After last week’s performance, Los Angeles Rams fans have to be scratching their heads trying to figure out what’s wrong with the 2019 offense. Last year, the Rams were 2nd in the NFL averaging 32.9 points per game; this year after three games, they’re only averaging 25.7 points good for 9th.
There’s no question that what Rams fans saw from our offense last season isn’t the same as this year. The problem goes back to last year’s game against the Detroit Lions followed with the loss to the Chicago Bears. Both of these teams threw a monkey wrench to the Sean McVay offense by utilizing what a six-man front with one middle linebacker (6-1) defense. The New England Patriots took their cue from the Lions and Bears ran the same six-man front in Super Bowl LIII holding the Rams to a mere three points.
The NFL is a copycat league. With the Lions’, Bears’ and Patriots’ success. other teams are almost exclusively running the six-man front against the Rams and our Boy Wonder, Head Coach Sean McVay, still hasn’t quite figured out the best way to beat it.
The question is “how” do the Rams fix it?
Why are we seeing the six-man front?
The six-man front is designed to stop the run. Stop the run, and the advantage shifts to the defense. On third and long, the defense can pressure the QB with or without the blitz. The defense can also shift out of the six-man front and drop into zone pass coverage pass. It can also opt out into a four- or three-man front relying on blanket coverage in the secondary. We’ve seen all of these already this year.
In order for the playaction, you have to have an effective running game. Without a potent running game, the offense is invariably being forced to pass. As a result, the advantage of being able to freeze the defense into believing the next play is a run is lost.
In the McVay era, the Rams’ offense has been heavily predicated on playaction. If a team that leans so heavily into playaction can’t run the ball, enormous pressure is on to make the right passing playcall. A bad playcall, no matter how good the play is executed, its doomed for failure to from the beginning. If the play is poorly executed whether, its the mechanics of the throw, the decision to whom to throw to, or the receiver dropping the ball, kills the play, ending the drive.
Everything has to be perfect in third-and-long for the play to work.
This is the starting point given what the six-man front does to outside run-orientated and playaction dependent pass offenses.
How do you attack the six man front?
First and foremost, the offense has to get the inside running game going. If you can establish the run, the playaction play which McVay loves to use will follow. The defense must pull out of the 6-1 in order for it to be able to defense the playaction pass.
Every team in the league will tailor their run game based on player personnel. Some teams have great offensive lines withrunning backs that appear to have no problem running up the middle, outside or inside. Some teams have a great running back making you feel like it doesn’t matter whether there’s a hole to run through. He’s gonna pick up three yards, anyways. Some teams have neither a great offensive line or a great running back, but they have a great quarterback. The a run game becomes less of a concern because in today’s game the passing the ball effectively is the key and can open up space for their lesser running options.
I wouldn’t describe the Rams offensive line as great to this point but will say it’s better than good. I’m also not hesitant to say that RB Todd Gurley based on history is one of the most dynamic running backs at his position...when healthy. Todd was in on 80% pf the offensive plays called last year, That figure is down to 70% in 2019. The Rams say the lack of production from Gurley this year is not that he’s being managed, but the stats don’t lie. With that said, I do not believe the problem is Gurley’s health per se, but rather the playcalling.
McVay tries to get the Rams run game going early by going wide. In the first half of games thus far played, the Rams have come out with a variety of wide runs which have not been very successful. Having found no success running wide McVay goes to the screen pass and pitch plays. The bubble screen is McVay’s favorite play, which is just like a run call.
None these plays have found much success in the first half of games enabling the Rams offense to stretch the defense forcing them out of the six man front played this far. That leaves very few options for the Rams in second or third and long situation.
This is exactly what the 6-1 defense is designed to do.
Every game has flow to it. A rhythm.
The Rams have had some success moving the chains with the pass as needed, but once across the fifty or in the red zone, they have sputtered, caused by mistakes, penalties, and turnovers leading to three points, not seven. its much harder to find space when the field of play gets smaller and smaller and less room to made a miscue. As our own Brandon Bate showed this morning, the Rams have a serious issue on 3rd-and-short.
As a result, the Rams offense has had no rhythm in their first half games thus far. What was working well in one series isn’t working in the next, even when the Rams flip field position which hasn’t been an issue at all. The Rams are 3rd in the NFL in starting field position with drives starting on average past the 31-yard line.
