It’s not enough to coach a Rams team with a dominant defense, a high-scoring offense and special teams that thrive despite the absence of two Pro Bowl players.
Sean McVay is always looking for another edge.
He unexpectedly found one in Sunday’s rout of the Arizona Cardinals, a victory that provided the always tinkering McVay with fodder for even more inventiveness.
A groin injury suffered by kicker Greg Zuerlein influenced McVay to attempt three two-point conversions, a twist that could become more common for a team already regarded as a Super Bowl favorite.
Running back Todd Gurley rushed for two conversions, and quarterback Jared Goff passed to running back Malcolm Brown for another.
“We always talk about being an aggressive team,” McVay said Monday during a news conference in Thousand Oaks. “That’s kind of our overall philosophy in terms of what we want to present. … It certainly gives you a belief and a confidence that this is something you might explore doing more times than not.”
Zuerlein, the NFL’s leading scorer last season, is expected to be sidelined for a few weeks, McVay said.
The Rams re-signed kicker Sam Ficken to take Zuerlein’s place. Ficken will handle field-goal attempts, extra points and kickoffs Sunday against the Chargers at the Coliseum.
“He’s kind of been through some experience with us playing games that are very, very important, which we know this next one is,” McVay said.
It’s the second time in less than a year that the Rams have turned to Ficken in the aftermath of a Zuerlein injury.
Last December, Zuerlein struggled to finish a game at Seattle because of a season-ending back injury that required surgery.
Ficken, who played at Penn State, made two of three field-goal attempts and four of five extra points during two regular-season games, then made both of his field-goal attempts and an extra point in a wild-card playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Rams re-signed Ficken in the offseason as an insurance policy in case Zuerlein was slow to recover from his back issue. Zuerlein returned strong, and the Rams released Ficken after the preseason.
McVay expressed confidence in Ficken, but noted that Zuerlein’s range — he kicked a 55-yard field goal off the infield dirt in the Rams’ season-opening victory at Oakland — changes the way he thinks about play-calling.
“Greg is one of the best kickers in this league, if not the best, for a reason,” McVay said. “So I think there’s a little bit of a different mindset.”
McVay and his players also are thinking differently after their success with two-point conversions.
Goff said that he was happy to attempt them, even as he works out the logistics.
“Just a play from the three [yard-line] or whatever it is, two — I'm not quite sure,” he said after the game. “I think it's from the two.”
In addition to the conversions, Gurley ran for a touchdown on a fourth-down play.
That kind of success left an impression on McVay.
“It affects your mindset, your mentality,” McVay said, adding, “That’s definitely something that we’ll think about, and it could potentially alter the way we approach things.”
No job security
Jamon Brown returned from his two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. But it did not sound like the starting right guard position he manned the previous two seasons was immediately available.
McVay indicated that Austin Blythe has played his way into the role.
“As far as how we move forward,” McVay said, “it's not a result of anything Jamon hasn't done, but the fact that these are decisions that aren't very clear-cut is because of Austin's play. He's played so well. He's done such a great job.”
To make room for Ficken on the roster, the Rams put receiver Mike Thomas on injured reserve because of a groin injury suffered against the Oakland Raiders. With Pharoh Cooper also on injured reserve after ankle surgery, the only receivers on the roster are Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds and JoJo Natson. … Offensive lineman Aaron Neary, a member of the practice squad, was arrested Sunday in Simi Valley on suspicion of misdemeanor driving under the influence and hit and run, a police spokesman said. Neary, 25, was arrested at 7:24 p.m. after the Simi Valley Police Department received calls that a car was being driven erratically and had struck a bus stop sign and other objects, the spokesman said. Neary’s blood alcohol level test was 0.17, the spokesman said. It is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. McVay said that Neary was at the game at the Coliseum before the incident. “The first thing … we try to do is use these opportunities when people make a mistake, ‘All right let's use these as learning opportunities for everybody,’” McVay said. “Thank God nobody was injured — that's the main thing. … I do believe that Aaron is a good kid. I could tell he felt horrible about the decision.”