LOS ANGELES (AP) — Matthew Stafford is an elite quarterback with almost no significant team success during his dozen seasons in the NFL.
Sean McVay is a brilliant offensive football coach whose past two teams didn't crack the NFL's top 10 in scoring.
These men both have something basic to prove about their place in the game as they enter their first season together with the Los Angeles Rams, who are betting this partnership can lift an already good team to greatness.
The Hollywood spotlight is shining squarely on the 33-year-old Stafford, who left Detroit for a franchise with more playoff wins last season (one) than he managed in his entire tenure with the Lions.
Stafford knows this is his time. He realizes his NFL career could be defined by what happens in the next two seasons, which are also the last two years of his current contract.
With confidence befitting a veteran quarterback and a leader, Stafford is already thinking positively about both the weeks and years ahead in LA.
“I hope I’m getting better in this offense for five, seven, 10 years,” Stafford said. “I hope that my first game on September 12th isn’t my best game as a Ram. I’d love to have a great one, but I hope I get better and better in this offense with all these guys, with this team as it goes."
McVay has four winning seasons, three playoff berths, two NFC West titles and a Super Bowl appearance in his first four years with the Rams. He is still the NFL's youngest head coach at 35, and he's still among the top offensive minds in the sport — yet his past two teams were significantly better on defense than on offense.
McVay moved the game forward when he took over the Rams in 2017, but the league figured out how to slow him down. And though McVay refuses to say it publicly, the Rams' actions make it clear they feel Jared Goff was holding them back.
Los Angeles traded two first-round picks to replace Goff with Stafford, who gets the controls to McVay's schemes and the Rams' wealth of receiving talent, including newcomer DeSean Jackson. Stafford learned the Rams' secrets during his first few months, and the experience has left him determined to seize the biggest opportunity of his football life.
“Before this year, it was really unlike anything I’d ever done,” Stafford said. “So from afar, I was wondering how they got all that done, to be honest with you. Being inside of it now and being able to be a part of it, it's pretty cool to see how it all happens. ... Defenses have adapted and done things to try and disrupt some of the things that we have as an offense, but it’s on us to adapt further."
FOR THE DEFENSE
The Rams had the NFL's top defense last season, but lost four starters and coordinator Brandon Staley. McVay replaced Staley with Raheem Morris, who intends to run a scheme similar to Staley's setup last season with tweaks for personnel. But Los Angeles' efforts will again be built on the bedrock of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who will take on even more responsibilities.
CARRY THE TWO
Running back Cam Akers' Achilles tendon injury forced LA to acquire Sony Michel, who starred against the Rams in the Super Bowl for New England. Michel will supplement Darrell Henderson, whose iffy injury history suggests Michel could get plenty of playing time if he can stay healthy himself. With only rookie Jake Funk behind them, the Rams are relatively thin after using three running backs extensively last season.
The Rams lost safety John Johnson and nickel back Troy Hill to Cleveland. Stalwart defensive end Michael Brockers then left for Detroit instead of restructuring his contract. Replacing the veteran trio will be difficult. Jordan Fuller is expected to take Johnson's leadership responsibilities at safety, while oft-injured Taylor Rapp steps into Johnson's starting spot.
Nickel back is still a concern, with untested David Long Jr. and rookie Robert Rochell the most likely candidates. A'Shawn Robinson will fill Brockers' role eventually, but he is injured to start the season.
Brian Allen became the Rams' starting center in 2019, but injured his knee nine games in. He didn't play at all last season, never reclaiming his job from Austin Blythe. But with Blythe gone to Kansas City as a free agent, Allen has improbably reclaimed the starting job, which seemed headed to guard Austin Corbett earlier this year.
The Rams' ultimate goal is obvious, but it carries added weight this season: The Super Bowl will be held at SoFi Stadium, Rams owner Stan Kroenke's multi-billion-dollar football palace in Inglewood. The Buccaneers already beat Los Angeles to the honor of being the first NFL team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium, but the Rams will be surrounded by reminders of the huge event coming to their place. “It's a great motivation for sure,” receiver Robert Woods said. “But we don't need extra motivation.”
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