Following the Los Angeles Rams’ loss in Week 4 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game in which they threw the ball 68 times and handed off to their running backs just 10 times, the refrain that was coming from fans and media was pretty simple.
The lack of effective rushing negated the value of playaction passing. The overreliance on the pass forced QB Jared Goff into too many mistakes. RB Todd Gurley was too talented not to be used more.
Rams Head Coach Sean McVay was asked about the disparity on Monday:
I think there’s been some games that we’ve gotten it going. Definitely want to be able to be to be committed to that, but I think part of it is, too, continuing to find our identity for the 2019 team. We’ve got some continuity at some spots, but we’re also figuring out what’s the best way to handle different things, accentuate our players’ skill sets. Whether that be the interior of the line, our backs, things like that. It’s something that we’re continuing to evaluate and that’s going to be a focal point on these next 11 games.
So while the chorus has been pretty loud in calling for the run...what if the Rams’ identity is exactly what we’ve seen? And what if, bear with me, that’s not a bad thing?
The loss in Week 4 was particularly uncomfortable. The Rams lost a home game despite being heavy favorites to a Tampa team that carved them up for 48 points from their offense. So to pick up an L in a game when the Rams handed the ball to Gurley just five times, the obvious antidote for many would have been to have run the ball more.
But the Rams scored 34 points on offense. Were it not for the four turnovers from Goff on the day, all things being equal, the Rams probably would have won the game. Those turnovers, and the defensive performance, were a bigger impediment than the lack of runs.
And consider the painful duo at play that day. One, a stiff Buccaneers run defense that motivates opponents to pass in the first place, and two, the Rams’ offensive line’s putrid showing that day. Tampa used much of the now-famed six-man fronts that help cut out much of the Rams’ lateral offensive plays forcing the Rams to try to run the ball inside. When you combine the quality of the Bucs’ front seven against the run and the performance from the Rams’ 2019 interior line of LG Joseph Noteboom, C Brian Allen and RG Austin Blythe, it’s easy to understand why the Rams didn’t run the ball more.
And given how much they got out of the passing game, it’s also easy to understand why that made and still makes sense.
Through five games, the Rams are 22nd total rushes. More stark is how rarely they’re running the ball early on in games en route to their 3-2 record:
Lowest run play % in the first halves of games:— Zoltán Buday (@PFF_Zoltan) October 8, 2019
1. Chiefs 24.1%
2. Rams 27.5%
3. Saints 29.3%
4. Bills 29.5%
I'll just leave this here.
But look at the other teams in the same boat.
The 4-1 Kansas City Chiefs. The 4-1 New Orleans Saints. The 4-1 Buffalo Bills.
There’s a lot of evidence mounting that running the ball in quantity just isn’t as necessary as we assume or that it might used to have been.
So despite an underreliance on the run, the Rams still have the sixth-highest scoring offense in the NFL.
Against the Bucs in Week 4, the Rams had 17 plays before they found themselves down 21-0. Those 17 plays included 14 passes, two handoffs to RB Malcolm Brown and a gut sweep to WR Cooper Kupp. So 82.35% of those early plays were passes.
After the Bucs scored their third touchdown, the Rams would have 64 more plays on offense: 56 passes, and eight runs. That’s an 87.50% pass rate.
With the clamor for the run leading up to Week 5, the Rams handed the ball to Gurley on six of their first 12 plays making up the first two series. Brown also had a handoff leaving Goff to pass on five plays at a 41.67% pass rate. On those two series, the Rams scored six points.
Over the rest of the game, Gurley would get just nine more carries while Goff dropped to pass 45 times. With WR Brandin Cooks getting an end around and Goff trying to stuff himself into the endzone on a two-point conversion, the Rams threw the ball 44 times to 11 rushes after the early balanced offense, an 80.00% pass rate. The Rams scored 23 points and came within inches of another three on top of that that would have won the game.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making the case that the Rams don’t need to run the ball.
I think the Rams, and the NFL in 2019, might be making that case more than ever.