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Rams-Cardinals: Fans have a clear message for Sean McVay: ‘Run the damn football!’

LA fans are split on a few issues headed into Super Wild Card Monday Night, but clear that they want to run the ball

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When the LA Rams were operating at their greatest potential in 2018, it was in part because of having the NFL’s most efficient rushing attack by a wide margin. With Todd Gurley as a support system in place for Jared Goff and company, the Rams finished that season ranked first in rushing DVOA by a massive margin: 20.6% for LA, 9.5% for second-place Carolina Panthers.

Even if those percentages don’t mean anything to you (and they probably shouldn’t, so don’t fret), the gap of being “twice as efficient” from 10% to 20% is a fair estimation. Few teams still employed a back as talented and primary to the team’s offensive goals as the Rams and Gurley.

The Rams finished 2018 ranked second in points and yards, first in first downs, and third in points and yards per drive. They were also eighth in rushing attempts, third in rushing yards, and third in yards per carry—nearly the opposite of an LA defense that ranked 32nd in yards per carry allowed. Though the Rams rushed for 273 yards in a divisional round victory over the Dallas Cowboys (a team that was sent packing by the 49ers on Sunday after allowing 169 rushing yards), they managed a combined 139 rushing yards over the next two postseason games.

In the Super Bowl, LA was out-gained 154 to 62 on the ground.

Had the Rams managed to somehow get into the Super Bowl at midseason—petitioned Goodell, “Hey what if Todd isn’t as healthy late in the year? That won’t be as fun, will it? Let’s just get this thing kicked off right now!”—then undoubtedly the Patriots would’ve had a much greater level of difficulty when attempting to stop the LA offense. What New England got instead was an offense that had Jared Goff and a lesser Gurley and Sean McVay has been looking to find that running back magic again ever since.

Darrell Henderson in 2019.

Cam Akers in 2020.

And out of necessity, Sony Michel in 2021.

All three will be suiting up on Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals for a chance to reach the divisional round for the third time in McVay’s last four seasons at the helm. And when I put out a playoff survey last week and asked what the number one thing is that McVay must to do advance, most of you gave the same answer:

Run that damn football.

I love stats, but I don’t love repeating stats, so I’m going to do my best to deliver something that Rams fans haven’t already heard or read elsewhere. To do that around the history of Todd Gurley and the 2018 Rams and today seems difficult, so much has already been said about that season, but here’s an attempt to lay out one key difference over the last three years:

Rams rushing on third down, 2018: 51 carries, 254 yards, 3 TD, 28 first downs

Rams rushing on third down, 2021: 48 carries, 124 yards, 0 TD, 16 first downs

On almost an equal number of carries, the Rams were far less successful on rushing for first downs on third down. That’s a much more important figure than YPC or touchdowns, but ultimately the 2021 LA Rams were much worse at both of those things too. With Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp setting franchise (and some NFL) records this season, clearly McVay’s “balance” has shifted more towards the pass than in 2018, and that could be what the Rams ultimately need to get past some of these NFC playoff quarterbacks, but even their job gets harder when defenses don’t fear your ground game on third down.

Here is the Rams rushing splits by quarter in 2018:

Here it is in 2021:

First and third quarter splits are rather comparable, but LA hasn’t been able to generate the same consistency in the second quarter. And trying to run the clock down or rushing to win in the fourth quarter has also taken a hit. Ultimately, the Rams are a worse rushing team in the first half, in the second half, and of course, over the course of a game.

In 2021, the LA Rams ranked seventh in scoring, ninth in yards, 12th in first downs, seventh in points per drive, eighth in yards per drive. They were 23rd in rushing attempts and 25th in both rushing yards and yards per carry. At FootballOutsiders: 12th in rushing DVOA at -3.8%.

The number one team in rushing DVOA, the Cleveland Browns, had a mark of 11.4%, just to give you a clear idea of how dominant the Rams were on the ground with Gurley three years ago.

So that’s probably when I asked you, “What do the Rams need to do?”, the top three answers came down to some form of running the ball well, protecting the football, and containing Kyler Murray. Nobody said, “Pass for the most yards.” And we had well over 300 responses to that question.

Now here’s what else you said in the 2022 LA Rams Fan Survey: PLAYOFFS EDITION!

Sony Michel edges out Cam Akers for X-FACTOR on Offense

Greg Gaines was already honored for the Defensive X-Factor.

Brian Allen barely edges out David Edwards as “Biggest concern” at OL

Fans nearly split on Tyler Higbee or Odell Beckham Jr as number two target

Higbee got a few more votes than OBJ, who of course won the battle for third-most targets. Van Jefferson was fourth, Cam Akers was fifth. Big Big Benny Ben Boy Skow-Skow didn’t make the top-five.

Rams fans have had little confidence that LA is the top-dog in the NFC

This poll was taken prior to the Cowboys getting knocked out of the playoffs. Would that bump the Rams up from fourth to third? Over 70-percent of voters were split between the Rams being the second or third-best team in the NFC, but only 6.7% of you believe that the Rams are the best team in the conference.

Fans fairly confident in Matthew Stafford

There is some Eric Weddle-related concern

As Joe McAtee and I discussed on the podcast last week, Eric Weddle may not even play for all we know and safety shouldn’t be a huge red flag in any case.

Speaking of pods, listen to LAST MINUTE THOUGHTS on the Rams-Cardinals, which was posted on Sunday.

Which of these poll results do you completely disagree with?