The New England Patriots outsmarted Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams in the 2018 Super Bowl. The Rams prepared Jared Goff and their high-flying offense for the Patriots’ man-heavy coverage schemes; however, McVay and Goff were caught off-guard when New England’s game plan emulated the approach used by the Chicago Bears and then defensive coordinator Vic Fangio against LA earlier in the season.
The Rams were stumped - and McVay and Goff scrambled for answers. They eventually came up with a few opportunities to make plays, but were unable to convert when it was necessary. Bill Belichick and the Patriots had McVay’s number, but the impact of the lessons learned from this game are still evident in the decisions that the Rams are making today.
Opposing teams adopted Fangio’s approach to stopping Goff and the Rams throughout 2019, which resulted in one of the least effective McVay offenses we’ve seen in the coach’s young career. LA pivoted to a short passing attack that was designed to create run after the catch opportunities the following season in 2020, but the outcome was a contracted passing game incapable of producing chunk yardage on a consistent basis.
I hearken back to, just days before the Stafford trade, when I asked McVay about the many factors limiting them in the deeper passing game...and he said that is “not the world he wants to live in”. Add his prior experience w Jackson and it feels like a total McVay pick.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) May 1, 2021
After two seasons of struggles McVay understood his offense had to evolve - it had to be capable of solving problems that had not been accounted for in the initial design. The 2019 and 2020 versions of the offense only produced when both scheme and player execution worked to near perfection, but the Rams had to move beyond those limitations. The team needed a quarterback that could make something out of nothing in addition to converting the plays that run smoothly. LA needed someone who could navigate outside of structure and off the beaten path in order to reach new heights.
Enter Matthew Stafford.
In training camp and after joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys and the Las Vegas Raiders, McVay indicated how he was pleased with Stafford’s ability to adapt “in real time”. Throughout the young season we’ve seen Stafford create memorable plays out of situations that had historically left the offense dead in the water.
The 2021 Rams offense has answers when defenses try to take away something they do well. If you blitz, Stafford can buy time to find the open man. If you devote too many resources to slowing down Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods can burn you. If you try to take away the deep ball, LA has a corps of receiving threats that are more than happy to work underneath and earn yards after the catch. When opposing teams tried to punch the Rams, the Rams counter-punched back even harder. The offense was working beautifully and was seemingly unstoppable - until Week 9 against Mike Vrabel and the Tennessee Titans.
The most notable part of the tough loss to the Titans was LA’s inability to adapt. Stafford was pressured seemingly on one out of every two plays, even though Tennessee was mostly rushing only three to four defenders. The empty sets and straight drop back passing game were not working, though the Rams stuck with this approach through most of the first half. Per Pro Football Focus on true drop back passing plays (excluding garbage time), Stafford completed 15 of 25 passes for 139 yards (5.6 per attempt), 2 interceptions, a passer rating of 41.9, and 5 sacks. Suddenly a team that prides itself on having all the answers kept going back to a well that was generating poor results.
Why did the Rams not pivot to a more run-heavy attack? The offense started to use designed rollouts to move the pocket in the second half, but they were already down 18 points to the Titans who are adept at controlling the clock. By the time LA went back to the drawing board, it was mostly too late.
Fortunately, in front of LA is the perfect opportunity to display just how far they’ve come in regards to solving problems in real time - a San Francisco 49ers team that has beaten McVay’s Rams four times in a row.
Even when the Rams have been at their best, San Francisco has still found a way to frustrate and slow McVay’s offense. The 49ers have premium talent and are getting healthy - so it will be a tough test for LA that has recently played a 3-game stretch against middling teams and then fell on their face versus the Titans.
3 potential returns that can give the 49ers a desperately needed boost vs the Rams:— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) November 11, 2021
Jimmie Ward: Best tackler, eraser — elevates a very lacking secondary
Charles Omeninu: A lacking secondary pairs poorly with a D-line that's losing juice
Dre Greenlaw: SF needs more speed at LB
How will Matthew Stafford navigate pressure from the likes of Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead? Can the Rams account for Fred Warner and prevent him from making game-changing plays? While the 49ers secondary has suffered injuries this year, they still have capable veterans such as Jimmie Ward.
The Rams have struggled at times against the aforementioned group of names, but this year’s version of LA’s offense is different. Los Angeles no longer needs everything to be pretty and perfect to produce. Stafford can operate amidst the chaos to create plays even when no plays are seemingly there to make. As a result McVay can reach deeper into his bag of tricks in order to keep defenses on their toes.
There’s no better stage to finally put the old Rams offense to rest than on Monday Night Football versus the 49ers. Can McVay and the Rams rebound from their last outing under the primetime lights?