- Associated Press - Thursday, September 14, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams and Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins praised each other during the week.

Come Sunday afternoon, McVay will try to beat his old boss and continue the Rams‘ bold start to the season.

McVay, 31, worked for the Redskins for seven seasons, including the last three as offensive coordinator under Gruden, before being hired by the Rams as the youngest head coach in modern league history.

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“Well, honestly I didn’t think he’d get one this quick,” Gruden said with a laugh. “He’s pretty young, but we had some success on offense and he did great things with (Kirk) Cousins. … There’s a lot to like about Sean once you get to know him. I just didn’t know that people would give him that opportunity at such a young age, but once they started giving him interviews, I figured that he would get one of them, because like I said, he has all of those traits to be a good head coach.”

Naturally, the big focus Sunday will be McVay’s familiarity with the Redskins, particularly with Cousins. While Cousins became a full-time NFL starter and set and broke the franchise record for passing yards under McVay, he had a rough start to 2017 in a 30-17 loss to Philadelphia.

The Rams, meanwhile, had their best performance since moving back from St. Louis last season. They routed Indianapolis 46-9 behind Jared Goff’s career-high 306 yards passing and a defense that scored 16 points. That defense gets All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald back from a long holdout as McVay schemes to beat his old team.

“Coach Gruden taught me a lot of stuff, so I know he’s mixed it up,” McVay said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s taught me a large portion of things that I know and things that we do here, so we’ve got some familiarity with each other. But, I can’t say enough about how much I respect him and what he’s done for my coaching career.”

The mutual admiration will pause for some three hours Sunday.

Some things to watch for when the Rams (1-0) host the Redskins (0-1).

DONALD’S BACK: The three-time Pro Bowler wasn’t at the Coliseum last Sunday after ending his four-month holdout. He’ll start against the Redskins, although it’s not sure how much he’ll play. He’s playing for $1.8 million this season after failing to reach agreement on a contract that likely would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in football. Donald said he learned “pretty much everything” he needs to know about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 scheme during his brief time in the offseason program before he began his holdout in May.

UNBALANCED REDSKINS: Considering McVay ran Washington’s offense the past three years, it’s imperative for Gruden to strike a run-pass balance that was lacking in the loss to Philadelphia. The Redskins ran on just 17 of 61 offensive snaps, so little that Robert Kelley couldn’t find any kind of rhythm and the Eagles could focus on stopping the passing game. That won’t work against a Rams defense that tormented the Colts last week, including returning two interceptions for touchdowns and getting a safety.

COUSINS IN FOCUS: While Washington’s offensive line struggling in the opener contributed to Cousins’ two fumbles and there were some drops, his interception and a few errant passes are squarely on his shoulders. Cousins sees his and the offense’s problems as correctable, and Gruden doesn’t sound worried. “We just have to keep trying to work with him and hopefully drill him in practice and get him better,” Gruden said.

GOFF’S GROWTH: Goff passed for a career-high 306 yards and a touchdown in his first victory as an NFL starter. The best stat? “No turnovers,” McVay said. “That’s an outstanding stat to have as a quarterback and then I think he did a great job of distributing the ball. When you see four of your top guys all have over 50 yards receiving, that’s a credit to him and the decision making.” Overall, Goff completed passes to eight receivers.

THIRD DOWN AND OUT: The Redskins‘ third-down defense was worst in the NFL last season and allowed Philadelphia to convert on 8 of 14 opportunities last week. Gruden considers the pass rush, or lack of an effective one, an issue along with not wrapping up the quarterback. “When plays are there, we just need to make them,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “When we have the quarterback wrapped up, we’ve got to bring him down. When we have our hands on the ball, we’ve got to bring that down as well.”


AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed.


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson


For more NFL coverage: pro32.ap.org and twitter.com/AP_NFL

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