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Column: The pressure is on Rams’ Sean McVay after Goff-Stafford trade

Rams coach Sean McVay and Jared Goff with staff members behind them.
Rams coach Sean McVay led his team to the Super Bowl with Jared Goff as his quarterback, but they failed to recapture the magic of the 2018 season.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Can’t blame Jared Goff’s small hands or troubles throwing downfield anymore.

This is now on Sean McVay.

General manager Les Snead found McVay a quarterback on Saturday night, sending Goff and a package of draft picks to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford.

No question, trading a couple of future first-round picks represented a gamble. But the Rams are wagering on McVay as much as they are on Stafford.

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If McVay could build a high-powered offense around Kirk Cousins, as he did as Washington’s offensive coordinator, he should be able to do so with Stafford.

The Rams traded Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions as part of a deal for Matthew Stafford in a swap of quarterbacks who were No. 1 overall picks.

If he could reach a Super Bowl with Goff as his quarterback, as he did two years ago, he should be able to do so with Stafford.

So long as he really is the coach the Rams believe he is.

The Rams have placed massive bets on McVay before. Such as when they made him the youngest head coach in NFL history at 30. Or when they signed Goff to the record-breaking contract that basically forced them to pay the Lions to take the former No. 1 overall pick off their hands.

When the Rams signed Goff to the deal in the days leading up the 2019 season, the question was whether they had guaranteed $110 million to a system quarterback.

The answer to the question didn’t feel particularly important at the time. If he was a system quarterback but the system in question remained, what was the problem? The Rams had already signed McVay to an extension, which ensured he would be around through the 2023 season. Goff’s deal went only a season beyond that.

“He joked that I’m stuck with him,” Goff said at the time.

No quarterback drafted first overall had become a Super Bowl starter as quickly as Goff, who did so in only his third season. The distinction was viewed as a credit to McVay, considering Goff was 0-7 as a rookie starter under then-coach Jeff Fisher and interim coach John Fassel.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford holds the ball while followed by Houston Texans linebacker Nate Hall
Quarterback Matthew Stafford tries to fend off Houston Texans linebacker Nate Hall on Nov. 26. Over 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford threw for 282 touchdowns.
(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

But Goff and McVay failed to recapture the magic of the 2018 season, which ended in a Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

Goff passed for a 20 touchdowns — his career low for a full season — this past season. McVay lost confidence in him to where he opted to start backup John Wolford in the playoff opener even though Goff said his thumb was sufficiently recovered from a late-season operation.

The Rams reached the postseason not because of their offense, but in spite of it.

In Goff’s defense, the team around him changed over the last couple of years. The loss of Brandin Cooks deprived him of a deep threat.

The Rams’ decision to trade Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford is a big gamble, but the team had virtually no other option.

More critical was the slowing down and eventual departure of Todd Gurley. In retrospect, the primary reason for Goff’s success was perhaps not McVay, but the All-Pro running back. The threat of Gurley is what made Goff an effective play-action passer. Gurley wasn’t the same after his arthritic knee started bothering him. Goff wasn’t, either.

Was Gurley why McVay looked like a genius?

The Rams are counting on that not having been the case. They think McVay can win without a running back of Gurley’s caliber. They trust he can triumph without a receiver who can stretch the field the way Cook did. They believe the offense stalled because Goff regressed, not because the league figured out McVay.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw knows Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, his former high school classmate, can accomplish a lot in the NFL.

By paying as much as they did to acquire a quarterback who turns 33 this week, the Rams essentially doubled down on the bet they made when they acquired Jalen Ramsey. They are looking to take advantage of Aaron Donald’s prime and win now.

In theory, Stafford will be the most talented quarterback with whom McVay has ever worked. He has a strong arm. He has a commanding pocket presence. Without much talent around him, he passed for more than 4,000 yards this season.

He is also 0-3 in postseason games.

McVay will be under intense pressure to change that.

Reaching the postseason won’t be enough. Advancing to the divisional round won’t be, either. They did that with a diminished version of Goff.

Only a Super Bowl victory will justify the bounty for Stafford and restore McVay’s reputation as an offensive visionary.


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