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Opponent Breakdown: Is McVay's Familiarity with Washington an Advantage?

Rams head coach Sean McVay facing his former team on Sunday has been a storyline all week long.

While McVay's first coaching job was in Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden, Washington is where McVay truly came into his own as an NFL coach. He led the tight ends room under head coach Mike Shanahan, before current head coach Jay Gruden elevated McVay to offensive coordinator in 2014.

"Obviously, I was excited for Sean to get the [Rams] job," Jay Gruden said on a conference call with L.A. media this week. "He earned it and deserved it."

As is well known, McVay was instrumental in the development of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. And it was widely reported this week that when McVay was named Los Angeles' head coach, Cousins gifted him with a jersey on which he'd inscribed, "I owe you my career."

"Well, being our playcaller and our offensive coordinator, he had as big a role in my development as anybody," Cousins said this week. "I have a lot of respect for him and am grateful for the role that he played, which is a very large role in my development."

Check out some of the best shots from practice leading up to the Rams' matchup against the Washington Redskins.

Washington's quarterback went on to extol McVay's virtues in preparation and as a playcaller.

"I think he does a good job all week long, working really hard, putting in long hours and really having an intent for every play that he calls," Cousins said. "He's not just spinning a rolodex and picking a play out at random. He really has a reason and intention for every play he calls and he's designed those plays during the week for a specific reason. He's not just drawing them up in the dirt and hoping they work. There's an intention there and a mastery of football that enables him to design those plays.

"Ultimately, players have to execute them, but he does a really good job with the design, the scheme and then he has to communicate it to the players," Cousins continued. "You know, those plays are no good if you don't have the ability to transfer it to the players and he does a good job all week installing, teaching and communicating in such a way that the players understand their job and they do it."

Those virtues are part of why McVay earned his job with the Rams in the first place. And since Cousins knows all of that about McVay, Los Angeles' head coach certainly knows plenty about the quarterback as well.

Even so, McVay doesn't see himself as having too much of an advantage heading into Sunday's contest.

"I think you have a familiarity with how each other operates, but really, when you look at it, offensively we've done some different things based on some of the staff members that we have here that have had success in other places," McVay said. "I know that Jay has put his own little tweaks and wrinkles on it and they've done an excellent job."

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips — who also has familiarity with plenty of the members of Washington's coaching staff — agreed with the sentiment.

"I don't think there's a big advantage in that," Phillips said. "The only thing is and I think both teams see this, is the offenses are similar, but you have different players, so they're different. It's how they utilize their players and how we utilize ours are different. Because, [Washington defensive coordinator Greg] Manusky and I have similar — I mean he was with me at San Diego, so you could say defensively, things are similar too. But it's different players and you utilize them differently. So, it looks different, even though it's both kind of the same systems."

"They definitely do some similar stuff that he brought here, so we get a good look at it going against it every day," middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "So you can kind of see what they like to do and kind of try to play the game like that. But like I said, you still have to line up and [when the ball is snapped] read your keys and do a good job."

Ogletree added that generally, McVay has come in the defensive meeting rooms and given some tips here and there. But the head coach hasn't been overbearing in the process.

"He's definitely come in a little more this week, I guess you could say. But he's pretty much been the same throughout the whole process, letting us see what we see, and he's come in, given us a few pointers on what they may or may not do," Ogletree said. "And that's been a big help, for sure."

"I think you talk to them about a couple things, but you want to be careful of giving them too much information," McVay said. "I think it's a really delicate balance of making sure that you give them a couple things, but not something to where you're chasing a ghost, because you still have to go play football, react. We've got calls to make on the defensive side, they're making their calls offensively."

And so while McVay is not treating this as a red-letter game, according to running back Todd Gurley, the team can tell how important it is.

"He's excited. I know he's excited," Gurley said. "He's just been excited, he's been pumped up, wired all week. So we know how much this means to him and how much it means to us — second game of the season, had a pretty good game last week and we're excited to go against his old team."

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