I put a lot of the blame for lack of success in the first half on QB Jared Goff and his decision-making as to where he’s going with football in these obvious passing situations, where success against the 6-1 is paramount. While as observers we will always quibble about the play call, options are built in which Goff is not utilizing to the Rams advantage.
McVay is an aggressive playcaller. He wants the ball to go downfield. Nevertheless, any head coach will tell you, he’ll take the five yard gain over an incomplete pass.
Jared has grown into this system, so it’s natural that he’s trying to make the big play. What he should do however is learn to take what the defense is giving him. His execution of McVay play in the first half thus boils down to his decision as where to go with the ball. The higher percentage play has to balanced against the risk and reward of the lower percentage play. Goff is simply making bad decisions. Too many times he’s attempting to force the ball into coverage, which has led to some terrible miscues, turnovers and stalled drives and it doesn’t help when he does make a good throw. If all the receivers are covered, the best play Goff can make is to throw the ball away, so the Rams offense can live for another day. He should never try to force the throw into coverage as this will lead to a turnover.
If on third-and-long the receivers are covered by a first down is available with your legs. Goff should go into Giraffe Mode which has a much higher chance of success then trying to force the ball into coverage. Goff needs to commit to this decision early enough so the wide receivers aren’t left guessing as to whether they should block or expect the short pass from Goff, and of course once the decision is made to scramble, SLIDE!
Halftime is the moment the team makes adjustments and the Rams have used this time wisely playing much better offensively in the second half.
Watching the Rams’ offense in the third and fourth quarters is like night and day compared to the first 30 minutes. The difference has been that the run game has seemed to come to life. Rather then trying to force the ball wide, McVay goes for the three yards and a cloud of dust up the middle against the six man front. He follows that up with the fly sweep and throws a wrinkle into that play, by going to the fly sweep reverse. He’s got the defense guessing and now the Rams have something going, moving the chains, picking up junks of yardage.
Then the big hurt comes...the playaction pass and it works like perfection against a worn out 6-1 defense, who have now become tired and exhausted chasing Rams all over the field.
Once the Rams find success running the ball up the middle, the Rams can equally go wide, catching the 6-1 defenders incorrectly anticipating by assuming its another run up the middle. The Rams did this successfully against the Carolina Panthers late in the game when Todd picked up a key first down which kept the clock running.
The solution for the Ram’s offensive woes therefore comes down to getting Todd and the running game overall going early by using him both in the run and passing game as the checkdown receiver in obvious passing situation as those observing the Rams in the McVay era are used to.
I will add this as well: I’m tired of hearing about Todd Gurley’s knee and the damn Patella Novella! If the Rams have to spot him and manage his carries, do it in the 2nd half, when the Rams have a 20 or more point lead. If a 100% RB Malcolm Brown Is better then 70% Gurley, use Brown instead.
Everyone knows that a running back is only as good as his offensive line. If there’s a hole to run through, he’ll get the yardage. Even though the Rams don’t have an elite offensive line, their players are better than average, and the Rams have to get the run game going to be effective under the McVay offense. Figure out where the problems are in the blocking scheme against the six-man front. After that, just blow the defenders off the line since the advantage is always in offense’s favor, they know the snap count.
If the Rams can’t do that, then the problems with the Rams offense are much deeper than the mere lack of execution!
Once the run is established, the playaction will come and when that’s working so are the deep passes over the middle, down the sidelines and the key dink and dunk on third down to WR Cooper Kupp.
At that point, leave the lead to Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips to handle. He’s got the defense playing outstanding football.
It’s not how you start, its how you finish
While there have been only three games played thus far, the most important time of year begins in late November and the month of December. It’s at that point when your team has to be playing at the optimum level for the push to the playoffs and Super Bowl.
The Rams have thus far have shown us they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to beat mediocre teams. But if the Rams don’t start improving their offensive output, things are not going to look bleak, going into the most important time of the season.
I’m a diehard Rams fan. I’ve come to expect a McVay coached offense to perform at a certain level and I’m not seeing it now and as a fan my patience is wearing thin.
Its time to stop making excuses and get the job done.
Run the ball!!!