(East Los Angeles, CA) December 27, 2021 [From The Editor’s Desk]: The Rams have taken over 1st place in the NFC West division with a tight, well-earned, and total team victory over the Minnesota Vikings, (30-23), in Week #16. They have now improved to an overall record of (11-4), having won their last four games in a row.
(Brief Game Overview): Despite the very short Christmas week to prep, coupled with the alarming, ever-invasive, and havoc-causing problems for the NFL and many of its teams due to the COVID Health and Safety protocols, the excellent timing of having players return to suit up from their quarantines just before game-time, gave the Rams a badly needed “force” multiplying equilibrium for this critical match-up.
And with just days before departing for the road, Coach McVay was informed that he would not have the services of his All-Pro starting offensive tackle, Andrew Whitworth, Coach would have to implement his “next man up” team disciplines to make sure they could use their blossoming running game with RB/Sony Michel to compliment Matt Stafford’s “quick strike” passing game with his “big play” receiving corps of, Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, and Odell Beckham, Jr. Now mix in thoroughly the team’s defensive performance led by the “Big Three” stalwarts of Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Von Miller, and there is the game winning recipe. Not to forget and blend in the Special Teams “game-changing” plays, and sure enough that’s exactly what happened. The “next men” ALL did step up, and “Big Time!”
We certainly know that there are the usual audio and video ways of following the team, but knowing that we have very devout Rams followers and readers, it is for you, via our website, that we do this. Thanks for your readership and support!
We now invite you to read what Coach McVay had to say about the contest. As you know, he is a very intense, descriptive, and detailed speaker during these times, so here are his complete answers and comments from his usual post-game press availability.
[Head Coach Sean McVay]
(On injury updates)…“(DL) Greg Gaines got his fourth metatarsal in his hand, his left hand. He’s having surgery today. I do expect him to be able to cast that up and come back. I mean, he came back in the game and played like a stud, did a great job. It’s obviously a little bit something of an irritant that’ll kind of inhibit full functionality, but (I) do expect him to be able to play this week. (ILB) Ernest Jones had a high ankle sprain. It was his left ankle. Unfortunately, he’s going to require surgery to get that thing fixed. That’s a big loss for us. Whether he returns this season or not is to be determined, but we will put him on IR. (RB) Darrell Henderson (Jr.) got his MCL in his right knee. He’ll also be an IR guy. (It) could be anywhere between three and five weeks with him. Then (WR) Ben Skowronek got his shoulder. (He) should be able to brace that thing up and go, but we might be smart with him on Wednesday. And then everybody else was kind of the typical bumps and bruises, but with Ernest and Darrell those are big losses for us. Those guys have done a great job. It’s really unfortunate because Ernest was really just starting to hit his stride. You guys know how highly I think of him and what a star I think he’s going to be in the future. And hopefully he’ll get a chance to maybe come back this year, but if not, I think he did a lot of great things that we can build on. And then, poor Darrell can’t catch a break. He has a great run, and it was one of those deals. It was kind of a freak way that he went down on a good run, and we’ll miss him as well.”
(On if Henderson’s injury creates a sense of urgency to get RB Cam Akers into the lineup)…“I don’t think it changes anything because you still want to be really smart with him, but there is a possibility that he plays this week. He looked really good last week in practice. (He) did a nice job. (I) want to make sure that we’re smart, checking all the boxes. But I mean, this guy is an impressive guy. He sure looked like he was capable of potentially playing last week. But just with the minimal opportunities we’ve had to practice and how you want to be smart about going about that process and procedure – those are independent of one another, but there is a chance that Cam plays this week.”
(On if OL Joe Noteboom is coming back from COVID IR)…“He’s back. Yeah, his 10-day window expired on Monday. That’s why it was kind of crazy, because at 12:01 on Monday morning he was he was able to go, but for – semantics — he couldn’t play on Sunday <laugh>. It’s great to have him back. And then, (OL Andrew) Whitworth is still on COVID IR. He’s feeling good, but he has not tested out or anything like that quite yet.”
(On his reaction to playing another 10:00 am game on the East coast and if it concerns him)…“No, I like it. We would be in favor of that. I think it’s better. We’ve learned to kind of travel on those short trips – or not those short trips – but those early window trips on east coast time zones or central time zones – our guys handle it well. I like it better that way, where we get up, we go, we go play. Our guys have a good look in their eye in the mornings. They’ve handled those windows really well this year, and that’s kind of been (a) consistent theme for us the last handful of years. So that was actually something that we were excited about – being able to get up, go, we’ll travel out there, and it’ll be very similar, and I don’t know what the hell to do with myself, having a normal week to prepare now <laugh>. The last three weeks have been such a whirlwind, being able to look at actually having three legitimate days of preparation feels like we’ll have three weeks. So, that’s a good thing but I was actually encouraged by that.”
