We’re far beyond asking if Sean McVay is a great coach. He is. We all know that.
But this is a new challenge. Amazingly enough, this is the first time McVay has ever lost back-to-back regular-season games. It took almost two full seasons.
In the late afternoon of Dec. 9, before the Rams and Bears kicked off in Chicago, the Rams were the best team in football. It wasn’t much of a debate. They were 11-1, and a 15-1 season seemed possible. That changed fast.
It’s not just that the Rams have lost two straight, likely giving up a shot at the NFC’s No. 1 seed. It’s that they were dominated each time. The Bears blasted the Rams. That was excusable; the Bears are a very good team and it was in Chicago. But losing at home to an Eagles team that was 6-7 and turning to backup quarterback Nick Foles? Don’t let the Rams’ late rally fool you. The Eagles were clearly the better team on Sunday night, although they tried to blow it at the end.
Back to McVay. He has to figure out why his fantastic Rams team, especially on offense, suddenly looks average. If he’s as great as we all think, he’ll make the adjustments.
Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky theorized that the Lions actually exposed some things in the Rams offense a few weeks ago. Orlovsky tweeted that the Lions didn’t sell out to stop the run, and therefore didn’t open up lanes for the Rams to gash them with play-action passes. Then the Bears and Eagles did the same, effectively taking away the Rams’ strong play-action game. Bucky Brooks of NFL Media noted that the Rams are using play-action passes far less frequently the past two weeks. For most of Sunday night’s game the Eagles were intent on taking away deep passes, forcing the Rams to settle for underneath throws.
“Teams are doing different things to us,” quarterback Jared Goff said, according to Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire. “Yeah, teams are trying out different things. We just need to find a way to respond.”
The entire offense has gone in a funk, which happens when opponents take away one of your biggest strengths. Goff’s numbers tell the whole story. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL through 11 games. Over the past three he has been one of the league’s worst: 726 yards (a lot of which came late against the Eagles after the Rams dug a big hole), one touchdown and seven interceptions. He has a miserable 51.3 rating.
The Rams’ season is far from over. Even if they don’t catch the Saints for the top seed in the NFC, they are capable of winning in New Orleans. Back there in Week 9, they trailed 38-35 with about four minutes left and had the Saints in a third-and-7, then Drew Brees hit Michael Thomas for a 72-yard score. The Rams were right there, rallying after a bad start in that game. And there’s a long list of teams that have stumbled late in the regular season and still won a Super Bowl. It’s not like the Rams don’t have the talent to join that group.
McVay is the reason they should believe this two-week stretch is an aberration. We’ve spent a year or more praising McVay, talking in grandiose ways about how amazing he is and how he is changing the game. Now, saddled with fixing a losing streak for the first time, we should see McVay’s true value.
Here are the power rankings after Week 15 of the NFL season:
32. Arizona Cardinals (3-11, Last Week: 32)
The Green Bay win seems like a distant memory after two horrid performances. Is head coach Steve Wilks’ job safe? The Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers believes it is a “foregone conclusion” that Wilks will be fired. Anytime a coach goes one-and-done, it’s an organizational failure. It would be justifiable though, given how awful the Cardinals have looked this season. What a mess in Arizona.
31. Oakland Raiders (3-11, LW: 31)
Did you know Derek Carr hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 7? Over Carr’s past nine games: 194-of-293, 2,056 yards, 12 touchdowns, no interceptions, 100.1 rating. Nobody is claiming he’s having a great season, but considering his supporting cast (especially after the Raiders traded Amari Cooper), it’s not bad. At very least, it shouldn’t be a priority anymore for the Raiders to dump Carr, as was being said two months ago.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10, LW: 29)
Doug Marrone’s disappointment tour continued with a home loss to the Redskins, who were starting a quarterback (Josh Johnson) that was signed on Dec. 5 and before that hadn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2011. I’ve said a few times Marrone is the second-worst NFL coach of this season behind Hue Jackson. On Sunday, Marrone probably passed Jackson as the worst coach of this season.
29. San Francisco 49ers (4-10, LW: 30)
Nick Mullens had some bumpy games, but he has played well overall. He had 275 yards and a touchdown against a Seahawks defense that almost shut out the Vikings last week. He’s been good enough that the 49ers should feel OK if Jimmy Garoppolo’s ACL recovery goes slow and Mullens has to start a game or two next season, or perhaps San Francisco can find a trade partner.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (6-8, LW: 28)
Joe Mixon had 129 yards and two touchdowns for an offense that has no other weapon to worry about. Part of that is the Raiders defense stinks, but Mixon has been fantastic this season. He is fourth in the NFL with 995 rushing yards. Everyone knew what kind of a prospect he was in last year’s draft (we all know by now why he slipped) and that’s coming to fruition.
