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Can Sean McVay fix the Rams’ offense?

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Los Angeles has a long track record of mediocre offense, but McVay could put an end to that.

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams-Rookie Minicamp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For the past five seasons, the Los Angeles Rams have fielded the youngest team in the league. That likely won’t change with this year’s roster, which currently includes just three players over the age of 30. And they redoubled their commitment to the youth movement by hiring Sean McVay at the start of the year. McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history, turned 31 in January.

McVay was hired to breathe new life into a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2003, the longest active streak in the NFL. The Rams haven’t just failed to replace the Greatest Show on Turf — their high-scoring offense that earned them two trips to the Super Bowl around the turn of the century — they haven’t replaced it with an offense worth watching at all.

A key part of the Rams’ offensive struggles has been their inability to score points. In 2003, they put up 27.9 points per game, second in the league. Since then, the Rams averaged over 20 points per game four times. That fell to a meager 17 points per game in 2015 and an embarrassing 14 points last season.

Those numbers are a cry for help. That’s where McVay comes in.

The Rams’ offensive coaches have a good track record with QBs

Despite his age, McVay has nine years of experience as a coach, seven with Washington. It was there that McVay earned a reputation as an offensive guru.

Before he was hired by the Rams, McVay spent the past three seasons as Washington’s offensive coordinator. The offense steadily improved each season. Last year, Washington finished with the NFL’s third-ranked offense, averaging 403 yards per game. It had the 12th-best scoring offense with an average of 24.8 points per game.

McVay can bring a similar approach to rebuilding the Rams’ offense, and he’ll have some familiar faces to help out.

Matt LaFleur is the new Rams offensive coordinator. He was the quarterbacks coach for four seasons in Washington, from 2010 to 2013, and spent the last two seasons in Atlanta in the same role. During that time, he worked with the likes of Robert Griffin III and Matt Ryan, two quarterbacks with entirely different skill sets who both had their best seasons working with LaFleur.

RG3 was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, and Ryan won NFL MVP honors last season. Leading the way for the league’s highest-scoring offense, Ryan completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns — all career highs.

McVay also added Greg Olson as the team’s quarterbacks coach. For the last two years, Olson served the same role with the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. Even though Bortles was a turnover machine in 2016, he had his best season as a pro under Olson in 2015, throwing for 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions.

Olson was also the Oakland Raiders’ offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014 and worked with then-rookie Derek Carr, now one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

The Rams’ new coaching staff has a strong resume with quarterbacks, McVay included. He helped groom Kirk Cousins from a backup sharing duties with RG3 to a full-fledged starter in 2015. In the last two seasons, Cousins threw for 9,083 yards, 54 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions. He also finished in the top 10 in passing yards, completion percentage, and quarterback rating.

That’s all good news for Jared Goff.

Developing Jared Goff is one of McVay’s biggest tasks

The Rams traded up to draft Goff with the No. 1 pick in 2016, but he started the season on the bench. It wasn’t until Week 11 when former coach Jeff Fisher finally handed over the starting job to Goff.

The Rams finished the year on an 0-7 run with Goff in the lineup. The rookie signal-caller completed just 54.6 percent of his passes for 1,089 yards and a staggering 5.3 yards per attempt. Not only did the California product have problems with accuracy, but turnovers plagued him too. He threw seven interceptions to just five touchdowns and also fumbled five times.

Even simple throws to the flat became a problem, like this Week 14 attempt to hit Todd Gurley that turned into a 33-yard pick-six:

The first order of business for McVay and LaFleur is to teach Goff how to take care of the ball and not force his throws. Based on the early comments from the coaching staff, they feel confident that their project can be successful.

“From what I’ve seen on tape, he’s got some of the key attributes that you always look for in a quarterback,” LaFleur said in February. “He’s a natural thrower. You never want to see your quarterback getting hit too much, but he doesn’t shy away from contact. That’s true of any good quarterback in this league.”

In March, Rams general manager Les Snead sat down with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche and laid out another task for McVay and Goff this year: understanding the offense around him.

“Because at that point, during the course of a game he should know where his protections are weak and strong, and know ‘uh oh, we’ve got a problem coming — but the offense has a built-in answer and I’ve got to get to that answer real quick.’”

In May, Snead said Goff was “exceeding expectations,” which is what you’d expect him to say. We’ll soon find out if that’s just rhetoric or if Goff is where the team needs him to be heading into his second season.

The Rams need more from Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin

The quickest way to get the Rams offense moving again is to get Todd Gurley running like the same player who won the 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. With a rare combination of size, speed, and agility, he ran for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns that year. But he looked like a different player in his sophomore season.