(On his secret to having an (8-2) record when having to play early East coast games)…“I think it’s the guys’ ability to handle it. I think we’ve been fairly successful just in general, whatever kind of parameters you want to put around it. But I think that’s a credit to our players – their ability to be able to be mature enough to handle the way we travel, the way we get up and go. We were kind of forced into that last year, just based on the nature of the COVID protocols and I think it worked out well. Usually like my first couple years here, we would leave on a Friday for a Sunday 10 AM kickoff in our heads if we were traveling in a couple time zones. But what we learned last year is that additional night of sleep in their own bed, trying to keep as much of a normal rhythm and routine for the players was what we felt like was best, especially kind of learning more about your circadian rhythm and all those things. But I think the biggest thing is our guys get up, they’re ready to go. Certainly, there’s a lot of credit with (Director of Performance Nutrition and Wellness) Joey Blake, (Vice President of Sports Medicine and Performance) Reggie Scott, all the performance staff that’s really instrumental in getting our guys kind of peeking at the right time. But ultimately, it’s the player’s ability to get up, go execute, and play a good game to be able to get the win.”
(On what were some of the catalysts for revamping the blocking system and what that was like to install around RB Sony Michel)…“I think it wasn’t too much different. You start seeing us use a couple different personnel groupings, but yesterday, we were almost exclusively in (11) as a result of some different things. I think the multiplicity personnel wise and then really just being committed to staying on track in the run game. You look at (RB) Sony (Michel) over the last four weeks – if you take weeks 13 through 16, he’s leading the league in rushing. He’s averaging over 100 (yards) a game, he’s getting a little over 22 carries a game and he’s done a great job. I think he gets stronger as the game goes on. Really been pleased with him and you can add (RB) Cam Akers to the mix and he’s anywhere close to what we know he’s capable of being. That’s really exciting. It’s unfortunate to lose (RB) Darrell (Henderson Jr.) again, but it’s more been a reflection of just looking at, ‘Okay, what did we see over those three games that we weren’t getting the results that we wanted to? How can we pace the game on hard terms?’ It wasn’t really a philosophical shift. I think it was more of getting back to our foundational roots and not losing sight of that. We’ve been able to do that and I think yesterday being able to control the game on our terms, even though we did turn it over three times, was a huge credit to the team. And we’ve talked about really playing complementary football but (it) hasn’t been too much different. I think there’s just been more of a commitment to try to be a little bit more balanced.”
(On physicality and guys saying how much they want to move opponents off the spot because of what Michel is doing either behind or next to them, if that is also a factory now in terms of things mentioned in the beginning of the season wanting to do with RB Cam Akers in the first place)..“Yeah. I don’t think there’s a question. I think there’s certain players that they bring a toughness to your unit. Sony’s done that. That was the same thing that I felt like (WR) Robert Woods brought to our unit, or even a (TE) Johnny Mundt. Getting (OL) Rob Havenstein back, (I) thought we were tougher up front. So, I think Sony’s just a tough, physical, downhill runner the way he finishes and levels off. I think that excites those guys up front. Anytime that you’re able to add more guys to the blocking surface, or you bring a six offensive lineman in, there’s a mentality and a mindset that goes behind some of those things that I think guys get excited about. And ultimately, they’re the ones that make it come to a life. But I think kind of just Sony’s toughness has helped kind of solidify that as an added element to what we can bring and what we can present offensively and it’s always about the players and certainly he’s done a great job with that.”
(On what makes Michel able to get through three waves of tacklers)…“I think he’s got great contact balance. He’s really sturdy. I mean he’s just a physical, strong – he’s got great contact balance. He’s got all those things that are built to – he’s built like a running back should be when you look at it. And he is just really tough. He’s got great ball security too throughout those. That’s the thing you want to make sure that, ‘Do I continue to maintain great ball security as I’m in the midst of breaking tackles?’ And he had a couple runs like that against Seattle as well, really over the last month, he’s done a great job of having to come to life, but I think it’s the contact balance, the strength and then he does have some subtleties and nuances to his game where he is able to set guys in traffic that when you really watch it closely, you can appreciate the natural run instincts and ability to work edges and level off even in traffic type situations.”
(On what went into the decision to activate Akers given the three weeks of roster time…“Really, it more goes to credit of him and helping him be able to have some incentives or really it’s – (General Manager) Les (Snead) would be better equipped to answer it – but it’s more a situation that this guy’s done such a great job. He’s earned the right to be able to get on this roster and it looks like there’s a possibility of him contributing as soon as this week actually on the field. I wouldn’t appropriately articulate it if I answered it, but it is some sort of semantics on accrued seasons and things of that nature.”
