Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard the question: “Has Los Angeles Rams’ Head Coach Sean McVay’s offense been figured out?”. We’re going to take a deeper dive into the tape, the numbers, and form an answer to the best of our ability. Let’s begin (Stats come from Team Rankings):
I guess we may as well begin with the “issue”. It all began in week 13 of 2018. The Rams traveled to Detroit to play the Lions, and it was then when Head Coach Matt Patricia constructed a defensive gameplan that gave the Rams’ offense fits. The concerns did not quell next week, with the Chicago Bears and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio absolutely stifling the Rams’ offense for the first time. Fast forward another few weeks, the New England Patriots and Head Coach Bill Belicheck devised a brilliant gameplan which once again, absolutely stifled the Rams’ offense. The defense was in an alignment known as the “6-1”, meaning six guys were lined up on the line of scrimmage with only one off-ball linebacker, generally lined up in the middle. This defensive structure proved to give the Rams all sorts of issues running the ball, because that’s exactly what it was designed to do. The Rams’ ground game (and offense in general) starts with the outside zone running play, which then evolves into a potent play action passing attack.
The use of this alignment made the Rams’ rushing attack all but invisible, trickling throughout the rest of their offense and handcuffing them in every way.
Now, fast forward to the beginning of the 2019 season, and you’ll notice that all three of the Rams’ opponents thus far (Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns) have deployed the same alignment at times, in hopes of once again stifling the Rams’ rushing attack, and in turn, offense. And to this point, it has worked. The Rams are currently ranked 7th in the league in rushing yards per game (123.7) and 16th in yards per rush attempt (4.3). In 2018, the Rams ranked 3rd in rushing yards per game (139.1) and 5th in rushing yards per attempt (4.8). The numbers are down, the amount of negative/non-gaining running plays are up, and the general effectiveness of the rushing attack has also taken a step back. Not to mention, the Rams have been forced away from their favorite play, the outside zone run.
So what’s causing these issues?
Well, the alignment first and foremost. Teams are copying the same gameplan which has proven its ability to stifle the Rams’ rushing attack, forcing them to operate in different ways. The effectiveness of the offense as a whole has taken a step back, as the offense depends on the rushing attack to keep them ahead of the chains, affording them easier opportunities and more ways to attack defenses on shorter down-and-distances.
The Rams have regressed in first downs per play (4th to 20th), yards per play (3rd to 22nd), and their rush offense percentage (Per Football Outsiders) has dropped from 1st to 4th. It sounds worse than it is, but its evident the ability to rush the ball allows the Rams to become much more efficient and effective in passing the ball.
So far, McVay has shown the ability and willingness to adapt to the 6-1 alignment which has forced him away from outside zone runs. Mainly, McVay has deployed a lot of pitches and quick screens to receivers, putting the defense in a bind as they’ll only have one linebacker on the second level who’s tasked with a lot of ground to cover, needing to flow without any hesitation. It’s worked thus far, though the Rams had some struggles with the adjustment (pitches/screens) against the Browns in week three. The ability to adapt and the willingness to do so is exactly why McVay is as special as people make him out to be. He — and the Rams — want to run outside zone, it’s what their entire offense is based on, though as long as teams will allow him to do anything but, he’ll adjust accordingly.
Now, as I said above, McVay has adapted and allowed the offense to continue to be productive with different play calls, and though the offense hasn’t been as effective as it was in 2018, there’s hope they can return to that ability. Some of the different factors which have contributed to the lack of the offensive firepower we’ve become accustomed to are:
- The Rams are starting a new left guard in Joseph Noteboom, a new center in Brian Allen, and now a new right guard in Jamil Demby as Austin Blythe remains out with injury
- Quarterback Jared Goff is struggling. He has some sloppy turnovers, a few inaccurate passes, and has missed many open receivers (some of which would’ve went for massive gains)
- The receivers — which have been lauded for their hands — have dropped multiple uncovered passes, as have the running backs. These sloppy and fixable mistakes are often drive killers
- The youth and inexperience of the offensive line has seen them falter on multiple occasions as they’re currently their own worst enemy. Thus far, they’ve actually been good blockers, the issue is the miscommunications where two guys aren’t on the same page and allow a defensive player go completely untouched to bear down on Goff or the run game (much more often in pass pro)
These factors, as well as a rushing attack that has also seen an influx of negative/non-gaining runs that set the offense back in down-and-distances, have played a major role in handcuffing the effectiveness of the Rams’ offense.
The Rams absolutely do possess the talent to get back to the level they were at in 2018 offensively, though it’ll need to start inside the building first and foremost. Cleaning up sloppy mistakes like drops, turnovers, penalties, and miscommunications is at the forefront, as they’re all 100% controllable. The next step is to make sure Jared Goff is comfortable and can get in a rhythm, because the plays are absolutely there to be made, he’s just not making them for whatever reason. Once the passing game clicks, it’ll open up even more underneath for the rushing attack. And lastly, Sean McVay needs to continue to adapt, evolve, and scheme ways to get guys to be more productive, as he has his entire tenure. He’s shown a willingness and ability to do so already, all he needs to do is continue.
So to answer the question, “Has the Rams’ offense been figured out?”, sort of, a little bit. But the Rams’ offense has shown the ability to adapt, and as long as McVay is the head man who maintains control, they’re in a good position to continue to effectively produce offensively. Whether it’s how they like to do it or not.