Hernández: After trading Jared Goff, Sean McVay has nowhere to run if Rams fail

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Dylan Hernández
·4 min read
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L.A. Rams head coach Sean McVay speaks with quarterback Jared Goff.
Rams head coach Sean McVay admits he made mistakes with quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 draft. (Harry How / Getty Images)

The video conference started with a warning from a Rams spokesman: Coach Sean McVay was prohibited by league rules from discussing any trades to which the team has agreed.

Didn’t matter.

Three questions in, McVay was talking about the importance of being more explosive on offense, of throwing downfield more.

“I think when you have to go 12- and 15-play drives consistently,” McVay said, “your margin for error is so small.”

Unsaid but implied was that Matthew Stafford throws a better deep ball than the quarterback he is replacing.

The swap of Stafford for Jared Goff and draft picks becomes official March 17.

The Rams will have the passer necessary to make the adjustments they failed to make over the last two seasons. It’s now up to McVay to translate the changes into victories.

McVay has embraced the responsibility, as he went out of his way Thursday to mention how improving the team’s big-play capabilities started with him.

If the decline of a once-potent offense resulted in the Rams trading Goff, the downward trend also forced the 35-year-old McVay to self-reflect.

In his first two seasons with the Rams, McVay’s attack was built around running back Todd Gurley.

“I thought he affected and influenced the game in the run and in the pass, and because he was such an efficient runner and because he was able to make people pay,” McVay said. “Well, then it forces and dictates different things that open up some pass windows.”

Basically, the threat of Gurley running the ball opened up the play-action game for Goff and created opportunities for him to make intermediate throws.

“Todd was a very, very big focal point,” McVay said.

The Rams' Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford meet after a game in 2018.
The Rams' Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford meet after a game in 2018. They will switch uniforms for the 2021 season. (Associated Press)

By the start of the 2019 season, however, Gurley was slowed by his surgically repaired left knee. He was cut last year before he was due $10.5 million in bonuses and signed by the Atlanta Falcons.

Asked about how the organization’s perception of Goff changed in the two years since he signed a $110-million extension, McVay replied, “I think what I would say that I’ve learned over the handful of years is things change by the day.”

McVay didn’t specify what he meant by that, but Gurley’s decline was about as significant a change with which the Rams had to deal.

Goff couldn’t adjust. McVay couldn’t, either.

“I think the unfair narrative has been that some of our decrease in production is exclusively on the quarterback,” McVay said. “That’s not true at all. Certainly, I have a big hand in that. I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and acknowledge and be able to evolve, improve and take ownership in that.”

McVay said he often second-guessed himself when watching game film.

“When you go back and you watch — and there’s a lot of layers to every single snap, every single play — it’s not exclusive to the quarterback,” he said. “There’s a lot of times when I’m looking at it, saying, ‘Man, I’ve got to do it better, or we do collectively as a staff,’ and then there’s some where we’re saying, ‘We’ve got to execute, whether it’s up front, tight ends, receivers, running backs or the quarterback.’ ”

Personnel contributed to the problems, as the Rams didn’t have a deep threat after trading receiver Brandin Cooks last year.

“There’s an element that, absolutely, it’s about the ten around him,” McVay said.

McVay wouldn’t say it, but the Rams’ decisions made evident that he believed the inability to stretch defenses was more a reflection of Goff’s shortcomings than of the receivers. If the Rams believed in Goff’s ability to throw downfield, they would have acquired a fleet-footed receiver rather than part with two more first-round draft picks to trade for a new quarterback.

McVay views the option to go deep as essential and not a luxury, probably more so in a post-Gurley offense.

“The level of competition is just so great that you have to be able to find ways to continuously create explosives, give yourself a little bit of margin for error, that it’s not always taking that many plays to produce points,” McVay said. “Any good offense, anyone that’s at the upper echelon of the league, that’s something that you can probably check the box on.”

McVay wanted more than a game manager. Stafford will provide him that, so long as the Rams give him a speedster to whom he could throw.

“I’m not going to run away from the blame,” McVay said.

Good, because he can’t.

McVay has his quarterback. Now, he just has to win a Super Bowl.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.