As young assistants on Washington’s coaching staff, Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur aspired to draw up and call plays for the most talented and experienced quarterbacks in the NFL.
“We always would talk about what it would be like to coach a guy like Aaron Rodgers,” LaFleur said, “and just how … you’re basically limitless in what you want to get accomplished.”
Last season, his second as a head coach, LaFleur and Rodgers led the Packers to an NFC divisional-round victory over the Rams at Lambeau Field, triggering the Rams to move on from quarterback Jared Goff.
On Sunday, when the Rams (7-3) return to play the Packers (8-3), McVay will come armed with a veteran quarterback of his own in Matthew Stafford.
Rodgers, 37, has passed for nearly 54,000 yards in 16-plus NFL seasons. Stafford, 33, has passed for more than 48,000 yards in 12-plus seasons.
Is it the ultimate matchup with LaFleur?
“Yeah,” McVay said. “I mean, it is.”
McVay, in his fifth season with the Rams, has not fared well of late against close friends in the NFL.
The Rams are two weeks removed from a 31-10 defeat by the San Francisco 49ers. It was the Rams’ second loss in a row, and the fifth consecutive time that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who mentored McVay and LaFleur, beat his Los Angeles protégé.
LaFleur is not the only familiar face McVay will see on the opposite sideline Sunday.
Joe Barry, the Rams’ inside linebackers coach the previous four seasons, is the Packers’ defensive coordinator.
So, on a day when temperatures are forecast in the 30s, McVay and his players and staff will be challenged to end their losing streak in one of the league’s most historic and difficult venues.
Rodgers has passed for 21 touchdowns, with four interceptions. The reigning NFL most valuable player said this week that he has a fractured toe.
But after watching Rodgers pass for 385 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, McVay and his players expect him to play as if he is at full strength.
“It might’ve been painful for him, but he looked pretty mobile, pretty special,” McVay said. “So, I don’t put much merit into that. He’s a great player and he sure looks every bit as good as he always has.”
Said defensive lineman Aaron Donald: “He doesn’t look like he has a toe injury. So, I don’t really believe it. He [is] playing good football.”
The Rams’ defense is eager to play again after getting pushed around by the 49ers, who opened the Nov. 15 game with an 18-play scoring drive.
“We can be more physical,” defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “We can set terms differently and do some different things that way.”
Stafford also is looking to bounce back.
He has passed for 24 touchdowns, but his interception total doubled to eight after the Tennessee Titans and the 49ers both intercepted two passes in sending the Rams to defeat. In both games, an interception was returned for a touchdown.
In 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford compiled a 7-13 record against the Packers. He has passed for 21 touchdowns, with six interceptions and going 3-7 at Lambeau Field.
Frosty temperatures, even snow, will not bother him, he said.
“I’ve had a lot of experience playing in that kind of weather,” he said. “Both in Green Bay, Chicago — Minnesota was outdoors for a while.
“Just show up and play the game. The ball’s going to be snapped, let’s go play and just play like it’s normal until the elements tell you that you can’t.”
Receiver Cooper Kupp, Stafford’s top target, did not play against the Packers last season because of a knee injury that forced him to sit out the playoff loss. So, this will be his first game at Lambeau Field.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is seeking to make better memories at the stadium after dropping several passes during a January 2017 playoff defeat while playing for the New York Giants.
In his Rams debut against the 49ers, Beckham caught two passes. He anticipates a larger role Sunday.
“I’m not giving away any hints on anything that’s going on,” he said. “But I definitely think that there’s opportunities … to make plays.”
Outside linebacker Von Miller also will play his second game for the Rams. The ankle injury that forced him to sit out against the Titans is a “nonfactor,” he said.
Asked this week what more he expects from Beckham and Miller, McVay said, “A lot more, hopefully.”
Miller has been through a Super Bowl run with the Denver Broncos. He was the most valuable player of Super Bowl 50 to end the 2015 season.
The Rams are approaching Sunday’s matchup against the Packers as an “early season playoff game,” he said.
“They’re a top team in the NFC and we’re a top team in the NFC,” he said. “Down the road, this game is going to matter.”