Rams coach Sean McVay is not surprised. Neither is cornerback Troy Hill nor safety Jordan Fuller.
When Brandon Staley coordinated the Rams defense in 2020, the unit statistically ranked as the NFL’s best. Now, in his second season as a head coach, Staley has the Chargers headed to the playoffs.
“The first time I met him, you could tell, like, he was a great football mind,” Hill said Wednesday. “He was all about ball.
“He would always say, ‘Can’t get tired of talking about ball.’ You could tell he really cared about it, and it was his passion.”
The Rams will face Staley for the first time in a regular-season game Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
The Rams, eliminated from playoff contention two weeks ago, are 5-10 after last Sunday’s 51-14 victory over the Denver Broncos.
The Chargers on Monday improved to 9-6 and clinched a playoff spot with a 20-3 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
McVay led the Rams to the playoffs in his first season in 2017. It was the Rams’ first playoff appearance since 2004.
It took Staley two seasons for the Chargers to end what had grown to a three-year playoff drought.
“He had a drive and a motivation and a love and a passion for the game that’s as strong as anybody I’ve been around,” McVay said.
After the Rams missed the playoffs in 2019, McVay fired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and hired the then 37-year-old Staley.
McVay was intrigued in part because Staley had worked for the Chicago Bears as a linebackers coach in 2018, when Vic Fangio was defensive coordinator for a unit that dominated in a 15-6 Rams defeat at Soldier Field. When the Denver Broncos hired Fangio as head coach in 2020, Staley moved with him.
McVay said Wednesday that Staley “definitely put his own spin” on Fangio’s system.
“From the time of his interview, we immediately hit it off,” McVay said, adding, “You just learn about the drive, the consistent approach, the relentless approach to try to be able to find solutions, put players in the right positions. … He’s a great coach. Learned a lot from him.”
In 2020, the Rams ranked first in the NFL in total defense, giving only 281.9 yards per game. They gave up a league-low 18.5 points and 190.7 yards passing per game, and ranked third in rushing defense, giving up 91.3 yards per game.
The Rams finished with a 10-6 record and defeated the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC wild-card playoff game before losing in the divisional round to the Green Bay Packers.
The day after the Rams’ loss, the Chargers hired Staley.
Last season, the Chargers finished 9-8 and missed the playoffs.
Now they are bound for the postseason.
Fuller, a third-year pro, recalled the guidance he received as a rookie from Staley.
“He gave me so much different knowledge on football in general, how to play certain things,” said Fuller, who is on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. “He was one of the people who believed in me too.
“So, grateful to him and happy that they’ve had success. But, hopefully, not too much this week.”
The Chargers defense features edge rusher Khalil Mack and safety Derwin James Jr. among others, including former Rams defensive linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox, and linebacker Troy Reeder.
The Chargers have given up 22.9 points a game, which ranks 22nd among 32 teams. They are in ninth in pass defense (201.9 yards per game) and 26th in rushing defense (140.5 ypg).
But the Chargers have not given up more than 17 points in three straight victories over the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and the Colts.
McVay recognizes Staley’s scheme from their season together with the Rams.
“You can see some similar principles,” McVay said, “but then also the evolution that’s he’s had over the last couple years to fit to what they’re doing with the Chargers.”
Offensive lineman Oday Aboushi is expected to start at right guard after NFL appeals officials reduced one-game suspensions to fines for Aboushi and Broncos outside linebacker Randy Gregory for their roles in an altercation after the Rams’ victory last Sunday at SoFi Stadium. Gregory was fined $50,000, Aboushi $12,000. “The video proved everything,” Aboushi said. “I thought they made the right call.”… Tight end Tyler Higbee (rest), offensive lineman Ty Nsehke (illness), defensive lineman Aaron Donald (ankle), receiver Ben Skowronek (calf), center Brian Allen (calf) and quarterback John Wolford (neck) did not practice. Defensive lineman Marquise Copeland (ankle) and linebacker Travin Howard (hip) were limited.