The two youngest head coaches go up against each other on Thursday Night Football, but age might be one of their few commonalities. For Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers, the team is taking the long view. For Sean McVay’s Rams, the mentality is win-now. Who will win Round 1 of this budding rivalry?
Fans watching tonight’s Thursday Night Football game (8 P.M. ET, NFLN) will see the prime-time debut of the NFL's two youngest coaches. In combined age, 31-year-old Sean McVay (Rams) and 37-year-old Kyle Shanahan (49ers) are only barely older than Pete Carroll, 66, and Bruce Arians, 64. McVay, who was just 24 when Shanahan hired him in Washington, this week called his former boss, "One of my closest friends.” But the weight of expectations is on the younger man tonight.
Whereas Shanahan was tasked with rebuilding a depleted and demoralized Niners organization, McVay (along with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) was brought in to maximize the talent currently on the roster. Just look at the salary cap space: the 49ers have the most money left over while the Rams have the least after investing in left tackle Andrew Whitworth and edge rusher Robert Quinn. Or drafting strategy. San Francisco passed on Mitch Trubisky, and as a result will have five picks in the first three rounds next year. L.A., of course, traded picks for Jared Goff last year and this year gave up another asset to bring him Sammy Watkins. McVay's team is better right now, which is why he’s expected to win, even though the game is being played at Levi's Stadium.
Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet? Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.
* * *
NOW ON THE MMQB: Jonathan Jones details Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's public battle with alcoholism ... Peter King answers questions on Ezekiel Elliott ... Richard Deitsch lays out the factors that have contributed to a drop in NFL ratings ... and more in our archive.
LATER TODAY ON THE MMQB: Jones previews tonight's game ... Robert Klemko opines on DeMaurice Smith's re-election as NFLPA executive director ... Michael Rosenberg profiles Joey Bosa ... King debuts our Football Across America series ... and more. Stay tuned.
* * *
1. Kevin Van Valkenburg got Eddie Lacy to open up on his weight issues for ESPN The Magazine, partly by understanding what the running back has gone through. "We've both stared in misery at a chicken breast and a salad, reluctantly fighting off the urge to add french fries," Van Valkenburg writes. "We've both learned to dread looking down between our toes and seeing the cold, hard numbers stare back from the scale, almost taunting us. We're both around 6 feet, 245 pounds, and don't look fat per se, but we sure as hell ain't skinny. Guys like us don't garner much sympathy. There's no backlash when we're the butt of sitcom jokes. It's easy to look at us and assume a lack of willpower, a weakness in our character. And in our darker moments, we can't help but wonder: 'Are those people right?'"
2. Relive the entire Jay Cutler legend through the words of those who've known him, via Tyler Dunne.
3. Robert Grays, a Division II football player in Texas, died Tuesday from a neck injury sustained in the fourth quarter of a game on Saturday night.
4. Bill Plaschke has an essay defending L.A. residents from what he sees as national criticism of them for not showing up at NFL games. I say it like that because most of what I've seen (and written) has blamed poor NFL business strategy and mediocre performances for the sagging attendance, not the people who've chosen to stay home.
5. One of the biggest surprises of this nascent season has been the efficient play of Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian. Geoff Schwartz credits the results to a command of the offense. Nick Kosmider has more on the team's league-leading third-down success.
6. Sam Bradford's situation continues to perplex. His status for Sunday is still up in the air after a non-contact knee injury in Week 1 kept him out of last week's game, when he didn't feel comfortable during warmups. "I would like to think that [my chances of playing] are good, but I think a lot of it just depends on how my knee responds when we go out there and practice this week," Bradford said.
7. Fresh off his Hard Knocks fame, Bucs defensive lineman Gerald McCoy lists the toughest five (actually six) linemen he's faced, with some cool commentary.
8. What should Bill Lazor alter now that he's replaced Ken Zampese as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator? And how much can he actually change midseason? Jim Owczarski finds out.
9. The Texans will head to New England as heavy underdogs (the Patriots are 8-0 at home against rookie QBs under Bill Belichick). If Houston does pull off an upset, it'll be because of the offensive line, John McClain says.
10. A bad omen for what tonight's stands might look like: tickets were selling online for $200 less than they were bought for, and for about the price of a premium beer at Levi's Stadium.
Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let me know here.
* * *
From dice games to ping pong, the best Week 2 TD celebrations. So glad to have these back.