Rams coach Sean McVay downplays the significance of playing his old team

A few hours before Sunday’s kickoff, when their teams come onto the field to warm up, good friends Sean McVay and Jay Gruden will meet somewhere on the Coliseum turf.

McVay, the first-year coach of the Rams, worked the previous three seasons as offensive coordinator on Gruden’s Washington Redskins staff.

McVay anticipates that the coaches will talk as they normally do, with perhaps one exception.

“I don’t think we’re going to be sharing our first 15 [plays] with each other,” McVay said, grinning.

After directing the Rams to an impressive 46-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in his NFL head coaching debut, the 31-year-old McVay spent the last week playing down the personal significance of the matchup against the Redskins.

But not all players were buying it.

After all, McVay spent seven seasons in Washington apprenticing under former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and then Gruden. He rose from assistant tight ends coach to one of the league’s most respected offensive coordinators before the Rams made him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.

“He’s just been excited, he’s been pumped up, wired all week,” running back Todd Gurley said. “So we know how much this means to him and how much it means to us.”

A victory for the Rams would keep them atop the NFC West, a division in which all teams except the Rams lost their openers.

The Rams got off to an impressive start with an efficient offense led by quarterback Jared Goff and a dominating defense that scored 16 points.

Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, looked nothing on Sunday like the quarterback who struggled in seven late-season starts as a rookie.

Much of the credit goes to McVay, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson.

But Goff’s challenge is to play as well, or better, against the Redskins.

That responsibility will fall on McVay, who also serves as the play-caller. Against the Colts, McVay mixed in no-huddle series and provided Goff with plenty of play-action and rollout opportunities that kept him out of potential harm’s way.

During his time in Washington, he did much of the same for Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Cousins’ development under McVay was so profound that the quarterback gave McVay a signed jersey and a message that read, “I owe you my career,” when McVay left to become the Rams’ coach.

“He’s not just spinning a Rolodex and picking a play out at random,” Cousins said of McVay. “He really has a reason and intention for every play he calls, and he’s designed those plays during the week for a specific reason.”

Cousins ranked third in the NFL in passing yardage last season. Goff will benefit from McVay’s expertise and the additions of players such as receiver Sammy Watkins, Cousins said.

“When Sean has those tools at his disposal, that’s when he’s really able to be at his best,” he said.

Gruden knows McVay’s philosophy and play-calling tendencies as well as anyone. But that might not help much if the Rams continue to execute as they did in the opener.

“He’s got a great changeup to his offense right now,” Gruden said, “and when you’re in a groove offensively and you have your whole playbook open, it’s very hard to stop.”

Washington’s offense did not impress in a 30-17 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Cousins is far more accomplished than Colts journeyman Scott Tolzien. So it will be a far greater challenge for a Rams defense that returned two interceptions for touchdowns, recorded a safety and did not allow the Colts to convert a third down.

The return of Aaron Donald should help.

The star lineman ended his holdout last week. He has practiced only three times, but McVay said Donald would start on Sunday.

“He can really take over a game,” Cousins said, “and we have to account for him and have a plan to block him in both the run game and the pass game.

“He’s a great player and we’ll certainly be aware of his presence.”

McVay is looking forward to briefly reconnecting with Gruden and other familiar faces before the game. But then he will attempt to defeat them, without being overly emotional.

Players are not the only ones who must remain poised and even-keeled, McVay said.

“You better make sure you do it as a coach as well,” he said.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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