The offensive line couldn't create creases for him, and with no passing game to speak of, it was too easy for defenses to take away the run. As a result, Gurley totaled just 885 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 278 attempts. His average of 3.2 yards per carry was way off the 4.8 yards per rush he compiled as a rookie.

His ability to break off big plays was gone too. He only had two runs go over 20 yards last season, compared with 11 the year before.

Under McVay, Washington didn’t run the ball that much — only five teams had fewer rushing attempts last season. But thanks in part to a breakout season from undrafted rookie free agent Rob Kelley, Washington was seventh in the league with 4.5 yards per carry. And that was without a talent like Gurley.

If Gurley can command a defense’s attention again, it would help keep pressure off Goff and open things up in the passing game.

Tavon Austin, a first-round pick for the Rams in 2013, looked like he could be a dynamic receiver who can wreak havoc from anywhere on the field. But in four seasons, he’s only caught 181 passes for 1,642 yards and 12 touchdowns.

So far, the Rams have been more committed to using him on bubble screens instead of stretching the field. Austin has averaged just 9.1 yards per reception and has only corralled six passes for 197 yards and two scores on post and go routes in his career.

Still, the Rams are optimistic Austin can morph into a deep threat like DeSean Jackson was under McVay in Washington.

"He’s shown he can track the ball down the field," McVay said about Austin recently, via ESPN.

On paper, McVay’s offensive style could be a good match for Austin and Gurley. He’s a pass-happy coach who wants his receivers to go vertical and line up in bunch sets. He also likes running the ball out of shotgun formations. But if his offense in Los Angeles even has a shot of resembling the one he had in Washington, he will need both players, especially Gurley, to be productive.

Offseason additions can help turn the Rams around

Los Angeles isn’t just relying on Goff, Austin, and Gurley to step up. The team is also banking on its offseason additions to help get the offense turned around quickly.

During free agency, the Rams filled an important hole when they signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth to protect Goff’s blindside and open up holes for Gurley. The 35-year-old is a substantial upgrade over draft bust Greg Robinson, who moves to right tackle.

Other than Whitworth, the Rams didn’t make any huge moves, but they did add depth to their skill positions. With Kenny Britt going to Cleveland, they brought on receiver Robert Woods. Though he’s not a No. 1 receiver, the hope is that he can be a solid possession guy who can help them improve the league’s worst conversion rate on third downs (31.46 percent). The Rams also signed running back Lance Dunbar to be another option on third downs.

In this year’s draft, Los Angeles focused on adding more playmakers. With no first-round pick (they gave it up to get Goff last year), the Rams used a second-round selection on tight end Gerald Everett, a converted basketball player who put up big yardage in the Sun Belt conference.

It might not have seemed like a flashy pick at the time, but the small-school prospect wasn’t flying under everyone’s radar.

“A couple other teams groaned when they saw him come off the board with the 44th pick, thinking he’d slip to them later in the second round,” MMQB’s Albert Breer reported.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that McVay’s team was the one to draft Everett. Before he was promoted to Washington’s offensive coordinator job in 2014, McVay was the team’s tight ends coach for three seasons. He helped coax career-best seasons out of Logan Paulsen and Fred Davis, and he also groomed Jordan Reed. In 2013, Reed set team records in catches (45) and receiving yards (499) for a rookie tight end. Two years later in McVay’s offense, Reed set two more team records for a tight end, with 87 receptions and 952 yards.

If McVay can bring along Everett like he did Reed, that only helps the development of Goff.

The Rams followed that up by drafting slot receiver Cooper Kupp in the third round. The Eastern Washington product ran a slow 40 at the combine (4.62), but he was also the most prolific receiver in Division I history. The early reviews are positive.

“I think the first thing you know about Cooper is he’s a pro and you can see that,” McVay said after rookie minicamp. “He came in here not like most rookies do. He’s an extremely polished route-runner, got great hands, is a precise route-runner.”

Fourth-round receiver Josh Reynolds produced respectable numbers at Texas A&M’s spread offense, but he’s still raw. How Everett, Kupp, and Reynolds translate to the NFL is still the biggest question surrounding them.


Fixing this offense won’t be an easy task for a first-time coach like McVay. A lot of the players are young and need time to hone their skills. But McVay doesn’t need Goff, Gurley, and Austin to be the second coming of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and Isaac Bruce either. The Rams just have to show signs of improvement and let the defense, now under the leadership of Super Bowl-winning DC Wade Phillips, pave the way.

If McVay can get more out of the offense, the Rams could finally turn into contenders in the near future — or at the very least, finish a season with a winning record.