Master and Apprentice: Shane Waldron Looking to Upset Mentor Sean McVay in First Meeting

Emotions will be running high as the Seahawks square off against the Rams on Thursday night, pitting offensive coordinator Shane Waldron against his mentor in an NFC West duel of the fates.
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RENTON, WA — On a crisp January afternoon 10 months ago, the Rams kicked the door down at Lumen Field and shockingly eliminated the Seahawks in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The result sparked significant change and discord in Seattle, culminating in months of drama at the quarterback position, handfuls of additions and departures and the arrival of a new offensive coordinator.

In its widespread search for a fresh play-caller, Seattle went right to the source of its demise and hired Los Angeles passing game coordinator Shane Waldron. In a matter of weeks, Waldron went from celebrating a win on that fateful day to witnessing the fallout unfold on the other side. Now, as the two teams collide for the first time since, he'll stand in opposition of his longtime friends under the Thursday night lights.

“There’s a lot of—to state the obvious—great relationships I have with people out in L.A.," Waldron told reporters on Tuesday. "But as far as the game goes, I think there’s two separate worlds I’m living in right now. It’s a football week for me. I’m excited to be in a Thursday night game, a Thursday night setting, divisional game. Just like last week, it was an important game. No difference this week as we approach this one coming up quick.”

Waldron's time in Seattle has been full of ups and downs thus far. The Seahawks find themselves off to a disappointing 2-2 start, with wins bookending a pair of heartbreaking and frustrating losses to the Titans and Vikings, respectively. 

Through the first three weeks of the season, finishing was, uncharacteristically, a massive issue for the Seahawks. They had no issues exploding out of the gate in those games, however, combining for 75 points in the first half. But in four second-half quarters and an overtime period in their two losses, they put up just six points—all coming on a Freddie Swain touchdown reception made possible by a busted coverage from Tennessee. 

Ironically, they flipped the script against the 49ers on Sunday, kicking the game off with five straight three-and-outs on offense. But after running back Alex Collins moved the chains for the first time on a 28-yard catch-and-run, they started to find their groove and worked their way into the end zone on that very same drive. 

Heading into halftime tied up at seven points apiece, the Seahawks had to exorcise their second-half demons in order to avoid a disastrous third loss in a row. And so they did, scoring in the third quarter for the first time all year and putting up a total of 21 points in the second half on their way to a 28-21 victory. 

“It’s always going to come back to how efficiently we can play on some of those early downs," Waldron assessed of his offense's turnaround. "Once we were able to create those explosives or create that early down efficiency, then the tempo was able to pick up. I thought when Alex Collins made that first catch there, it kind of got us out of a little bit of a lull right there. Then being able to get into a little more tempo. Then Russell [Wilson] doing a great job with some different looks came up and presented themselves and executed the plan.” 

Under Waldron, the Seahawks currently rank 10th in the NFL in points scored per game (25.8), 19th in total yards per game (350.3), tied-17th in passing yards per game (243.3), 18th in rushing yards per game (107), tied-22nd in sacks allowed per game (2.8), tied-30th in third conversions per game (3.2) and dead-last in average time of possession (24:35). However, they do rank fourth in offensive DVOA (24%) and third in red zone efficiency (90%). 

On the other side of the ball, Waldron's former team has a new coordinator as well: Raheem Morris, who takes over for new Chargers head coach Brandon Staley. Losing several key players in free agency, Morris' defense has been unable to follow in the footsteps of Staley's 2020 unit, which finished near the top of the league in virtually every category last year. 

Right now, the Rams rank 18th in points allowed per game (24.8), 27th in total yards allowed per game (396.8), 25th in passing yards allowed per game (273.3), 21st in rushing yards allowed per game (123.5), tied-sixth in sacks per game (3.0), tied-23rd in third down conversions allowed per game (6) and 27th in average time of possession allowed (32:56). But with the elite talents of defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey still around, this is a group that can create problems for any offense at any given time.

"By and large, you see a lot of good carryover [from Staley's system to Morris']," Waldron explained. "It was an effective defense, obviously, last year. They did a heck of a job. Really transitioned into this season. I’ve seen a lot of similarities, a lot of carryover. Similarities doesn’t mean easy because they do a great job of blurring the defense and disguising a lot of looks, and they continue to do so.”

Both teams will be heading into Thursday night's affair on just four days rest, but Waldron won't use that as an excuse for any shortcomings his offense may have. 

“You can put a lot of stock in that," Waldron began. "But you still have to go out and it ends up being about execution. I know there are some similarities and things that there’s familiarity with but at the end of the day it’s still going to be a game of execution on Thursday night with the quick turnaround.” 

In a way, the premise of Thursday night's game is something straight out of Star Wars: a battle between master (Rams head coach Sean McVay) and apprentice (Waldron). The two coaches spent the last five seasons together in Washington and Los Angeles, with McVay grooming Waldron for the opportunity he was eventually given in Seattle. 

With the Rams, Waldron wore many different hats: tight ends coach, quarterbacks coach, passing game coordinator. McVay even let him occasionally call plays in preseason games. During that time, the two developed a bond that has carried on through their physical separation earlier this year. But this week, they're enemies. 

"It’s a great friendship," Waldron said. "He’s meant so much to my coaching career. He’s helped me tremendously, really helped me get to this position where I’m at now. I have a ton of appreciation for him. There’s that part of it where we are such great friends and I have so much respect for him and what he’s done for me personally, but then there’s also that competitive part where that friendship also leaves and that competitive nature when you’re going against each other. I’m sure I’ll talk to him plenty throughout the course of the year like we’ve done in the offseason or earlier in this season, but this week is not about that. It’s about the teams competing and the players that are going out there to play.”

Sports are often poetic, especially football. Some things manage to work themselves out in inexplicable ways that rival any Hollywood script. Storylines are certainly aplenty heading into Thursday night's matchup.

For 10 months, the Seahawks have stewed over their postseason defeat to this Rams team, waiting for their chance to meet again. For 10 months, Waldron has waited to prove himself to the league, to his organization, to his mentor, to the man in the mirror: he's ready for this challenge. And what a better way for him, after a four-week rollercoaster of emotions, to put it all together and lead his army of men to a crucial victory they've long craved over the team he once called home?