Although Sean McVay is not often at a loss for words, the Los Angeles Rams boss can be momentarily silenced by contemplation when asked to identify the biggest lessons from the toughest year of his head coaching career.
“I think what I used to refer to as adversity is a very different thing now,” McVay said Monday.
The Rams (5-11) have one week left in the worst Super Bowl title defense in NFL history. They’ve lost eight of 10 as they head to Seattle on Sunday to wrap up McVay’s first losing season in six years as a head coach.
McVay hasn’t definitively said what his future holds, but he’s speaking about 2023 as a chance to rebound and build on the experience of being battered by the rest of the league for fourth months. He hasn’t been through a losing season since 2014, when Washington went 4-12 in his first season as a 28-year-old offensive coordinator.
“You’re always trying to grow, and there’s certainly lessons I’ll take moving forward from every day of this year,” McVay said. “You have to be able to adjust and adapt. It’s never been something that’s quite so drastic from a week-to-week perspective, but over the past few weeks, there’s been some good things if you want to pull out regarding positivity.”
McVay’s players say the coach has remained positive and kept control of the locker room throughout their struggles. He doesn’t hesitate to identify the positive angles on this overwhelmingly negative season.
For instance, Cam Akers is all the way off the trade block and into possible offseason discussions of a contract extension after his impressive second half, including 306 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ last three games.
Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant has seized extensive playing time in the secondary, bucking the Rams’ disappointing recent track record with mid-round draft picks. Bobby Wagner has been one of the NFL’s best linebackers all season while also teaching understudy Ernest Jones and most of his teammates about professionalism, work ethic and resilience.
But the last three months have still been an ordeal for the Rams — several of whom are going through their first losing season of college or pro football.
“You can feel in the locker room, guys are tired of losing,” Jones said. “We came into this year expecting a totally different outcome than we’re getting, so I think there was a little bit of shellshock early on. I think over time, this is only going to make this organization and the players that are going to be here only hungrier.
“I think this is a learning experience, but it will benefit us in the end.”
Akers’ revival remains remarkable not only for his production, but for his improved style of running. The third-year pro is breaking tackles and making people miss in a way he simply hadn’t done since the second half of his rookie year. He looks transformed, and the Rams are running the ball well despite their patchwork offensive line.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offensive line’s struggles remain glaring. Chandler Brewer and Matt Skura both had rough games against the Chargers, but Brewer’s return from knee surgery is still a boost to the injury-battered unit, since he’s one of the few remaining linemen auditioning for a role next season.
Van Jefferson finally looks like the playmaker who started all 21 games for the Rams last season after making three catches for a season-high 77 yards against the Chargers. Unless he signs an offseason extension, Jefferson will head into his contract year this summer with ample motivation to cement a top-three role.
Baker Mayfield made several solid throws and ran the offense well, but didn’t have any flashy accomplishments in a 132-yard, no-TD performance. On the bright side, if the Rams are hoping to have any chance to retain Mayfield next year as a backup, a quiet game down the stretch only helps their cause.
Safety Nick Scott (shoulder) and right tackle Rob Havenstein (knee) were both injured against the Chargers, but McVay expects both to play Sunday. They’re two of the six players to start every game for the Rams this season. McVay doesn’t expect any players to return from injury for the finale.
14 — The number of snaps played against the Chargers by nose tackle Greg Gaines, the only available Week 1 starter on the Rams’ defensive line. Gaines is limited by a shoulder injury, but is trying to finish the season in uniform alongside a collection of free-agent newcomers and former practice squadders.
The Rams have no reason to tank since they don’t own their first-round pick in April, so they’ll try mightily to play spoiler on the Seahawks’ postseason hopes. If they fall short, they’ll match the 2016 team for the most losses since returning home to Los Angeles.