The Los Angeles Rams are headed to the playoffs, and head coach Sean McVay plans to take advantage of that certainty.
McVay strongly hinted he would sit players for the Rams’ regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, with an eye toward helping the NFC West champs get back to full strength for their home playoff game the first weekend in January.
“That’s a luxury that we want to try to take advantage of, and everything that we do is what we think is best for our football team,” McVay said Tuesday. “While we do want to give ourselves a chance to go compete against a tough 49ers team that’s rolling, we also know that we have a chance to play for a championship and get into the playoffs and that’s something that we’re also very mindful of as well.”
The Rams (11-4) cannot secure a first-round bye, and McVay doesn’t see much of a difference between finishing with the third seed by beating the 49ers (5-10) and ending up as the fourth seed. Instead, he wants to make sure his team is healthy for the first playoff game in Los Angeles since Jan. 13, 1991, when the Raiders defeated the Cincinnati Bengals.
The first-year coach has exercised caution all season long, giving veterans including left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan an extra day off on Wednesdays. That approach is likely to carry over to game day this week and could have a cascading effect across the roster. If Whitworth and Sullivan don’t play, McVay suggested that quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley would also sit.
“If you do go with a Whitworth and a Sullivan (sitting out), then how does that affect a Jared and a Todd, but those things are all definitely connected and those will be things that we are going to continue to discuss as the week progresses,” McVay said.
Los Angeles has been relatively healthy this season, but the team was reminded this week how quickly that can change. Outside linebacker Matt Longacre is headed to injured reserve with a back injury that requires surgery, McVay said.
Longacre is third on the team with 5 1/2 sacks and was thriving as a pass rush specialist under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
McVay is willing to risk disrupting the Rams’ rhythm and continuity to make sure everyone else is available for the playoffs, citing how the team performed after its bye. The Rams demolished the New York Giants 51-17 following an open week after their trip to London, and McVay is confident that they can maintain a similar focus.
“I think we’ve got the right types of guys that can handle that the right way and understand how we need to practice and what we need to do in the meantime if it is a situation where they’re not going to play this coming week, but it is something that you do think about,” McVay said.
It also might not hurt to give Gurley a chance to rest after a season-high 32 touches in the 27-23 win at Tennessee on Sunday. Gurley had 118 yards rushing on 22 carries and caught 10 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns against the Titans, continuing his late push into the MVP conversation.
“Checked the film – it looked pretty good on the film, too,” McVay said. “He’s been playing his best these last couple weeks, and he’s got such a great energy and ability to contribute in a variety of ways.”
Around the league
Former Pittsburgh Steelers star James Harrison has signed with the New England Patriots. The Patriots announced the move Tuesday, three days after Harrison’s unceremonious departure from Pittsburgh. Harrison visited the Patriots after clearing waviers and becoming a free agent following his release by Pittsburgh. … Tennessee fans wanting to see Derrick Henry start at running back instead of DeMarco Murray may get their chance to see what that looks like in the Titans’ most important game of the season. Coach Mike Mularkey isn’t ruling Murray out of the Titans’ regular-season finale against Jacksonville on Sunday but Mularkey said Tuesday that the veteran will be limited at best if an injured knee allows him to play at all. … Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that quarterback Kirk Cousins would start Sunday’s season finale at the New York Giants despite the potential of an injury and no postseason ramifications involved. … The Denver Broncos will start Paxton Lynch at quarterback in their season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Vance Joseph made the announcement Tuesday. Joseph said it doesn’t matter if Lynch is facing backups, he still wants to get another look at the team’s 2016 first-round draft pick who has only started three NFL games and just one this season.
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