Skip to main content

Sean McVay and Brandon Staley Prove Their Worth Again in Wild-Card Win

The Rams topped their division rivals in Seattle on Saturday, despite multiple calamities that a lesser coaching staff wouldn't have handled.

Saturday afternoon’s win by the Rams should have offered a shot of clarity for any and all teams currently searching for a head coach: Sometimes it’s not just about hiring the guy on everyone else’s list, when a bit of informed digging can turn up the kind of person whose coaching abilities can negate a whole mess of other that arise during a game.

There’s been plenty written about Sean McVay as a kind of generational wunderkind, and while some of that is our own tendency to fall in love with certain narratives and performative gestures (He memorized the opponent’s roster! Swoon!), he is among a small pack of coaches sprinting out ahead of the rest of the league; the kind of guy who out-of-touch coaches stash film of to stay afloat.


There’s been far less written about Brandon Staley (though here’s a good place to start), McVay’s defensive coordinator, who earned the right to succeed the legendary Wade Phillips after he walked into a meeting with the McVay cold, knocked him out and stopped the search process dead in its tracks. Staley is one of eight coaches since 2003 whose defenses have allowed an average of 6.7 points or fewer in the second half. No team has given up fewer fourth quarter points (3.8 per game) than the Rams this season.

And so when Aaron Donald goes down with most of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter to go, your team can surrender just six net passing yards in the third quarter and 84 net yards for the fourth.

When your backup quarterback (John Wolford), who happens to be starting the game for your injured starter (Jared Goff), goes to the hospital with a neck injury, forcing the injured Goff back into the game, your team can still ride a rushing offense that shreds the opposing defense enough to navigate a game plan with a four-fingered Goff. This, at a time when Seattle was playing the run on nearly every down, assuming that Goff couldn’t throw.

There are a lot of advantages having overwhelmingly good talent can provide for you in the NFL. Exceptional pass rushing beats bad offensive line play with regularity. Speed wins in space. All of the dusty platitudes that have survived to this point have done so because there is an element of truth to them. The Rams have most of the components an NFL team needs to thrive. But teams need more when their current quarterback under center is chucking errant, knuckled wiffleballs into the wind. Teams need more when the favorite for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award is on the sidelines, like on the following drive when a series of amoebic pressures and designer coverages forced one of the best quarterbacks in the league into a pair of near-interceptions and a desperation check-down to avoid taking a sixth sack on the afternoon.

The Weak-Side Podcast now has its own feed! Subscribe to listen to Conor Orr and Jenny Vrentas every week. 

The further we get from McVay’s hire (and, by extension, his decision to replace Phillips with Staley), the less the narrative will accurately reflect how big of a swing the Rams had taken on the 30-year-old offensive coordinator of a middling Washington team. The less it might be associated with taking the kind of researched, calculated risk that modern search firms and star-struck owners so often eschew in favor of some block-and-tackle retread candidate or television analyst soothsayer who promises to step down from his podium and fix all the club’s ailments.

Forgetting this might not guarantee bad football; if you’re lucky enough to get the guys who are smart enough to copy off the right guys, usually everything is going to be fine. But it will absolutely guarantee that walking into a road game against a No. 3 seed without your top quarterback and minus the league’s best defensive player down the stretch of a frantic fourth quarter will probably not end the way you’d like it to.

Chances are, the Seahawks coaches who had to spend the week preparing for McVay and Staley were much less surprised that they're going home than the rest of us were.