Last season, the Los Angeles Rams shook the NFL world when they traded multiple first-round picks and Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Outside of a Week 4 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the first eight weeks of the McVay-Stafford era were all sunshine and rainbows.
During those first eight weeks, McVay was simply able to spam the easy button with Stafford. The Rams lined up in empty, spread teams out on defense, and let Stafford use the arm that they traded for. That was their bread-and-butter.
Through the first eight weeks of 2021, the Rams had the best offense in EPA per play and it wasn’t really close. Their .191 EPA per play ranked first and their drop-back EPA of .388 made other teams look like they were still playing offense in the 1980s.
The gap between the Rams at first (.388) and Arizona Cardinals at second (.284) was the same as the Cardinals at second and the Cincinnati Bengals at ninth (.187).
To put it simply, the Rams were dominating on the offensive side of the ball. The reasons for trading for Stafford had come to fruition.
However, from weeks 9-18, that changed dramatically.
During the second half of the season, the Rams ranked just 15th in EPA per play and 18th in dropback EPA. It was a very similar drop-off as 2018 when the Rams came out extremely hot and then played the Vic Fangio-led Chicago Bears.
McVay and the Rams figured it out when they needed to. With the easy-button no longer as effective, the Rams mixed it up and incorporated more run-heavy schemes in the offense. In Weeks 1-12, McVay called plays out of 11 personnel 88 percent of the time. That number dropped to 78 percent in Week 13-18. The Rams adjusted to a more run-based offense to take some pressure off of Stafford.
The team then came back from the infamous “no-win November” and went on to win the Super Bowl.
However, that drop off in offensive production wasn’t completely out of the norm for a McVay offense.
Following up on something posted yesterday: The midseason decline in the McVay-Rams offense isn't something anecdotal. During the McVay era, there has been a clear, dramatic break from week 9 onwards.— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) November 30, 2021
EPA/Play: 2nd to 19th
Dropback EPA: 2nd to 21st
Rush Sucess: 1st to 12th pic.twitter.com/v8J1yIXS6r
In the past, McVay’s offenses have started hot and then plateaued as the season went on. That isn’t the case to start 2022. In fact, McVay has needed to switch things up and adjust much earlier than he normally has.
In Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, without a garbage-time drive in the fourth quarter, the Rams would have had less than 200 yards of total offense. While the defense allowed the Bills to go 9-for-10 on third down in that game, the offense also failed to capitalize on four turnovers.
On drives following four Bills turnovers, the Rams offense ran 25 plays for 79 yards, and scored one field goal. The other three resulted in a punt, interception, and turnover on downs. It’s also worth noting that 14 plays and 66 yards came on the Rams’ final drive of the game in garbage time. If you account for just the first three turnovers, that’s 13 plays for 13 yards and three points.
The defense didn’t perform well, but the offense didn’t do its part either in that game to support the other side of the ball.
Against the Falcons, the offense completely disappeared for a large stretch of that game. Following the touchdown to open the second half, the offense turned the ball over twice and scored three points the rest of the game.
It was a similar story last week against the Cardinals. The offense came out firing, but they continue to falter due to missed opportunities. The Rams easily could have been up 21-0 following their first three drives of the game. A dropped pass by Allen Robinson led to a just field goal following the blocked punt. Cooper Kupp didn’t catch a pass in the end zone that we’ve seen him make several times over the last year.
Following the 13-0 lead, the offense went three-and-out on each of their next three drives. Had Stafford not made an incredible play on 3rd-and-11, it would have been four consecutive three-and-outs.
A game in which the Rams should have scored 30, they barely managed 20.
In the first quarter this season, the Rams offense ranks second in the NFL in EPA per play at .356. However, in quarters 2-4, that drops all the way down to 30th with an EPA per play of -0.152. Even if you take away the Bills game in the opener, they still rank just 20th at -0.063 in quarters 2-4 over the last two weeks. That’s worse than the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Rams have been an offense that lives on being able to create explosive plays. As it stands, their 15 explosive plays rank 22nd. Last season, according to Sharp Analytics, they ranked ninth.
Most explosive plays through Week 3: pic.twitter.com/pR8xsac22M— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 27, 2022
The easy stuff just hasn’t been there. Over the last two weeks, McVay has implemented an offensive package with Ben Skowronek at fullback. That was the big adjustment following the Bills game. As I wrote last week, the offense was nearly three-times more efficient in this package than they were running their “normal stuff.”
Last week against the Cardinals, Stafford had his highest play-action rate in seven years. Running play-action on 40.7 percent of his drop backs, he was 10-of-11 for 168 yards. Stafford was 7-of-14 for 81 yards on all other throws.
When they have to get back to their “normal stuff”, offense has looked hard. Stafford hasn’t been nearly as sharp to start the year as he was in 2021. He’s much closer to 2019 Jared Goff than even the 2017 or 2018 version
Well well well what do we have here pic.twitter.com/AiHkpmJ0M1— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 27, 2022
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Rams offense hasn’t looked as sharp as it did to start 2021. Last year the Rams offense rolled through Week 3, scoring an average of 31.7 points per game. This year, there’s been a huge drop-off as the offense is scoring just 20.3 points per game through Week 3. That’s an 11.3-point differential which is the sixth largest in the NFL year-over-year.
EPA per play through week 3— Owen Phillips (@owenlhjphillips) September 27, 2022
(cb friendly version in the replies) pic.twitter.com/tg6h5z10M3
Without Van Jefferson, the Rams offense hasn’t been at full strength. The hope is also still that they would get Odell Beckham Jr. to return at some point in November around the same time that he joined last year.
For a team that has invested so much in the offensive side of the ball and prides itself on being an offensive team, it’s that side of the ball that’s struggling right now. In the above chart, the Rams are leaning towards the “bad offense, good defense” quadrant.
It’s only Week 3 and the Rams still have plenty of time to figure this out. This is still a new offensive line that has been shuffling pieces over the first few weeks. Stafford was limited in how much he could throw this offseason and you could argue these first three games have been their “preseason”.
However, the NFL season moves quickly. The Rams have an important matchup with the San Francisco 49ers on deck and have just four weeks until their bye week. After that, it’s full steam ahead with matchups against the 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Kansas City Chiefs on the horizon.
The offense will need to work out its issues if the Rams are going to be a serious threat this season. Relying on the defense to make plays when needed, as has been the case this season, simply isn't sustainable.