SANTA CLARA (AP) — Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan arrived as head coaches in the NFC West together last year as longtime friends and colleagues tasked with revitalizing struggling franchises.
McVay has done a much quicker job overhauling the Los Angeles Rams than Shanahan has with the San Francisco 49ers. The teams headed in opposite directions meet for the first time this season on Sunday when the Rams (6-0) hope to remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team when they visit the struggling 49ers (1-5).
McVay credits Shanahan for his success, pointing to his four years as an assistant in Washington when Shanahan was offensive coordinator for much of his development.
“I wouldn’t really say it was a give and take,” McVay said. “It was more me taking information from him, and him a lot of giving. I think more than anything, just being committed to an identity. The way he prepared was so impressive. The way that he saw the game. His ability to make things look the same and attack defensive structures and rules and manipulate those. He’s a great coach. I learned so much from him.”
That knowledge has helped McVay build one of the NFL’s top teams with a dynamic offense led by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley that ranks third in scoring (32.7 points per game) and second in yards per play (7.16) after winning the NFC West last season.
The Niners haven’t had nearly as much success, winning just six games last year and struggling mightily this year after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
San Francisco showed glimpses of becoming what Shanahan envisioned with five straight wins to end last season with Garoppolo at quarterback, but the team has a 1-13 record under Shanahan when either Brian Hoyer or C.J. Beathard starts.
Beathard has shown improvement in his second year, leading San Francisco to back-to-back 400-yard games, but his seven turnovers in three starts contributed to the losses.
While the results have been different and the teams take slightly divergent approaches — the Rams preferring three-receiver sets and the 49ers relying more on a two-back offense with fullback Kyle Juszczyk — both coaches have taken what they did together in Washington to their current teams.
“He’s a good coach and a real good friend. We got to put a lot of that stuff in together,” Shanahan said. “Just like you do everywhere and everyone you work with, you’re always a product of your environment. You carry things over, you change a few things. We’ve both gone some different directions over the last few years, but when you do turn on the tape it’s very similar.”
Here are some other things to watch:
TAKE THE TOP OFF: Having a healthy Marquise Goodwin last week provided a big boost to San Francisco’s offense. He made four catches for 126 yards, including touchdowns of 67 and 30 yards in the first half. Perhaps even more importantly, his sprinter’s speed forces defenses to provide help in coverage, opening up holes in the running game and opportunities for other receivers.
“Guys are respecting his speed, and you’ve got to respect his speed,” Beathard said. “He can take the tops off of coverages, so it definitely helps having him out there.”
GOOD GURLEY: Gurley is off to a scintillating start with 870 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs through six games. Since the merger in 1970, only two other players have reached those marks in six games: Priest Holmes for Kansas City in 2002, Emmitt Smith for Dallas in 1995. Gurley ran for 208 yards and two TDs last week in Denver. Gurley had 149 yards from scrimmage and three TDs in his only game against the Niners last year.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT: Raheem Mostert had just 13 carries since entering the NFL in 2015 before having a breakthrough performance last week for the 49ers. Mostert carried 12 times for 87 yards at Green Bay, forming a potent rushing duo with Matt Breida. San Francisco ranks third in rushing with 142.5 yards per game and a 5.12 average per carry.
FAMILY AFFAIR: The 49ers are hosting alumni weekend and will be wearing 1994 throwback jerseys to honor their last Super Bowl championship team. That team means a lot to McVay, whose grandfather, John, helped build the 49ers dynasty as general manager. Sean McVay listed several of his favorite players from that era, including Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Dexter Carter and Merton Hanks. He also said he had a Deion Sanders jersey from that 1994 season.
“It’s always weird going against them,” he said. “But you feel so fortunate just to have the family history my grandpa established and developed.”