Friendly fire: It’s Rams’ Sean McVay vs. Packers’ Matt LaFleur
They coached together in the NFL in Washington, and then with the Rams.
Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur are good friends. Both say they are close as brothers.
That the Rams are playing the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday at Lambeau Field did not preclude the two head coaches from communicating this week.
“It was nothing with regards to anything football related,” McVay said. “Just kind of checking in and it’s saying, ‘Hey, it’s pretty cool and crazy that we’re getting a chance to do this.’ ”
The sixth-seeded Rams (11-6) advanced to play the top-seeded Packers (13-3) by defeating the Seattle Seahawks 30-20 in a wild-card game last Saturday in Seattle. The Packers had a bye.
This is the second time in four seasons that McVay, 34, has led the Rams to the divisional round. In 2018, the Rams defeated the Dallas Cowboys and then beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the New England Patriots.
Under defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, Rams’ Jalen Ramsey had his best season. His next task is neutralizing Packers receiver Davante Adams.
LaFleur, 41, was offensive coordinator for the Rams in 2017. He was never shy about disagreeing with McVay as the Rams advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“Every day was a battle and that’s what’s fun about this,” LaFleur said this week. “You can challenge each other and that’s how you grow.”
Said McVay: “He told me what I needed to hear, and it was good, even though sometimes we wanted to choke each other out.”
LaFleur left the Rams after the 2017 season to take over play-calling duties for the Tennessee Titans. The Packers hired him before last season, and he guided them to a 13-3 record and a divisional-round victory over the Seahawks before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game.
This season, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers having an MVP-type season, the Packers earned the top seed and the lone NFC bye.
Now McVay and LaFleur will scheme against each other as head coaches for the first time.
“He’s a great friend of mine,” LaFleur said, “but the gloves will be off Saturday.”
Rams quarterback Jared Goff practiced with gloves on his hands this week as he prepared for his first start since undergoing right thumb surgery Dec. 28. Goff sat out the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, and then came off the bench to replace injured John Wolford in the victory over the Seahawks. Goff completed nine of 19 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown.
With temperatures forecast to be in or below the 30s — with possible snow showers — gloves could help with Goff’s ability to grip and pass the ball while also cushioning his thumb.
“The weather won’t matter in who wins or loses,” Goff said. “We got to go out there and execute.”
L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer predicts winners in NFL divisional round of playoffs
Rams receiver Robert Woods spent his first four NFL seasons in Buffalo, so he knows how to prepare for cold weather.
“Put on long sleeves,” he said. “Other than that ... go about your day doing the same things. ... They provide everything you need on the sideline to stay warm, so really it’s just, ‘Put on your sleeves and get to work. We got a game to win.’ ”
The weather, the condition of Goff’s thumb and receiver Cooper Kupp’s uncertain status because of a knee issue will put added emphasis on the Rams’ rushing attack.
Rookie Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards against the Seahawks. After fumbling at the goal line in the season finale against the Cardinals, he appeared to fumble late in the first half against the Seahawks. Upon review, however, officials reversed the call.
Akers said ball security would remain a priority against the Packers.
“Just do what I always do,” he said. “Don’t overthink it. Don’t let the cold … get in my head and make me think it’s harder to hold the ball because it’s not.”
The Rams’ top-ranked defense, which gave up a league-low 18.5 points per game, must try to slow Rodgers and an offense that averaged a league-best 31.8 points.
Rodgers, 37, has passed for 48 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
With a heroic performance at Green Bay, Jared Goff can show that he is the quarterback that can take the Rams to their highest heights in the future.
“Not the fastest guy, but he can move, he can get away and make things happen,” said Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who will play despite a rib injury. “So, we got to do a great job as far as bottling him up, getting pressure on him, not letting him have a clean pocket to the point where he can make all them great throws.”
Playing against quarterbacks such as the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray has helped prepare the Rams for Rodgers’ mobility, defensive lineman Michael Brockers said.
“The biggest challenge is not being afraid of his mystique and the magical ability he can have when he does make off-schedule throws,” Brockers said of Rodgers. “It’s really about … making it a tough, physical football game and just getting after him.”
Rodgers’ favorite target is receiver Davante Adams, who caught 115 passes, 18 for touchdowns. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey is expected to cover Adams in a matchup of All-Pros.
Adams is aware of Ramsey’s reputation as one of the NFL’s premier trash talkers.
“It will probably get a little chippy every now and then,” Adams said.
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