(On his evaluation of QB Matthew Stafford)
“I think everybody’s going to always point to some of those turnovers, but what I like the most is when we had to have those drives and some of those key third downs, he didn’t flinch based on what had occurred prior to. I think when you look at those on the first one that we had, just talking about the turnovers, it felt very similar to what I thought had occurred. This guy’s a great competitor, he’s unflappable. Sometimes these are
occupational hazards. We want to avoid those when we can, but not at the extent of not continuing to compete and I thought that’s what he did. On the first one, it was kind of a weird deal where he did a great job escaping out of a sack. He gets flushed and he’s kind of thinking about maybe layering it over (Vikings LB) Anthony Barr’s head, just kind of came out funny. That’s a decision where you say, ‘Hey, you’re such a great competitor. Let’s balance being a great competitor.’ And then sometimes the best thing is, is let’s live to fight another play and let’s bring (P) Johnny Hecker on the grass and let him punt it. So, we learn from that one. On the second one, if he doesn’t get hit, we got to do a much better job in protection. He’s letting that thing launch. And you look at the way that (WR) Van (Jefferson) runs down the field, I believe that that’s going to be a chance for us to be able to catch that thing and stride the way that he’s able to throw that ball when he can hit hitch into it. So, that’s one of those deals where we got to do a better job protecting him there. And then on the third one, I really put him in a (explicit) spot. We’re running kind of a free release protection, they’ve got a blitz look. We’ve got kind of a concept that they did a good job covering (TE Tyler) Higbee. We maybe could have spit it out to (WR) Cooper (Kupp), but really it was more of a really bad spot that I put him in. And so, all of them have different narratives, but ultimately what I think about is the response coming back. I know he’d want to have that throw back to (WR) Odell (Beckham Jr.) and the third-down-and-two, but what he did after that says as much about (QB) Matthew Stafford. There’s a lot of guys that would’ve wilted in those types of situations. This guy didn’t flinch, kept competing. I think his teammates picked him up a little bit and then he made the plays when he had to have them. The one to Higbee in the high red, the one to Kupp for the 37-yard third down conversion and then the third-down touchdown to Odell. Those are three plays that are big time plays that I was really pleased that he made that we had to have to be able to win the game.”
(On if it seemed more like a one-year deal when the Rams acquired RB Sony Michel and if he thinks Michel will be retained for more years due to his performance thus far)…“He’s done a great job. I think the one thing that I would say – it’s that old cliché – we just want to be in the moment and he is doing a great job. As far as those things go to say that you would want to be able to continue to work with him, of course, but there’s always a lot of layers to those types of dialogues and discussions. What I think he’s done a great job of is really just helping solidify a four-game stretch that has been paramount for our football team. And he’s been more at the forefront of that as much as anybody and (I) really love the guy. You talk about a guy that just comes into work. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s picked things up quickly. He’s got such a steady, neutral demeanor throughout the course of games. (I) really love working with (RB) Sony (Michel). Of course, you’d love to be able to have that as an option. He’s doing a great job. I’m really pleased with that.”
(On how much of a motivating factor it is to be able to control their own destiny and how much he talks to the team about it)
“We do talk about the things that we can control. We’re aware of those circumstances and the situations. But in order for us to be able to have any of those things come to life and to fruition, we’ve got to handle our business. So you said, ‘Do the guys know that if the Cowboys beat the Cardinals and we go handle our business against the Ravens that we win the division?’ Yeah. Those will be things that you talk about. But the main thing for us is, we’ve earned the right to not have to watch or count on anybody else. And that’s a real credit to our players. The way they’ve done that is by just focusing on the things that they can control, being where their feet are planted, handling the ebbs and flows and a lot of the different adversities that have come up like champions do. And I love this group. (I) love working with them. There has been a lot of chapters that have been really interesting in this book that these guys are writing right now, but for us, we want to try to do a great job of having a great week of preparation. There’s one thing that you know about a (Ravens Head) Coach (John) Harbaugh led Ravens team – they’re going to be tough. They’re going to be ready to go. They’re fighting for their playoff lives, so we better be ready to go. And we got to have a great week to go be able to try to accomplish our goal of getting our 12th win. What happens as a result, if we are able to do that, is a little bit out of our control, but those are good things that our guys have done the last month of December to give themselves an opportunity to really not have to look anywhere else other than just controlling what we can control.”
(On how he keeps the mental toughness of the adversities they’ve faced in line with a “normal” week coming up)…“Something will come up. There’ll be something that comes up (laughter). No, you’re right. I think you continue to use the previous experiences as ways of building armor and really drawing on confidence, but also know that the preparation does matter. I couldn’t be more proud of this group, but I do think there’s some things in terms of just the detail, the overall operation in all three phases that we can be sharper on and I think we need to be sharper on. We’ve found a way to win these games – but just the fundamentals, the techniques, the overall details snap in and snap out, consistently stringing things together. There’s definitely always areas of improvement and those are things that we have to be able to do if we want to continue to improve as the regular season winds down.”
(On any updates on OL Brian Allen)…“I think he’s going to be okay. I think he just tweaked his knee a little bit, but everything checked out okay on him. And so, I think he’s going to be okay.”
(On if they’re monitoring WR Odell Beckham Jr. after he limped off the field)…“I think he’s okay. He’s a tough guy. He came and bounced back. He and (Vikings CB Patrick) Peterson had a good collision on that play.”
(On it looked like Beckham Jr. hit his knee on that play)…“He did. It scared me. I came out there and he wasn’t saying anything. I think more than anything, you’re kind of just processing it. But he got up, he looked pretty healthy on the Griddy celebration (laughter).” –RAMS–