The return of Sean McVay’s Rams
Sean McVay is back. In truth, he never went away. The head coach and his Los Angeles Rams had a primetime win over Tampa Bay last week before succumbing to an agonizing loss as time expired to San Francisco yesterday. The Rams surge in recent weeks seems to evoke legendary coach Bill Parcells’ quote about the NFL season not mattering until Thanksgiving week. Sean McVay has evolved a lot as a play caller in the last twelve months. He has a more effective plan, and when he has had to, he has not been afraid to deviate from it to make some big calls. Letting veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips go in the off season was one such move. Since then, McVay’s class of 2020 has a defense that generates pressures led by Aaron Donald, a shutdown cornerback in Jalen Ramsey and an offense that has trickery, pre-snap movement and varying tempos at its core. Quarterback Jared Goff is limited - however, within McVay’s system, he’s surrounded by outstanding route runners to take the pressure off him. In my preview of the Rams before the regular season, I mentioned how the Rams had built their entire organization around golden boy McVay. Pair him with a capable general manager, allow his creative offensive style to flourish and trust him to make the best decisions with conviction for the franchise. You can call the 2020 version the house McVay rebuilt. Game of the Week: Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Kansas City Chiefs dismantled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before withstanding a late comeback to win 27-24. The Chiefs were the better team by far, and avoided the kind of mistakes that plague the Buccaneers on a weekly basis. Tom Brady’s woes in primetime games continue as he threw two interceptions in the third quarter. The Buccaneers defense gave up 200+ yards and a pair of touchdowns to wide receiver Tyreek Hill in one quarter alone, reflecting the extent of Kansas City’s dominance. The Chiefs offense is a nightmare to defend. The separation that Travis Kelce and Hill get from defenders is almost unrivaled in the league. And if they happen to be covered, you can rely on quarterback Patrick Mahomes to slice the opposition up with his dashing feet. Mahomes took advantage of Tampa’s man coverage with no one over the top, which Hill profited from time and again. It is the little subtleties and nuances about Mahomes that make him so brilliant. Witness the yards he gained on the ground, luring defenders in with a decoy option outside, before faking to go. Or as readers in Europe might observe: throwing a dummy and accelerating through the space.
Mahomes finished the game with 452 yards, and had 359 in the first half, the most for the opening half in any NFL game in the past 20 years, yet I suspect it was his runs that must have been the most demoralizing for the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has some talented players on offense and defense but when it goes wrong for them, they look horribly out of sync and not a properly constructed team. Bar one fine victory over the Green Bay Packers, they have underperformed consistently against superior opposition. The Bucs look like a collection of parts built round Tom Brady: manufactured and still in search of an identity. Kansas City moves to 10-1. Even the imperious Pittsburgh Steelers defense must be wondering hard how to stop them. Highlights from Week 12
History Made: Callie Brownson became the first female position coach in the NFL, standing in at tight ends coach for her colleague at the Cleveland Browns. The Browns beat Jacksonville to move to 8-3. In a momentous weekend, Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller made college football history Saturday when she became the first woman to play in the Power 5 Conference with a kickoff against the University of Missouri.
Carson City: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson’s comments that he does not want to bench starting quarterback Carson Wentz are telling. Pederson said deciding to bench the underperforming franchise quarterback would be an admission the season is over. Sticking with him, considering his terrible performances, seems equally futile. On the bench, the Eagles have their second round draft pick, Jalan Hurts. He played high stakes football for Alabama and Oklahoma. Sure, putting him as starting quarterback means resetting Eagles offense catering to cater for more zone read, run and play options. The Eagles play Seattle on Monday night, and are still in contention in a lamentable NFC East division. The window to pull Wentz and save their season is closing.
MVP of the Week: Sheila Ford Hamp, owner of the Detroit Lions, called time on the dire era of Matt Patricia as head coach and general manager Bob Quinn. Detroit decided the fourth quarter of the Michigan game in college football, was a good time to bury the bad news. The Lions are a historically bad NFL franchise. They’re wiping the slate clean again.
Quote of the Week: “I haven’t done a good enough job of selling the protocols to them when they’re on their own. That’s on me.” Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio took responsibility for four of his quarterbacks, including starter Drew Lock, going into a meeting with a lax mask and social distancing usage, that saw all four go on COVID-19 list for the game against New Orleans. The Broncos had to turn to makeshift quarterback Kendall Hinton.
Stat of the Week: With 13 players on injured reserve, the San Francisco 49ers beat the L.A. Rams. The 49ers are COVID-19 nomads for the next three weeks at least after Santa Clara County put a three week ban on all contact sports within county lines.
NFC West: The 49ers beat the Rams, after Jared Goff turned the ball over three times. The Cardinals lost to the Patriots. Seattle plays Philadelphia tonight with a chance to extend its lead in the West.
Bradywatch: Tom Brady lost two games in less than a week, threw more interceptions and stories are starting to circulate about his relationship with head coach Bruce Arians. Tough times in Tampa.
The house McVay rebuilt In February 2019 in the Superbowl, Bill Belichick handed Sean McVay a coaching lesson. Belichick overhauled his defense to utterly confuse the Rams offense, using packages and looks he had introduced solely for the game. Afterwards McVay was stunned and blamed himself. As I’ve outlined, McVay has made some big decisions since then, to eventually give his team another shot at a Super Bowl. The Rams have been under the radar up until Thanksgiving, but suddenly they’re dangerous again, and they can mount a run if their quarterback protects the ball. The Saints and the best of the NFC should beware come January.