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Sean McVay has the QB he wanted in Matthew Stafford, now Rams offense better be super

 Rams coach Sean McVay chats with the Rams new starting quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Rams coach Sean McVay has the quarterback he craved in veteran Matthew Stafford.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The parts appear to be in place for Sean McVay.

New star quarterback Matthew Stafford is acclimated to Southern California and the Rams offense. Veteran receiver DeSean Jackson is a new deep threat. The Rams also added running back Sony Michel, a Super Bowl champion, to pair with Darrell Henderson. And the offensive line anchored is anchored by seemingly ageless left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

As McVay enters his fifth season as coach and play-caller, his offensive mindset apparently is the same but also evolved.

“A little bit of both,” he said.

McVay was cagey when asked how his philosophy might change with Stafford and Jackson in the mix, telling reporters they would see Sunday night, when the Rams play their opener against the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium on “Sunday Night Football.”

One thing is certain: There will be no room for excuses if McVay and Stafford do not lead the Rams deep into the playoffs, which conclude in February with Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

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The Rams might have Super Bowl aspirations, but they have many players stepping into new roles who must deliver if their dream is to come true.

McVay and general manager Les Snead gave up on quarterback Jared Goff, sending the two-time Pro Bowl selection and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions because Goff could not execute all that McVay wanted.

Goff helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018. Last season, despite a broken thumb, he helped them advance to the NFC divisional round before losing to the Green Bay Packers.

In Stafford, McVay got the experienced, athletic quarterback he has pined for since the Rams hired him in 2017. Stafford has not won a postseason game, but that is expected to change with Stafford running an offense designed by a coach regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds.

“He has been such a quick study,” McVay said, “and there has been collaboration of what we’re doing.”

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In Detroit, Stafford played with Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson. With the Rams, he most often will target veterans Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Jackson, second-year pro Van Jefferson and rookie Tutu Atwell also will have opportunities. Tight end Tyler Higbee also is expected to play an expanded role in McVay’s offense, which produced only one long touchdown pass last season.

“I’ve played with receivers — all different types, all different sizes, speeds, all that kind of stuff,” Stafford said. “I think this one is up there with some of the best that I’ve played with both in their abilities, their knowledge, their effort, the way they affect the game — not only when they have the ball or when they’re running a route, but how they block and spring runs.”

Rams receiver Robert Woods (17) and tight end Tyler Higbee celebrate.
Rams receiver Robert Woods (17) and tight end Tyler Higbee should become familiar targets for new quarterback Matthew Stafford.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Woods, a ninth-year pro, said Stafford’s experience has been evident in his ability to come off the practice field and instantly reconstruct what went right or wrong.

“He can really have a snapshot and screenshot of what the defense was in and come to the side and talk about it,” Woods said. “And if he sees it again, already have a plan for it.”

Henderson moved to the top of the running back depth chart after Cam Akers suffered a season-ending Achilles injury on the eve of training camp.
Henderson, a third-year pro, started 11 games last season. But, as it did in 2019, Henderson’s season ended prematurely because of an ankle injury that required surgery.

To hedge against Henderson’s questionable durability, the Rams traded late in the preseason for Michel. The fourth-year pro twice ran for more than 900 yards for the New England Patriots and scored a touchdown in the Patriots’ 13-3 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

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“I’m going to just try to be the best version of me, the best player I can be, whatever they ask,” Michel said. “Whether it’s just running down, going to block somebody, catching the ball, running the ball, whatever they need me to do.”

After Higbee ended the 2019 season with four 100-yard games, his production waned last year. Gerald Everett signed with the Seattle Seahawks, so Johnny Mundt moves into the backup tight end role. Rookie Jacob Harris also could find a role in the passing game.

Whitworth, who turns 40 in December, leads a line now under the direction of coach Kevin Carberry. Whitworth, left guard David Edwards, center Brian Allen, right guard Austin Corbett and right tackle Rob Havenstein must keep Stafford upright and clear space for Henderson and Michel.

If that happens, the Rams could make a Super Bowl run.


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