Close friends Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur face off: who has the edge?

Rams, Packers share core principles on offense, lean on play-action
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LOS ANGELES -- They lived across the street from each other when both worked as offensive assistants for the Washington Football Club under head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

They later tested the boundaries of their close friendship during Sean McVay’s first year as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, with Matt LaFleur serving as his fiery offensive coordinator.

Now, the two will meet as head coaches for the first time Saturday afternoon when the Rams take on the Green Bay Packers in NFC divisional round of the playoffs at Lambeau Field at 1:35 local time on Fox.

So, who has the edge? Not surprisingly, neither coach would say.

“I don’t know that you’d say advantage or disadvantage,” McVay said. “I think it’s just when Matt got the opportunity to go there, the last thing I was surprised by was the success that he had.

“He’s a great coach. He’s a great friend of mine. You’re so happy to see that success. It’s pretty crazy that we’re getting an opportunity to play against one another, really our teams are getting to play each other in the divisional round. That’s going to be the most important thing, is the Rams versus the Packers and we’ll see if we can go and get after Matt a little bit. It’ll be fun.”

LaFleur, 41, said the two still talk regularly. McVay, who turns 35 later this month, confirmed that he spoke with LaFleur this week, but nothing about Xs and Os or Saturday’s matchup.

“People evolve over time,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, I think sometimes, especially with my knowledge of what they’ve done offensively, I think they have done a nice job of evolving. Sometimes you can screw up your own coaches. So, I don’t want to give too much input. Certainly, I’m there if they have a question on something, or if I see something on tape I’ll bring it up.

“But for the most part I think it kind of gets a little overblown. … He’s a great friend of mine, but the gloves will be off on Saturday.”

While noting that McVay’s offense has changed, LaFleur said the foundation remains the same.

“It’s still the same philosophy,” McFleur said. “It’s plays that start off looking the same that our different. And he does as good as anybody in the business in terms of just having those complementary plays.

“So, it really does a great job of keeping you off balance from a defensive perspective, because you’re not quite sure of what you’re going to get. And he does a great job of marrying the run with the pass, making sure that whatever run game they are using, they are going to have the pass actions, whether it’s a keeper or a play-pass off it. I do think it has evolved. A lot more 12 personnel (two-tight-end sets) than we were there, and we were in the gun quite a bit. Sean’s always going to adapt and do what’s necessary to win games.”

LaFleur also offered his opinion on quarterback Jared Goff’s up-and-down season.

“A lot of quarterbacks go through that,” LaFleur said. “It truly takes everyone around you as well. They’ve dealt with a rash of injuries. Losing Big Whit (Andrew Whitworth) for a while, that certainly doesn’t help the case.

“But I know Jared, I know how tough he is. I know how resilient he is. I saw when he didn’t have a whole lot of success that first year, and then how tough-minded he is and the way he attacks it. Certainly, we won’t look too much at what’s gone on, because we know how capable he is. And he’s put it on tape, time and time again. He’s a guy we hold in high regard and still think is a damn good player.”

Both coaches struggled against Kyle Shanahan’s Niners. McVay has lost four in a row to San Francisco and LaFleur’s Packers fell to San Francisco in the NFC championship game 37-20 last year. So, perhaps the two can lean on that experience when they meet on Saturday.

“I don’t think you want to be naive to the fact that they know a couple things that you want to make sure that you’re aware of,” McVay said. “But I also think you’ve got to be careful of not overthinking it.

“It’s about your team versus the opposing team. There’s an evolvement and an adaption in this league over the course of time. … You don’t know when they’re going to activate certain plays and I think it can be a little bit blown out of proportion, but you don’t want to be blind to the fact that they do know a couple of just foundational things that you don’t want to ignore. But I think it’s about the Rams versus the Packers this week.”