Sean McVay gives up a piece of Rams' offense, grows as a head coach

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay often sounded like a broken record when he spoke this past season about the Los Angeles Rams' offense.

The unit needed to play with more consistency. The players needed to develop a rhythm. The Rams needed to solidify their run game, be less reliant on their passing game.

Although the offense appeared efficient, if not outstanding at times, it ultimately did not perform to standard. The unit's down season was a major contributing factor in a 9-7 record that failed to earn the Rams a third consecutive playoff berth.

"Our inconsistency as a team ended up hurting us," McVay said following the Rams' elimination from playoff contention in Week 16. "We saw what we were capable of when the things were going well, and we saw how it can look when they're not going well."

McVay wasted little time making staff changes following the season. He replaced veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips with newcomer Brandon Staley, and hired Kevin O'Connell as offensive coordinator, two moves the team has yet to announce. He remains in search of a new running backs coach and special-teams coordinator after firing Skip Peete and watching John Fassel move on to the Dallas Cowboys.

It's uncertain whether O'Connell and Staley will make additional changes to their offensive and defensive staffing.

By hiring O'Connell, McVay signaled that he's aware the offense's status quo must be improved and that he can't resolve the issues alone.

That's not a bad thing.

As head coach, the offense-minded McVay must continue to evolve, focus on the entire team and most of the dealings that surround it -- including matters beyond X's and O's.

"You get to go through a lot of good and some bad this season," McVay said as the year came to an end. "I think that's forced us to learn a lot about ourselves. I know it has for me personally."

By hiring O'Connell, McVay returns to having an offensive coordinator -- a position he went without the past two seasons after current Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur left the post in 2018 to take the same role with the Tennessee Titans, where he could also call plays.

Even as he prepares to delegate offensive game planning, McVay is expected to maintain his role as the playcaller next season. But preparation throughout the week and even in-game adjustments will now include the helpful eye of a dedicated coordinator.

"The one thing, for myself in this role, is that you're constantly evaluating all the elements that this role entails and you always want to continue to do it at a high level," McVay said before the season ended, when asked if he was comfortable with the offensive staffing. "The way that you do get better is you surround yourself with people that are better than you. We've got a lot of good people here, but I think it's always continuing to find that good balance of, what does it look like structurally, really, for our organization, in terms of that setup. Want to be able to get the best people here."

O'Connell, 34, spent the past three seasons as an offensive assistant with the Washington Redskins, where he was hired by Jay Gruden, a champion of McVay when he spent seven seasons climbing the ranks in Washington before the Rams named him head coach in 2017.

A former NFL quarterback, O'Connell's first NFL gig came in Cleveland, where he coached quarterbacks in 2015. He spent the following season as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, and then in 2017 joined the Redskins (a season after McVay departed), where he coached quarterbacks and was promoted after two seasons to offensive coordinator.

Last season, O'Connell took over as the playcaller after Gruden was fired following an 0-5 start. He helped develop rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who demonstrated drastic improvement in his final two starts of the season as the Redskins posted more than 40 points in consecutive losses.

O'Connell departed the Redskins following the season when new coach Ron Rivera hired Scott Turner as offensive coordinator.

With the Rams, O'Connell will be tasked with correcting the course of an offense that last season lost its identity and did not consistently perform to the standard set the previous two seasons.

The reasons for the Rams' offensive downturn were multifaceted. Several defenses copied the model shown by the Chicago Bears and by the New England Patriots, who shut down the Rams' offense last season in the Super Bowl.

The offensive line was inexperienced and then injury-riddled. The playcalling relied too much on the arm of quarterback Jared Goff and not enough on the legs of the running backs, as McVay attempted to deploy a three-back rotation.

The Rams' offense ranked 11th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 24.6 points, a drop-off from the 32.9 points it averaged in 2018 (second). A season after the run game ranked third in the league, rushing for an average of 134.4 yards per game, the average this season plummeted to 93.7 yards, which ranked 26th. Goff boasted a total QBR of 63.7 (10th) last season, but fell to 48.4 (23rd) in 2019.

The hiring of O'Connell and Staley, who is 37, ensures that the Rams will feature the youngest trio of head coach and offensive and defensive coordinators.

As he prepared for his longest offseason since taking over as head coach, McVay expressed confidence about his ability to evaluate and evolve.

"I'm continuing to try and figure out what's the best rhythm to operate with on a day-to-day basis for our football team," McVay said. "Because ultimately that is your job, is to make sure that you have a good feel for everything that is going on and then putting your players in a position on all three phases to try to have success week in and week out."

The move to hire O'Connell proves McVay is growing as a head coach, even if that means yielding some power over his offense.