Jared Goff

Rams coach Sean McVay reveals secrets to coaching success

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ENCINO, Calif. — Sean McVay said he’d be leaving his home for work Saturday at 4:15 a.m., Insane Standard Time. But there he was, on Coughlin Time, at 4:10, opening his Range Rover driver-side door in this silent neighborhood in the hills north of Los Angeles.

“I felt bad about you waiting out here,” said McVay, perky even two hours before dawn.

Truth is, I had no idea if he’d be on time or a half-hour early for our date, a ride to his office on the last day of Super Bowl LIII preparation at the Rams’ home base. So I got to his place at 3:30 and waited. McVay, about to be the youngest coach in Super Bowl history (he turned 33 last Thursday), is so excited about his job, it’s hard for him to sleep. On this night, he got about four-and-a-half hours. “I gotta do better,” he said. “Big week coming up.”

For the Rams, Super Bowl week is a stunning culmination of the franchise turnaround executed by the energetic McVay. But it’s no time for McVay, exactly half Bill Belichick’s age, to turn all doe-eyed about the craziness of what he and the Rams (26-9 since he got the big gig) have done. Though he is gee-whiz about it all, and you’ll hear that, plenty, in the next few minutes, you could feel a more chip-on-his-shoulder McVay when I asked him, “How do you think you guys will play next week?”

“If we continue to prepare like we have, I think we’ll play well,” he said. “Our guys have a nice confidence and respect for the Patriots. But I don’t think for a second this game will be too big for our team. I know that we don’t have a lot of the experience New England has, and I respect that. But we’re confident. The Patriots are a great team but I think we’re pretty good too.”

There’s an allegorical story that’s important to why McVay is here. It has to do with running a bit more of a democracy than some old-time coaches would be comfortable. In high school, McVay was an option quarterback at Brookhaven (Ga.) Marist School, and, as a senior in 2003, his team trailed a defensively superior team, Shaw High, 17-12, in the fourth quarter of a state quarterfinal game. Marist had the ball at the Shaw 5-yard line. Third-and-goal. Timeout. McVay went to the sidelines. Coaches wanted to call a power-run to the right. McVay’s suggestion of a naked bootleg won.

“That’s kind of a blur right now,” McVay said, eyes straight ahead on the 101. “This was one of the best defenses in the state—they’d dominated everybody they had played. And we ran a couple plays where you could feel they were pursuing hard off their edges. We just kinda had an intuition that if we just sold out to the power run … we were a power wishbone team … if I kept that ball and just hid it right on my stomach and booted it wide left, there was a chance we’d walk in. So we called it. We called ‘Fake 32 Wham Naked Left.’ Our backs did such a good job selling [the fake] that the Shaw guys tackled everybody and they were celebrating like they’d won the game right there when I was running into the opposite end of the end zone. We won 18-17.”

Moral of the story?

“Listen to players,” McVay said. “Players have the best feel for the game. Especially guys who have the right insight and the right understanding of what’s going on. Giving them that ownership, they’re likely to make it work.

“Players get an intricate feel being out there, more than I have as a coach on the sideline. There are nuances of the game that I can’t feel on the sideline.”

“Got an example? Maybe something Jared Goff felt last week in New Orleans?” I asked.

“Hundred percent,” McVay said. “So this was arguably one of Jared’s best throws, where he throws the deep out to Cooks in the third quarter.”

First down Rams, at their 37, 7:06 left in the third quarter. Saints 20, Rams 10. Goff, at the line, stepped back from center. He gathered himself, and for about two seconds, he starred at the ground like he was concentrating, maybe trying to hear something. He was trying to hear, in fact … the voice of his coach. With 21 seconds left on the play clock before coach-to-quarterback communication shut off at 15 seconds, McVay called the “Blaze Out” play. Goff yelled something and signaled to the lone receiver to the left, Cooks. Three receivers in a bunch right next to the right tackle—wideouts Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds, and tight end Gerald Everett—leaned in to get the new call.

As McVay explained: “Jared had suggested that because he felt like some of the underneath zoning defenders were making him feel like, ‘I gotta really layer this ball, and I’d rather be able to drive it to Brandin.’ Usually, Brandin runs an in-breaking route there, but I could tell from talking to Jared, he’d feel a lot better throwing an out-route to the sideline.“

Translation: In this one-by-three-receiver formation, instead of Goff aiming to throw to one of the three men in the bunch with more traffic around them, and having to “layer” the ball, or throw it with touch between the linebackers and the safeties, he preferred to throw it against the Saints’ best cover player, Marshon Lattimore, because there’d likely be no cover help on that side. Cooks, running what the Rams called a “Blaze Out,” would win that battle. If he ran inside, linebacker A.J. Klein would be there creating traffic, and Goff would have to “layer” the ball over him and under Lattimore. Not optimal.

The ball traveled with heat, and 24 yards in the air, straight to Cooks on the sideline at the Saints’ 49-yard line. Gain of 14. Perfect throw, in tight coverage. “Best throw he’s made all day,” Troy Aikman said on TV.

“So,” McVay said, “the drive before he had asked me, Can we throw the Blaze Out? I said, ‘Hey, if you feel comfortable with it, your ownership. You’re more likely to make it work.’

“That’s a level of trust right there. If he hadn’t said he wanted to throw the Blaze Out, I wouldn’t have called it.”

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How Nick Foles turned back the clock in Eagles’ win vs. Rams

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Usually, Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles takes a fairly long nap at the team hotel before road night games. It’s a good way to kill time and be fresh so he can help the starter, Carson Wentz, on the sidelines during games.

