Welcome to the best NFL offseason series you'll ever read -- that is, if you're like me, and you want nothing more than the blissful lie that your team will be good in 2019. How Your Team Won Super Bowl 54 will take you through each NFL franchise with one goal in mind: convincing you that there's at least one universe in which Your Team wins it all. I'm Doctor Strange, you're Tony Stark, the Avengers are Your Team, Thanos is...Bill Belichick? I've lost the metaphor.
One thing's for sure:
You'll die in the end. Your Team is going to win Super Bowl 54.
Los Angeles Rams
Here we are. The final NFC team. Where we began: Sean McVay, the paragon toward which all other coaches aim. The Rams, inches* away from winning Super Bowl 53.
*by inches, I mean absolute miles in terms of schematic strategy, on-field execution, and footballish chutzpah.
The Rams got their tails whipped up and down the field against the Patriots in Super Bowl 53; a lashing not reflected in the tame 13-3 score. The claim, made by McVay, is that he and the Rams over-prepared for the Patriots, drowning themselves in so much film that they lost sight of the surface. As a Draft website, this suggestion is harrowing news: all we do is eat film, and McVay apparently ate so much of it, he couldn't get out of bed for the biggest game of his young career. What will become of us?
McVay has made waves in the league because of the offense he designed, the creativity of its simplicity, the strains of its constant motion and elite athletes. Belichick has done that as well, before -- jolt the league with a marriage of design and personnel seemingly unmatchable -- but the thing is, he's done it seventeen different times. Belichick's system isn't 11 personnel, tight splits, jet sweeps, under-center play action with some wide zone candy -- it's what you do poorly. It's what will win, with those specific role players he got for dirt cheap, against your gimmicky system others weren't able to figure out. McVay does West Coast better than anyone else; Belichick does West Coast, and spread, and Erhardt-Perkins, and Air Raid, better than that.
And that's just the offensive side of the ball.
Now, McVay doesn't have to be The Next Belichick to win a Super Bowl -- everyone who's won a Super Bowl since Belichick hasn't been The Next Belichick. Belichick is an aberration, an outlier -- that thing you don't look to chase, explain, justify, or replicate. And I don't think players or opposing coaches think McVay is The Next Belichick. Rather, they recognize him as something familiar: a pinnacle of the modern passing offense and design, certainly, but still just the best iteration of something they've seen before.
That's what makes Year 3 with McVay/Goff so consequential -- and so enticing to prophesy upon. I, for one, believe that the Rams generally regress in 2019, with a weak stretch to end the 2018 regular season and a just-barely-enough offense through the postseason to boot. I see a team struggling for the next innovation, as defenses wisen up to the strategies (3rd down blitzes, 5 man fronts, robber safeties) that have now proven successful at slowing the McVay Machine over time.
McVay must introduce something new under the sun to remain ahead of the league's pace -- otherwise, he'll fall back into the pack, still among the leaders in the NFC, but no longer distinguished as the next exception. That newness will be an invention, and accordingly will be borne from necessity -- never forget, McVay's strict discipline of 11 personnel waned when Todd Gurley was injured and C.J. Anderson was the lead back. Suddenly, 12 personnel runs with DUO and Inside Zone ideas powered their running game.
Necessity mothered invention, and the Rams need that again. Perhaps the Super Bowl 53 goose egg will muster enough hunger to force Los Angeles into innovation, but too often good coaches fall back on what worked in the past. With aging veteran Band-Aids wriggling on the cracks of a leaky defense and an elite offensive line now refreshed with two new, young starters, the margin for error is far thinner in 2018: Goff needs to be better, and so does McVay. Winning in the regular season is no longer enough.
How The Los Angeles Rams Won Super Bowl 54
In another dogfight against the Patriots, McVay throws the kitchen sink at Belichick. 13 personnel power runs with an extra offensive tackle; 10 personnel Air Raid ideas he copy-pasted from his close personal friend Kliff Kingsbury. Jared Goff learns how to manage a pocket and throw players open against man coverage -- it really could happen! Jeff Fisher messed him up good -- and delivers the MVP season that Rams fans believe is under that dusty blond floof. Clay Matthews has 12 sacks because...well, why the heck not, someone besides Aaron Donald has to do something for that team.
How many universes does this happen in?
85 out of 1000. Even odds with Philly.
How does it all go wrong?
Look at the defensive depth chart, team. This squad isn't as good as we think it is.