In the wake of the Rams' poor offensive performance in Super Bowl LIII, the curmudgeons among us might be tempted to rejoice in the misery of Sean McVay, the latest millennial genius, getting kneecapped by Bill Belichick, king of us curmudgeons.
We won’t rejoice. We’re bigger than that. Barely.
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At the very least, the Doug Pedersons and Andy Reids and the Sean Paytons among us can extract a measure of satisfaction that McVay — 33 and young enough to be their son — did not render their brand of offensive genius irrelevant.
Specifically, in Philadelphia, Eagles loyalists can sit back and gaze at their year-old Super Bowl replica rings and sigh contentedly in the knowledge that no team is better situated for long-term relevance than theirs.
They have the better coach: Pederson. They have the better quarterback: Carson Wentz, taken No. 2 overall in the 2016 draft, one slot behind Jared Goff. They have a superior offensive line (just barely), and they can continue to build their defense around lineman Fletcher Cox, just as the Rams can build around Aaron Donald.
Lines are necessary, but everything starts with quarterbacks and coaches. In this moment, and for years to come, the Eagles and Rams should dominate the NFC landscape. And the Eagles should be better than the Rams. Just barely, perhaps. But better.
This is good. This is healthy. This is a rivalry, and those are the lifeblood of any league.
Eagles-Rams is especially enticing because the rivalry is natural, and based on coach and quarterback: slick Hollywood darlings with gelled and sculpted coifs versus straitlaced East Coast nerds in visors and hunting caps. It’s fascinating, and it’s already begun, and the Eagles are in the lead. Barely?
When Pederson beat Belichick in Super Bowl LII, the Eagles scored 41 points. When McVay and the Rams lost to Belichick on Sunday evening, they scored three points, tied for fewest in Super Bowl history.
Pederson beat McVay in each of the past two seasons. Both times on the road. Both times after Nick Foles replaced Wentz, who was injured in the second half of their Game 13 meeting in 2017, then was injured the week before their Game 14 meeting in 2018. Both years, Wentz’s passer rating was better than Goff’s (just barely, within a couple of points).
In four games, Goff’s postseason passer rating is 73.6. Wentz hasn’t played a postseason game yet. Foles has. In six playoff games, Foles' passer rating is 98.8. Foles might be better than Goff, too.
Why does this matter? Because coaches and quarterbacks tend to succeed as matched sets.
We don’t mean to scoff at McVay and Goff. They have won 26 of the 35 games they’ve shared, including playoffs. Goff has earned two Pro Bowl selections. McVay was the coach of the year in 2017 (a regular-season award, true, but still a flawed selection, considering what Pederson accomplished in the regular season: No. 1 seed, beat McVay at LA, thrived through an injury plague. That’s OK. Pederson preferred the Lombardi Trophy).
Certainly, it’s not as if McVay and Goff lack value, despite losing to the oldest winning Super Bowl coach in history. They would be a fine consolation prize for any team. Even the Eagles. But the Eagles already have Pederson and Wentz.
Is there any other team that tops them?
Belichick, 66, and Tom Brady, 41? They’ve won six Super Bowls, but they won this one despite Brady, not because of him.
Drew Brees, 40, and Sean Payton? They won once, and Brees finally should have won his MVP award this season, but ... 40.
Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes? Maybe. Perhaps with Mahomes, an MVP in his second NFL season and his first as a starter, talent can overcome Big Red’s bridesmaid syndrome. Reid (12-14) has the most playoff wins in NFL history by a coach who never won a title. No other coach with at least 11 wins has a losing postseason record. Mahomes is amazing, and Reid deserves a championship, but that’s a lot of inertia to overcome.
Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson? No thanks. Wilson is 30, and he keeps getting better, but Carroll doesn’t. The Seahawks haven’t won more than 10 games and are 2-3 in the postseason since Carroll snubbed Marshawn Lynch on the goal line four years ago and lost Super Bowl XLIX. Besides, Carroll is 67.
Who else? Bill O’Brien and Deshaun Watson in Houston? Too many variables. Frankly, we’d prefer Frank Reich and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, but just barely.
We wouldn’t take any of those combos over Pederson and Wentz -- or Pederson and Foles, for that matter. This season, Pederson beat Reich with Wentz, who was essentially playing on one leg, then beat O’Brien with Foles, in a must-win Game 15.
Considering the McVay-Goff debacle Sunday night, Philadelphia has the best situation.
This assumes a few things. First, Wentz must stay healthy. He’s been injured each of the past four years, including his senior season at North Dakota State.
Second, this assumes Wentz doesn’t choke once he reaches the postseason. He has shown no signs that he would. Certainly, he has seldom looked as bad and has never been as baffled as Goff was Sunday night. Neither has Pederson.
The Patriots played man-to-man for much of the season, but the Rams devour man-to-man, so Belichick leaned on zone coverages in the Super Bowl. That confused Goff, who was even more wretched than his stats: 19-for-38, 229 yards, an interception, four sacks. Belichick sent varied pressures up the middle from a crowded line of scrimmage. He designated a defensive back to act as a decoy blitzer, who would then drop into coverage.
With Goff discombobulated, McVay gave two-time first-team All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, his best offensive player, just 11 touches: 10 runs and one pass. Gurley netted 34 yards. McVay and Gurley said afterward that Gurley, who has battled knee issues, was healthy.
“There is no other way to say it, but I got outcoached,” McVay conceded.
That’s good, too.
Like Pederson, McVay is candid. Like Pederson, McVay is fearless. However, Pederson is 2-0 against McVay, and Pederson has a ring.
And, while Pederson’s not too young to run for president, he’s still just 51.
They’ll both be around for a long time.