On the Rams, the shotgun and missed opportunities

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford..."please let me throw it deep coach."

The shotgun. I've always been partial to the Bop Gun, but that doesn't do much to move the ball down the field. But I digress. When the St. Louis Rams made Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, it was widely expected, and recommended, that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur would use the shotgun rather frequently, given his background under Andy Ried in Philly and Bradford's experience in the spread offense in college. 

So, just how often are the Rams operating out of the shotgun? Not very much. Not very much at all as a matter of fact. 

According to the advanced stats from Football Outsiders, the Rams are using the shotgun formation on just 32.7 percent of their offensive snaps. Compared with the rest of the league, 24 teams use the gun more than the Rams. Last year, the Rams used the shotgun on 38 percent of their offensive snaps. 

What gives?

It's kind of funny because one of the knocks on Sam Bradford heading into the draft was that he just wouldn't be able to work under center very well, his stats at OU said otherwise as has his performance with the Rams. Add one more item to you list of why Bradford is awesome. 

However, the biggest problem with this is that Bradford can work well out of the gun and the Rams have been more effective when using it. Thus the rub of them not using it more. 

The Rams offense has a DVOA of -0.8 percent in the shotgun formation, versus a DVOA of -18.0 percent under center. That's a huge difference, hardly a surprise, but enough to make you wonder why they aren't using it more. Besides the Bradford's obvious ability, Steven Jackson has been a more effective weapon when they hand him the ball with the shotgun formation spreading the field from the usual stacked box of defenders. 

For some more insight, I asked Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders. His answer:

WCO [West Coast offense] coordinators are generally averse to the shotgun, with Andy Reid as the notable long-term exception. Walsh hated it, Holmgren hated it.

Andy Reid was the exception, his protege Pat Shurmur is the rule. Damn. 

Shurmur's adherence to doctrinaire West Coast offensive-ism is maddening, and a conservative head coach, a defensive-minded head coach, bears some responsibility. The case was before the season began that the Rams should employ the gun more because of several factors.

  1. Bradford's deep accuracy. Already, he's getting compared to Tom Brady for this, and when the Rams throw deep, good things usually happen. 
  2. A pass blocking offensive line. No secret here, the Rams offensive line has been excellent at pass blocking, last week was a notable exception. Rodger Saffold has allowed just two sacks this year and Jason Smith's athletic blocking on the right side has made Bradford's roll outs in that direction deadly effective, just like they were for him in college. 
  3. Quantity over quality at wide receiver. This isn't as important as the two reasons above, but what the Rams lack in a dedicated No. 1 receiver, they usually make up for with success in 3 and 4 receiver sets, helping keep potential pass catchers open and creating mismatches in coverage. 

 

All those things still hold true in week 15. The biggest gap on the roster that hurts them in running a spread offense is the lack of speed, something a guy like Donnie Avery gives them. 

Jackson's carries should easily top 320 this season as he remains the centerpiece of the offense, and perhaps that's some explanation as to why they don't run the gun much...even as they askew the traditional 2-back formations. However, Jackson's been even more effective running out of the shotgun, as Bradford's ability now keeps defenses honest. 

The biggest problem here is that the Rams just don't throw the deep ball very much. When you don't throw the deep ball, you don't need the shotgun. That frustrates me, and it should frustrate you too. 

A few minutes ago, when I started writing this post, I thought about dropping some thoughts as to why the Rams don't use the gun much and don't throw deep. It was the usual litany of reasons: rookie QB, receivers, etc. But the more you look at the situation, the only explanation that makes sense is the one cited just a few paragraphs above: offensive dogma. 

Maybe they'll start to open it up more with more on the line. Maybe not. It's really too bad that they haven't taken advantage of the incredible gifts they've been given. Sitting at 6-7 with three games left to play has surprised us all, and what happens through those last three games remains to be seen. Still, it's hard not to wonder what that record might look like had the Rams altered their offensive game plan just a little bit. And maybe they still plan to. 

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