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How do the Rams fix their offensive struggles: Sean McVay has to trust the running game

It’s already Week 5, what’s wrong and what can be done to set things right

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford absorbs another sack
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Is the Los Angeles Rams offense sputtering because they have faced three of the NFL’s top defenses or are those defenses ranked highly because of having faced L.A.? The Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys are first, second, and third in scoring defense.

The Rams tallied 10 points versus Buffalo, nine in San Francisco, and 10 against Dallas.

To have a run game, or not to have a run game

So after Week 5, where does the L.A. run game rank? Dead last. The Rams are 32nd in rushing attempts (97), yardage (312), yards per game (62.4), and 31st in yards per carry (3.2). To add a little context, 18 individual players have more yardage than the Rams team and three quarterbacks are a long scramble away from topping their total.

Here’s what I wrote before the Cowboy game:

“Where the Rams can find offensive success is running the football. The Cowboys are in the bottom-10 defending the run. They have allowed 550 rushing yards, 137.5 per game, at 5.0 yards a clip. Since Sean McVay came on board in 2017, L.A. has taken three of four games—their rushing totals in the wins: 153, 273, and 168.”

Against the Cowboys, the Rams came out and looked like they would pound the football. In the first quarter, they had eight carries for 31 yards and it looked like there were holes to exploit. They were behind, but it was only 9-3 and both Cowboys scores came off of unforced errors. A fumble by quarterback Matthew Stafford was returned for a touch down and a punt rusher came through unscathed and blocked the kick deep in L,A. territory leading to a field goal.

That left the Rams three full quarters to run the offense and beat down on Dallas— they didn’t. Inexplicably, McVay decided to go pass happy and ran the ball only seven more times for the whole game. Instead of staying disciplined with the run and using play action to go over the line-crowding defense, the Rams charged headlong into the strength of the Cowboys defense, running slow developing pass plays and trying to make multiple reads against a ferocious pass rush.

Darrell Henderson did not have an official carry, he only came in for pass plays. Talk about telegraphing your plays. Out of seven 3rd-and-short plays, the Rams ran the ball one time, converting it at the end of the first quarter. Akers had some success running downhill, but whenever he paralleled the line of scrimmage or tried to get outside, the pursuit got him behind the line.

All that passing and not much to show for it

The Rams are leading the NFL in pass play percentage with 68.9% of offensive snaps traveling through the air. But they are languishing in the bottom 10 in sacks and sack percentage, yards per completion, net yards per attempt, interceptions thrown, and quarterback rating.

A patchwork offensive line gets the lion’s share of the blame and the problems are many Too often, that blame falls on one player, although for the Rams in 2022, there is plenty to go around. I won’t go as far as praising the tackles, but Noteboom and Havenstein have been serviceable. Tight end Tyler Higbee is a mediocre blocker and there is no reason to expect much improvement. He’s been around long enough for fans to realize his value is as a receiver.

It's the interior that is really struggling, Way too often, it is the A Gap being exploited. Both the 49ers and Cowboys used stunts/twists/loops and blitzes to a huge advantage, Jeremiah Kolone just doesn’t have the experience, nor skillset to be expected to identify the structure changes and make the correct changeup calls, David Edwards has digressed this year and now is out indefinitely with concussion problems. Alaric Jackson has been ok, but Bobby Evans has not panned out over his career and is a detriment. Maybe Brian Allen can help in the pivot if his “minor” knee procedure is healed up. Or will it be retread veteran Matt Skura, a guy who has had snapping problems with two past teams.

How to fix things— can it be be fixed?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the tight end and offensive line were problems that needed to be solved before the regular season. Trying to patch them up now is a longshot.

With that being said, there are always alternatives. I would get Higbee snaps from the wing position, it might help him on blocking angles. And to discourage some of the aggressive penetration and defensive fronts the Rams having been facing, let HIgbee, and/or others, get some wham blocks. Use its as kind of a move offense trap play, Make the defense play it straight and not just roar in gangbusters.

As for the offensive line, I cannot see anything other than subtle blocking schemes changes. But stay with the run, even if it’s three yards and a cloud of dust, the McVay offense is much more multiple when the run game is persevered. If the defensive book is now to crowd the Rams on the line of scrimmage, it is imperative to run the ball and use play action to throw over the linebackers.

That brings Matthew Stafford into the mix. McVay could mix in some quick slants and swings. Not check downs, but actually getting the ball into playmakers hands quickly in some space. I am not advocating giving up those longer developing routes, just mix in some quick hitters. Do what the opposition does to the Rams, if the secondary is playing soft, change the play at the line and sling it out there and let the wideouts do their thing. Cooper Kupp is certainly a proven commodity, but Brandon Powell has the vision and quick cuts to excel in space and Tutu Atwell has speed to burn. Somewhere down the line, Powell and Atwell will need to be trusted and incorporated, given chances they both could break it big.

Finally, someone needs to get in McVay’s ear and keep him on track. The Rams HAVE to stay with the run game unless way behind. Challenge the offensive line before the game and run the football on a few 3rd-and-short situations, let them beat on somebody instead of the other way around. There will be plenty of snaps to go empty backfield in short yardage, but at least, make the defense respect the possibility of a run.

Do more of the same in the red zone. The Rams score a TD at a 40% clip (tied for 30th in NFL) and overall have ran the ball from inside the 20 a little over one-third of plays (34.8%). From the 10, the number of runs is even lower at 27.3%. Running more could help open the short area passing.

Stick to the run.