27. New York Jets (4-10, LW: 24)
When you examine Sam Darnold’s rookie year, it’s fair to look at his best moments and be excited about the future. His best games have been quite promising. He looked good on Saturday against a tough Texans defense, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns. There’s still work to do, but the Jets should feel good they made the right pick.
26. New York Giants (5-9, LW: 22)
On Sunday morning, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said Eli Manning was “playing his way onto the roster in 2019.” Then the Giants got shut out at home by the Titans. But what else are the Giants going to do? They put themselves in this corner by passing on a quarterback with the second overall pick.
25. Detroit Lions (5-9, LW: 23)
How much of this miserable season is on Matthew Stafford? He doesn’t have a ton to throw to after the Lions traded Golden Tate, cut Eric Ebron and lost Marvin Jones to a season-ending injury. And the coaching staff appears in over its head (though they also deserve credit for the Rams strategical tidbit mentioned above). But Stafford has zero 300-yard games since October. His passer rating is his worst mark since 2014. His yards per attempt hasn’t been this bad since 2012. Over a full season he has never thrown for less than 266.1 yards per game; he’s at 242.5 this year. His touchdowns are down and his interceptions are up. Put blame on the coaches and Stafford’s bad supporting cast, but he has to be better than this.
24. Atlanta Falcons (5-9, LW: 27)
I’ve said this in this space before but it needs to be repeated: It’s almost impossible to have a quarterback as productive as Matt Ryan this season and still have a terrible record. Ryan is on pace for 4,922 yards, 34 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 107.6 passer rating. No quarterback in NFL history, with a minimum of four starts, has ever posted a 105 rating on a losing team.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9, LW: 21)
Jameis Winston’s past two games have been brutal: 31-of-63, 370 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, 64.9 passer rating. Good luck if you’re the Buccaneers trying to figure out what to do about his future.
22. Green Bay Packers (5-8-1, LW: 20)
Longtime Packers reporter Tom Silverstein of PackersNews.com laid out a harsh but fair assessment of Aaron Rodgers‘ season. He went through many of the missed throws Rodgers has had, including a few more against the Bears. Silverstein wrote: “The degree to which Rodgers’ invincibility has shrunk this season has to make any coaching candidate cringe when thinking about taking this job.” No matter how much blame you want to put on Rodgers for this lost Packers season, it’s a worthwhile read from someone who has covered all of Rodgers’ career.
21. Denver Broncos (6-8, LW: 19)
The report that John Elway wanted to bring back Mike Shanahan to coach the Broncos a year ago, only for that to be nixed by CEO Joe Ellis … first, that story is bonkers. Second, does Elway really think hiring 66-year-old Shanahan, who has won one playoff game since the 1998 season, is really the answer? It’s amazing how quickly Elway’s reputation as a GM has slipped, and in such a short time.
20. Washington Redskins (7-7, LW: 26)
Let’s take a second and acknowledge how awesome the Josh Johnson story is. He was drafted in 2008, is 32 years old and was a free agent until being signed on Dec. 5. He had never been a starting quarterback for an NFL win before Sunday. “I know every opportunity I get could be my last one, that’s just the reality of my situation,” Johnson said, according to NBC Sports Washington. “I just want to leave it all out on the field. I owe this game that much because I love it that much.”
19. Buffalo Bills (5-9, LW: 25)
How many of the Bills who had an offensive touch on Sunday have you heard of? We’ll spot you Josh Allen, and here are the others: Keith Ford, Marcus Murphy, Patrick DiMarco, Ray-Ray McCloud, Isaiah McKenzie, Robert Foster, Jason Croom, Zay Jones. And that team beat Detroit. That probably says a ton about Matt Patricia’s Lions right now, but again, the Bills deserve credit for how they’ve battled all season.
18. Carolina Panthers (6-8, LW: 18)
The Panthers need to shut Cam Newton down for the season. His shoulder doesn’t look anywhere near right. He’s tried to fight through it, and credit to him for that, but the Panthers’ season is over and Newton’s should be too.
17. Miami Dolphins (7-7, LW: 14)
Kenyan Drake had one carry in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings. Last year, when head coach Adam Gase was forced to use Drake as a lead back, Drake had 444 rushing yards on a 4.9-yard average, with 150 more receiving yards, in five games. When asked why Drake got one carry, Gase said, “there were some times we tried to dial stuff up to Kenyan but allowed a sack or pressure and couldn’t get the ball to him.” You’ve read complaints about Drake’s usage all season in this space, but it’s still as stupefying as ever.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7, LW: 17)
That was a monster win for the Eagles on Sunday night. I’m not sure Nick Foles is ready to lead the Eagles to the playoffs, but it’s not impossible. All of a sudden the Eagles’ home game against the Texans next Sunday is really interesting.
15. Cleveland Browns (6-7-1, LW: 15)
Let’s just fast forward to the Dec. 31 news conference when GM John Dorsey is explaining how the Browns responded to Gregg Williams and that’s why he’s getting the full-time job, even though for the first time in forever the Browns will be the most attractive head-coaching opening in the league.
14. Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1, LW: 16)
We’ll see if the Vikings keep playing this well on offense after firing coordinator John DeFilippo or if Sunday was one of those one-game bounces. But if the Vikings play a few more games on offense like Sunday, that has to reflect poorly on DeFilippo. Everyone seems to love him but he has no track record of success as a coordinator. If the shine is off of him, that makes a fairly thin group of head-coaching candidates even thinner (and there are going to be a lot of openings).
13. Indianapolis Colts (8-6, LW: 13)
It’s funny, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was a Josh McDaniels hire. He stayed on when McDaniels double-crossed the Colts. That was a gift. Eberflus has done an outstanding job, including Sunday’s shutout of the Cowboys. Some players have emerged for the Colts and that has helped, but it’s still a unit playing way above its talent level. Give Eberflus credit for that.
12. Tennessee Titans (8-6, LW: 12)
The most interesting race left, aside from the AFC West, might be for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Titans, Colts and Ravens are tied at 8-6. The Titans and Colts play Week 17, and the Ravens aren’t out of the AFC North race either. The Ravens have tiebreaker edges, because they beat the Titans and have a better conference record than the Colts. A few teams are going to be rooting for the Chargers to beat the Ravens next Saturday night.
11. Seattle Seahawks (8-6, LW: 10)
A loss to the 49ers really doesn’t hurt the Seahawks that much, even though they face the Chiefs this week. Seattle finishes against the Cardinals and if they lose that game, they don’t deserve to make the playoffs anyway. It was just one of those bad games for Seattle.
10. Baltimore Ravens (8-6, LW: 11)
The implications of the Ravens-Chargers game on Saturday seem clear for the Ravens. With a win, the Ravens are in incredible shape to make the playoffs (though a finale against the Browns is looking tougher each week). With a loss to the Chargers, Baltimore is going to need a ton of help. Considering the Chargers are still in the mix for the AFC West, and the difference between first and second place in that division is a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 5 seed, Saturday night should seem like a playoff game.
9. Dallas Cowboys (8-6, LW: 8)
The Cowboys are in a really weird spot. They still are in control of the NFC East. They hold tiebreakers over the Eagles and Redskins, with a one-game lead over both. They also have no shot at a first-round bye. Realistically, after beating the Eagles in Week 14, they had three weeks of practically meaningless football. It’s not a shock they were flat against the Colts. There’s no need for alarm.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1, LW: 9)
It’s hard to say Sunday was a season-saving win over the Patriots, though that might be accurate. The Steelers’ playoff hopes at 7-6-1 heading into a game at New Orleans would have been bleak. At 8-5-1, a win over the Saints would be nice but there are still many ways into the playoffs if they lose.
7. New England Patriots (9-5, LW: 6)
The Patriots are a miserable 3-5 on the road this season. And after losing a grip on the No. 2 seed, they’re looking at possibly having to win at Houston and at Kansas City (or the L.A. Chargers) to make another Super Bowl. We’ve seen the Patriots turn things around before, but the road is a lot tougher this season.
6. Houston Texans (10-4, LW: 7)
The Patriots’ loss is a big one for the Texans. They play at the Eagles on Sunday. If they win that, all that stands between them and a first-round playoff bye is a home game against the Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the NFL.
5. Chicago Bears (10-4, LW: 5)
The Bears might run the NFC North for a while. There’s no reason to believe the Packers or Vikings will be better than them next season (we don’t even need to mention the Lions). One highlight from Sunday’s game: That touchdown pass Mitchell Trubisky made to Trey Burton was a big-time throw.
4. Los Angeles Rams (11-3, LW: 2)
I’m not going to dump the Rams way down the list, but the last two weeks don’t look very good. And obviously, if Todd Gurley’s knee injury is worse than it appears, this becomes a different team.
3. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3, LW: 4)
The Chargers went on the road without Melvin Gordon and mostly without Keenan Allen and beat the team with the best record in the AFC. I believe right now this is the best team in the AFC. However …
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3, LW: 3)
I’m still giving the Chiefs the top AFC spot, and here’s why: They still have the inside track to the No. 1 seed. I think they’ll win at Seattle next week and destroy the Raiders in Week 17. They’d be the top seed if they win out, the Chargers would be the fifth seed and possibly have to beat the Steelers and Texans on the road to even get an AFC championship game at the Chiefs. The Chargers are in that spot because they lost to the Broncos at home, a loss that isn’t aging well and cost them the tiebreaker against Kansas City. And don’t forget that the Chiefs won at the Chargers too.
1. New Orleans Saints (12-2, LW: 1)
I’m not quite sure what has happened to the Saints offense, but all that really mattered on Monday night was getting the win. Now they have two home games, and need to win just one, for the all-important No. 1 seed in the NFC.
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