Ratings are for dorks, so I have no idea what will be the most watched game of the week, nor do I care. But I can almost guarantee what game league coaches will steal the most from—something worth considering as we move through the first quarter of a season where the 49ers look dominant and the Rams look much better than anyone (save for us) expected.
San Francisco won Sunday, with a late fourth-quarter interception by Matthew Stafford proving to be the deciding moment. The Rams came into this game after shocking the Seahawks in Week 1, and may have simply been overmatched against San Francisco given the depth of the 49ers’ personnel. One team is in Super Bowl contention mode, and one team is quickly piecing together the Legos to get there in the near future.
Both teams, though, are matched fairly evenly when it comes to brain power. Kyle Shanahan is among the most pilfered coaches in the NFL. His coaches, like niche record store owners, steal only from the best places (they were on to Neutral Milk Hotel far before you knew they existed) and add wrinkles that can thoroughly and consistently befuddle opponents. Sean McVay is also ripped off consistently, in almost the same manner. He also employs a staff full of very smart rippers, many of whom come from a diverse NFL background and can piece together a colorful game plan.
So when these two teams come together, it can serve as a benchmark as to where the NFL is right now, and where it might be going. From single plays or even motions, someone can peel back a thread on a line of thinking that stems from Shanahan’s or McVay’s notepad.
Both of these coaches like to be at their best against one another. And I don’t think we’ve fully unpacked the consequences of this. It is only going to make McVay and Shanahan stronger. The more teams take from them—and this game—the more the 49ers and the Rams are going to see how their best ideas play out, in countless scenarios, which then provides them more ways to tweak their ideas and apply them in real time.
Have you ever seen the movie The Incredibles? The villain, Syndrome, builds an unstoppable robot droid by hiring out-of-work superheroes to fight it on a desert island. The robot droid learns from each fight and each superhero and is eventually strong enough to be unleashed on the public knowing how everyone will try and attack it. (Spoiler alert: The robot was eventually destroyed, but only because it was a Disney movie; in real life Omnidroid would have flattened the entire country much like the 49ers are doing now).
This is, quietly, what’s been happening across the NFL. Coaches from the Shanahan and McVay trees go out and get jobs. They spread out ideas like tiny seedlings. Everyone else picks them up and applies them to their own unique sets of personnel, and various situational occurrences throughout the game. Then, the Shanahan and McVay staffs can see what they know has originated—or was effectively stolen and fostered—in their building and how it might look against other opponents, with a bigger bodied wide receiver, or if they tweak a certain split, or add an eligible blocker/wide receiver, you name it.
They are watching their best ideas play out like open source code.
McVay, for example, currently has a former coach calling plays in Seattle (Shane Waldron) a former coach calling plays in Minnesota (Kevin O’Connell), a former coach calling plays in Green Bay (Matt LaFleur) and a former coach who is now heavily involved in the game planning in Carolina (Thomas Brown). This doesn’t even unpack the second and third levels, made up of other coordinators, quarterbacks coaches and position coaches who migrated from that building, or learned from someone who was once there.
Shanahan, similarly, has tentacles everywhere. Knowing one of their two offenses is becoming something of a precursor to getting an interview.
So, when both teams play one another, it’s supposed to be explosive. It’s supposed to be entertaining. But it’s also something of a showcase. Like Google happily giving away devices that will listen to everything you say in the comfort of your own home, the 49ers and Rams will be thrilled to see how their best moments from Sunday make it through the NFL play, theft, rinse cycle. (Teams now have almost instant access to every play without the need to cut up film, and can search by almost any indicator, which allows them to better adopt and implement ideas from other teams.)
Steal at your own discretion.