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Formation formulation: Clues about the Rams' 2011 offense in last year's formation numbers

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It's widely expected that the St. Louis Rams new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, will institute a spread-like offense, focused on passing the ball much like his recent turn at the helm in Denver and his days running the offense in New England. Then again, maybe he won't, or maybe fans just need to reconsider what they think of as the spread offense in the NFL. 

Football Outsiders has a breakdown of the effectiveness of NFL offenses last season through the lens of wide receivers on the field. Also included is the breakdown of how often teams use the various wide receiver sets. 

McDaniels' Broncos used a 3-WR set 53 percent of the time last year, and a 2-WR set 28 percent of the time. He used 4-WR sets 6 percent of the time. Those 3- and 4-WR sets were by far the most effective packages for the Donkeys, both with a DVOA above 17 percent, compared to a still-solid 14 percent DVOA on 2-WR sets. Only two teams used a 3-WR set more than the Broncos did last year. 

In case you're somehow still not convinced that the Rams were committed to passing uber alles last season with rookie QB Sam Bradford under center. Pat Shurmur's offense used a 3-WR set 49 percent of the time. They went with the traditional 2-WR set on 35 percent of their plays, and a 4-WR set on 10 percent of those plays. There was one or fewer receivers on the field for the Rams just 5 percent of the time last year, easily their least effective offensive formation with a -18.2 percent DVOA. Their best was a -4.1 percent DVOA on the traditional 2-WR sets, which mirrors what we saw in the maddening dink and dunk offense. St. Louis had a -12.4 percent DVOA on 3-WR sets and a -10.8 percent DVOA on 4-WR sets, both of which say something about the lack of receivers the team had as well as a reminder that they probably should have used those sets more frequently. 

McDaniels' offense has the ability to take on a number of different looks this season. The primary focus will be on the 2-TE sets, something used most famously by McDaniels' old boss in New England last year. The Pats used 1 or fewer WRs on 15 percent of their snaps, 2-WR on 39 percent, 3-WR on 40 percent and 4 or more WRs on 6 percent of their snaps. 

For those of you keeping score at home, it's damn near impossible to tell just what the Rams offense will look like this season. McDaniels may lack a true #1 WR, but he has a diverse array of players capable of putting several combinations on the field; think of a 4-WR featuring Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander as the deep threats and Greg Salas and Danny Amendola in the slot. Of course, there will be two tight ends on the field often, which translates into more 1- and 2-WR packages. 

Yet another mystery to be revealed when they pull back the curtain of the lockout.