Joussiance and the Stagnation of Sean McVay

by Hollywood Sports

Jouissance is defined as a physical or intellectual delight, pleasure, or ecstasy. I first stumbled upon the concept in film school when the discussion of the dream state that the viewing experience inside a movie theater ventured into the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. For Lacan, his use of the term had a sublimated sexual component in its expression in a subject. 

Lacan who I began to think about when watching Sean McVay embark on his 50-yard dash to celebrate Matthew Stafford’s successful long pass to DeSean Jackson during their prime-time victory against Tampa Bay earlier in the season. The dopamine was definitely triggering with the successful execution of that play. Big plays will do that. But I still found McVay’s (over)reaction surprising. We don’t see Andy Reid break out into a full sprint whenever Patrick Mahomes connects a deep ball with Tyreek Hill. Perhaps McVay was trying to offer support for a disgruntled Jackson unhappy in not being involved enough in the offense. If so, McVay’s player-management skills failed to please Jackson who asked for his release soon after. 

Los Angeles may be tied with the Dallas Cowboys to lead the NFL in Yards-Per-Play — but their only victory against a team with a winning record was that triumph against Buccaneers. After their 36-28 loss at Green Bay as a small favorite on Sunday (our NFL Game of the Month, by the way), the Rams have lost three games in a row. I argued in my defense of taking the Packers that I thought “offensive genius” Sean McVay has become too enamored with the dopamine hit he receives when Matthew Stafford connects on a long pass. 

In general, I think McVay is a fine young coach. I cringe when the “offensive genius” moniker seems to be a mandatory modifier to his name. I find the hiring trends involving anyone who once sat at the lunch table with him to be desperate. And I appreciate McVay when he admitted he prepared his team incorrectly in the Super Bowl loss to New England when his offense managed only three points. But I was very disappointed to see McVay throw Jared Goff under the bus after the blockbuster trade with Detroit to acquire Stafford. McVay never mentioned Goff by name. However, when a teenage boy breaks up with his girlfriend to start dating something new and then raves about how good a dancer she is and how nice her breath smells, the implication is obvious: the previous GF had no moves and pretty much stunk.

In his jouissance of no longer having to manage the play of Goff, McVay has abandoned the play-action rushing attack that made the offense so effective in propelling the Rams’ Super Bowl run. The Rams only rushed for 68 yards against Green Bay after managing only 52 rushing yards against the 49ers in their upset loss to San Francisco two weeks ago. 

I worry that McVay has overrated the talents of Stafford. I like Stafford and I think he has incredible natural ability. His decision-making was sometimes questionable with Detroit — and he certainly lacks big-time playoff experience even going back to his days with Georgia. I think he got lulled into forcing the football to Calvin Johnson when those two stars were paired together — and I think he matured as a quarterback and as a leader after Johnson’s premature retirement. The addition of Odell Beckham worries me because it may play into McVay’s dopamine addiction for the long-ball and because Stafford may succumb to the pressure to get him the football rather than taking what the defense offers him. Maybe the Rams are the franchise where Beckham will stop being failed by everyone around him? Or maybe, just maybe, Beckham is part of the problem? Granted, they need Beckham now after the season-ending injury to Robert Woods.
The Rams have lost three straight games despite being favored in all three games (the losing streak started with their loss to Tennessee on Sunday Night Football). Stafford five interceptions in those three games after throwing only four interceptions in his first eight starts with his new team. Even more concerning, Stafford has thrown a pick-six in each of these three games. He has also been sacked nine times in these three games. That is a problem that I think speaks more to play-calling than it does the quality of the offensive line or Stafford’s elusiveness in the pocket. McVay seems to have discovered the lost tapes from the Mike Martz offense. Jay Cutler got sacked a lot in that offense waiting for receivers to run 40 yards downfield. McVay’s effusive early praise of Stafford comes across as if his “brilliance” can finally be unleashed by running a Martz-inspired attack. I would like to see Stafford operate the play-action offense that Goff operated under. I do think Stafford was an upgrade to Goff but he needs a coach, not a cheerleader.

Maybe Goff’s lack of preparation at times last season warranted McVay’s frustration with him. Perhaps the divorce was in the best interest of both parties? But McVay and the Rams were coming off a bye week on Sunday in their showdown against the Packers — and they got owned. 

The “offensive genius” seems stagnant. There are other quarterbacks and offensive head coaches who would face holy hell after three straight games with pick-sixes in what were all upset losses.

Perhaps the offensive genius should take another lesson from Bill Belichick who has demonstrated from Tom Brady to now Mac Jones: be happy with what the defense offers (and the receiver will break out with a nice yards-after-catch one out of three times!). Interestingly, being enamored with the long ball was a challenge Patrick Mahomes faced earlier in the season. 

Or perhaps McVay should bypass his mid-game dopamine hits to instead take the advice from Joe Burrow who made these comments after Cincinnati’s blowout win against Pittsburgh on Sunday. Burrow commented on his renewed focus: “Just take care of the ball better. Eliminate some turnovers. We kind of fell in love with the big play, speaking of myself. The last two games, I’ve really just taken what the defenses have given me and stat lines aren’t dotty or impressive but it’s getting the job done. That’s all I care about is W’s, and whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Best of luck — Frank.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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