The Los Angeles Rams have a downhill passing attack, in that ever since Week 1 it seems like things are going downhill. Since passing for 334 yards, scoring 30 points, and avoiding any turnovers in a Week 1 win over the Seahawks, the Rams have averaged less than 20 points per game in regulation, Matthew Stafford has thrown five interceptions, and the offense had a season-low of 195 passing yards against the Eagles last Sunday.
Now you’re saying to yourself, “But the Eagles have one of the top defenses in the NFL, this is no big deal” which is only partially true.
Philadelphia had one of the top defenses in 2022 when Jonathan Gannon was the defensive coordinator (and Gannon will be on the other sideline this Sunday as head coach when the Rams play the Cardinals) and Vic Fangio acted as a second defensive coordinator behind the scenes. Last season, the Eagles ranked first in passing yards allowed and first in net yards per pass attempt allowed.
During their entire 2022 campaign, the Eagles only allowed one team over 250 net passing yards, and that was when the Cowboys had 304 passing yards in a Week 16 game in which Gardner Minshew started for an injured Jalen Hurts and turned the ball over three times.
In their first four games of 2023, the Eagles allowed 306, 346, 133, and 258 passing yards to the Patriots, Vikings, Bucs, and Commanders. Yes, Philadelphia let Mac Jones throw for 316 yards and three touchdowns against them this season. And Sam Howell was very good against the Eagles just a week prior to going to L.A..
But the Rams scored fewer points against the Eagles than the Patriots, Vikings, and Commanders despite getting back Cooper Kupp and the star receiving gaining 118 yards in his season debut.
However, after the Rams had two 75-yard touchdown drives out of their first three series, L.A. had a total of 81 yards on five possessions in the second half.
The Eagles, a team that wasn’t having the type of season on defense that they had expected of themselves going into the year, got on track against the Rams. New coordinator Sean Desai’s defense held the Rams to 249 yards, 54 rushing yards, and only 17 first downs, putting Philly back into the middle of the pack for total defense even though the Eagles have still allowed the eight-most passing yards and third-most passing touchdowns in the NFL.
But those are just numbers, right? And stats are “meaningless” and other defenses don’t have (checks notes) Reed Blankenship and Eli Ricks.
Okay, I’m half-joking because Ricks played 13 snaps and the Eagles have very good corners like Darius Slay and James Bradberry. But only half-joking because these were all the same players who were on the Eagles defense in the first four weeks when Philadelphia hadn’t been the shutdown team that they were with Fangio and Gannon...who again, will be coaching against Sean McVay this Sunday.
What you really want to know about is scheme, right? You see that the Rams scored 23 points against the 49ers (20 until a meaningless field goal), 16 against the Bengals (9 until a last minute touchdown that turned out to be meaningless), 29 against the Colts (23 in regulation), and 14 against the Eagles and think that’s not a big deal because those are all great defenses.
(Colts, Bengals don’t rank in the top-20 for defense, Eagles don’t rank in the top-20 of pass defense.)
However, what if instead opposing coaches just don’t fear McVay’s offense and have a plan to take away Matthew Stafford’s favorite read on most plays now, leading to Stafford making ill-advised throws are underneath chucks that don’t lead to first downs?
In an excellent video coming from the other side called “How the Eagles stopped the Rams passing attack”, a YouTube channel named Philly Film Room breaks down how Desai was able to stifle the Rams passing offense in Week 5. You can hate the Eagles, you can hate people who make videos about the Eagles, you can even hate me, but you can’t hate that this is a really well made video that explains tiny intricacies of playing defense that you would probably never notice on the broadcast and are never pointed out by other experts.
I could transcribe the video and break it down but really you must watch the 11:37 to understand how the Eagles held Kupp to just 23 yards in the second half and kept the Rams from scoring any points after halftime.
One of the main takeaways here is that the Eagles got excited any time that the Rams came out in bunches or stacks. When that happened and Philadelphia got into man coverage, Matthew Stafford went 2-of-10 for 20 yards and was sacked one time.
The Eagles allowed five such completions in zone coverage, but three of those were on screens. The Rams averaged just 2.8 yards per play in the second half.
Another player who helped the Eagles get this done was Bradley Roby, a cornerback signed to the team five days before the game and elevated to the roster the day before the game. Roby played 25 snaps in his Eagles debut, taking over for Ricks, and allowing one catch on four targets for 5 yards.
So the argument that the Eagles stopped the Rams because they were first in pass defense last season with different coordinators, or the Eagles stopped the Rams because they have Slay and Bradberry and Jalen Carter, it just doesn’t hold water.
The evidence strongly supports the reason for L.A.’s poor offensive performance in Week 5 being a tactical and schematic one, in part because the Rams have had a bad offense for an entire month. Kupp returned and the result was the fewest total yards, fewest passing yards, fewest rushing yards, and fewest points of the season.
The Arizona Cardinals do not have as much talent as the Eagles, that isn’t even a discussion. But they did hold Washington to 100 fewer passing yards than Philadelphia did and Gannon has surely been studying the tape of his old team and coming into Sunday well aware of what worked, not only for Slay, but also for Roby and Ricks. How to contain the Rams star receivers to yards instead of touchdowns.
The Cardinals may fail at that mission because they’re a bad team with a lot of holes to fill. But what about the Steelers the next week? Or the Cowboys the week after that? Or the Packers the week after that? Or the Browns, Ravens, Saints, and 49ers?
There is a blueprint out there. What will Sean McVay do to counteract it?