Yet his name has sur­faced many times since his dis­missal be­cause of his of­fen­sive track record.

That McVay reached out to Kings­bury says plenty about the 32-year-old coach. He’s got the best, most bal­anced of­fense in the game and he’s seek­ing voices that could make it even bet­ter.

Yet the Li­ons step to the line of scrim­mage with a plan built for another gen­er­a­tion, and that gen­er­a­tion has passed.

This off­sea­son, Pa­tri­cia has a chance to bring his of­fense into the light. It’s where the game is headed.

PIC­TURE: USA TO­DAY Sports

Los An­ge­les Rams run­ning back Todd Gur­ley (left) hur­dles Detroit Li­ons free safety Glover Quin (No 27) dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter at Ford Field. Play dis­qual­i­fied due to penalty.

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