But Sunday, even in the comfy Omni Los Angeles Hotel, with hours to kill before the 1:50 p.m. team bus to the Coliseum, Foles was buzzing. He read the Bible, which he does every morning; on the road he uses a Bible app on his phone. He read devotionals. “I knew there’d be adversity today, so I read what I thought would help me,” Foles said. He journaled on his iPad, a hobby that helps him feel connected to his family when he’s away. He Facetimed with wife Tori and baby daughter Lily. “And Henry,” Foles added. That’s the family golden doodle, who reportedly is a good boy.

“Today I couldn’t nap,” Foles said from the Eagles’ locker room in Los Angeles late Sunday night. “I tried, but I had too much on my mind. Too many butterflies.”

That would give Foles a lot in common with the city of Philadelphia. Earlier in the week, Wentz, the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, got struck down for the second year in a row. Last year, it was a knee injury in the Coliseum against the Rams—exactly 53 weeks removed from this game—that kayoed Wentz. This year, reports say Wentz has a fractured vertebrae in his back; it’s more likely than not Wentz will be out for the season. Coming off a Super Bowl run last year, nothing has come easy for the Eagles, including a well-played and fluky tipped ball that handed the Cowboys a heartbreaking overtime win over Philadelphia a week ago. That left the Eagles 6-7 and, particularly with the news of the Wentz injury, dead for 2018.

Right?

But here came Foles, and for much of the evening, it felt like last January again. First eight Philadelphia drives of the night: field goal, field goal, failed fourth-down conversion, touchdown, punt, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. After those eight drives, behind the steady hand of Foles and the unsteady hands and feet of the Rams, the Eagles led 30-13. When it was over, the Eagles, 13-point dogs (and I don’t mean Henry) had a 30-23 victory over the stumbling Rams, losers of two straight for the first time in the 31-game Sean McVay Era of good fun.

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Just as everything Doug Pederson touched turned to touchdowns last year, everything this franchise has touched has turned to BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO by its infamous fandom this year. Foles took over in this same stadium last year and got the save in the NFC East-clinching victory while Wentz was in the locker room with two torn knee ligaments. This year, it was Wentz, wearing an earpiece to hear the playcalls and offer advice, on the sideline helping Foles.

“The huddle’s my sanctuary,” Foles said. “Today you’ve got phones, Instagram, Twitter. It’s hard to just be in the moment. But I like to be in the moment, be present. Today I was able to block everything about the significance of this—being back in the same place it started last year, playing on a big Sunday night game, playing for our playoffs [hopes]—and just focusing on one moment. One play. Then the next play. I called on my experience on playing in high-pressure games last year and succeeding. I think it helped.”

The Eagles’ playoff hopes still hang by a thread. For Philly to win the division, Dallas must lose to the Bucs and Giants, and the Eagles must beat Houston and Washington. Um, not likely. But to make the playoffs, the Eagles need to go 2-0 while Washington, Minnesota and Carolina all lose at least one game. Possible. Not likely, but Nick Foles has been in this situation before in what is becoming a downright weird career. The book he wrote last year after the Super Bowl was called “Believe It.” But if Foles has another run in him, and there’s a sequel to his first book, I’m going to push for this title: “Even I Can’t Believe It.”

NFL Week 11 odds roundup: Panthers, Redskins, Raiders primetime favorites

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The determining factor in a matchup between the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers and Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints might well be which team can slow down the opposing quarterback.

The Panthers are three-point favorites against the Saints on Thursday night at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The form suggests each quarterback could go off for 300-plus yards – which says plenty about a pair of poor pass defenses – but the Panthers have been getting to quarterbacks more often and still have a decent run defense.

The Panthers are 8-3 against the spread in their 11 home games, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Washington Redskins are the 2.5-point favorite against the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night matchup. However, one of these weeks, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will fix their issues, and Washington’s run defense is spotty.

Washington and quarterback Kirk Cousins, who are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games as a favorite, will have tight end Jordan Reed closer to full speed in his second game back from injury.

The Oakland Raiders are favored by six points against the Houston Texans in the Monday Night Football game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

The Raiders are 4-14 straight-up in their last 18 games after consecutive wins. However, quarterback Derek Carr and running back Latavius Murray thrived two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos, who, like the Texans, struggle to stop the run but have a highly-rated pass defense.

The Arizona Cardinals-Minnesota Vikings matchup is a pick’em. The Cardinals, led by quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson, will need to be less boom-or-bust offensively against a strong Vikings defense.

Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford might not be able to do enough to overcome being saddled with having the NFL’s worst running game against linebacker Deone Bucannon and Arizona’s fleet defense.

The Seattle Seahawks are favored by 6.5 points against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles will need quarterback Carson Wentz, tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Jordan Matthews to attack the seams in Seattle’s pass defense in order to open up other opportunities.

Seattle is 5-1 ATS in their last six games after winning as an underdog, but the Eagles’ pass rush is one of the NFL’s best. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots’ pass rush, whom quarterback Russell Wilson carved up last week, is one of the worst.

And finally, the Miami Dolphins are one-point road favorites against the Los Angeles Rams as No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff readies for his first start as the Rams’ quarterback. For Miami to end an 0-5 SU and ATS streak in road games following a road win, they will need to neutralize Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in order to help running back Jay Ajayi and quarterback Ryan Tannehill be productive.