At the season’s mid-point, the Los Angeles Rams are teetering on the edge. They are in the midst of a three game losing and have the 6-4 Seattle Seahawks coming to town this Sunday. Although they beat the ‘Birds in the season opener, L.A. appears closer to spiraling downward to last year’s 5-12 depths than sweeping Seattle and righting the season.
After a hot start the Rams offense is sputtering and fans are left to wonder what can be changed. Is it something simple? I think so. Getting back to the roots of the Sean McVay offense and some minor tweaks would ably revitalize the moribund attack. After the nicely-placed bye week, it’s time to review the L.A. positional units and see if the pieces are there and/or what changes should be made for a return to offensive competency.
It doesn’t matter how you write it, the Rams passing offense is mired in a five-game funk. During that 1-5 won/loss stretch the normally high-flying pass offense has averaged 185 yards per game and you only have one of those games with the now-departed Brett Rypien to kick around. Matthew Stafford’s 2023 season numbers rival the worst of his 14-year previous career.
Certainly, the performance of the offensive line has to be considered when analyzing the quarterback and the Rams front five have been less than stellar. But according Pro Football Reference stats, when you extrapolate Stafford’s 2023 pass rush pressure numbers, sacks, hurries, hits, and pressure rates, those numbers are well in line with his past.
The NFL is a quarterback driven league, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s the offensive line’s play, suspect passing game plans, or inconsistency with Staff’s play. Wins, going forward, are going to be tough without better play from the L.A. quarterback.
The Rams are, contractually, pretty much tied to Matthew Stafford for 2024. So, while the Carson Wentz signing is something to talk about, his addition is akin to the Baker Mayfield deal last year. An insurance policy with shiny name recognition.
Changes: Two right off the top, one Stafford will love and the other, probably not so much. Number one, cut it loose and let Stafford be a gunslinger, throw deep four or five times a game. Hell, the Rams are 3-6, this compressing of the offense to keep games within control didn’t work last year and is not faring any better in this annum. Number two, make more use of play action. And not some cursory, show the ball stuff. I’m talking hard fakes from run sets.
At mid-season, no one would have thought the L.A. running back room would consist of gone, but obviously not forgotten Darrell Henderson, barely hanging around Royce Freeman, and almost invisible rookie Zach Evans.
Henderson and Freeman are certainly not the most explosive duo in the NFL, but have just enough all-around game to be effective within the Rams offense. While neither are break away talents, both run hard inside the tackles, catch the ball well, and are very secure with the football. It is too hard to fathom the Rams are looking at Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman as the future.
Evans, we can’t be so sure about, he shows potential and big plays on college film, but hasn’t been cut loose as a pro. He did get some late Week 6 mop-up work, but no action since. One might easily think that getting Zach Evans a few meaningful reps would help his learning curve.
It’s appears the Rams future is Kyren Williams, come hell or high water.
Changes: Since both Hendo and Freeman have good hands, it would be nice to see them get more touches in the pass game. When L.A. gets into that compressed offense that they too often fall back on, all the routes become short and it neutralizes the running backs, even on check downs. Some quick swing passes and a counter wheel route off them could draw linebacker coverage, or maybe use short circle patterns underneath.
RB explosiveness and the ability to force missed tackles are two traits that translate very well as @ericeager_ and Thomas talked about. Keaton Mitchell ranked in the 85th percentile and better in both categories in college, not too surprising to see him thriving in the NFL https://t.co/l84YpkG4yQ— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) November 17, 2023
I realize now why Puka Nacua had an injury history in his college draft profile, he brings quite a physical presence to the wide receiver unit. The Rams have quite a complimentary group, Tutu Atwell brings speed heat to match Nacua’s bully game and Cooper Kupp is just such a fun football player to watch. He makes it look so easy and natural, but I think his once-a-generation combination of strength, hands, athleticism, and football IQ belies the self-discipline and mental toughness he consistently shows.
Bennett Skowronek has been nicked up and played through it at a middling grade. The L.A. offense hasn’t really used his versatility in formations. He’s felt Nacua’s ascent the most amongst the wideouts, but is a nice mid-to-lower roster player who can do a lot of different things. Demarcus Robinson hasn’t gotten involved in the offense either, he’s been active in eight of nine games with only 26 offensive snaps, one catch, and one kickoff return. Austin Trammel has even less reps, but has found a home as the primary kick returner.
Changes: I would certainly like to see more deep routes, even if they simply just clear things out underneath. The Rams are not forcing defenses to cover all the field, as they did in their successful past. I don’t necessarily mean just long-developing crossing routes either, just an occasional streak that you can counter with a come back/stop route. Take some shots. Get all the wideouts involved, call a few play where the primary receiver is not Kupp or Nacua.
What is up with Sean McVay and tight ends? Is he a collector, a pack rat or is it some sort of hoarding disorder?
The Rams have six tight ends, four on the active roster and another pair on the practice squad. The gotcha is, Tyler Higbee has 92% of snaps, leaving a paltry 49 reps over nine games that have been split amongst Brycen Hopkins and rookie Davis Allen. Now Hunter Long joins the active cast.
I have spent much time over the years defending Higbee and while I still think he’s a solid NFL player, his play this year has just not been up to grade. It has been reported that he’s been battling through assorted injuries all season and I have great respect for toughness, both physical and mental. But if the other tight ends are so bad they can’t go in motion and take on an edge defender, help out on vertical double teams, and/or run simple pass routes, then really, what value do they offer? The power of incumbency.
Changes: Go to more two tight end sets. The Rams run the “11” formation with three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back well over 90% of snaps. It can still be the bread and butter, but 12-15 plays with two tight ends (12 formation) would help diversify the offense.
In the passing game, opposing defenses would have to answer for possible size mismatches and defend the seams into the middle, particularly with play action. On the ground, the “12” is a natural fit with the duo run block scheme and could help create numerical advantages. For a different look, you could also get two mobile pulling blockers on outside of tackle runs.
The good news is the entire starting five is back after the break, although not entirely intact. Right tackle Rob Havenstein is still limited by a calf injury that forced him to miss two games leading into the bye. The bad news is the Rams entire starting five is back.
Expected by many pundits to be the amongst worst the worst offensive line in the league, L.A. has indeed struggled against the pass. ESPN ranks them 27th in pass block win rate with no individual performances ranking in the Top 20. ESPN charts the Rams at 13th in run block win rate buoyed by right guard Kevin Dotson’s #6 individual ranking.
The break is coming for the offensive line at the right time and hopefully they can get their legs back under them for the stretch drive. I thought the unit looked a little worn down and a step slower as the season progressed to the mid point. With conditioning probably not a serious concern in practice, the week off did the the big uglies well. Coleman Shelton’s strong point is his ability to strike on the move, Alaric Jackson has missed one game and already passed his season high in snaps, and Steve Avila is a rookie and no matter how many college snaps, the ferocity of the NFL trenches has beat on him.
Changes: Nothing major, at this point you gotta dance with who you brung. The Rams offensive line is not an athletic group, stay with the downhill gap and inside zone game. This unit, as well as the current running backs, appear more suited to the north/south game.
Average NFL OL athleticism (by RAS) plotted against PFF production this year.— Gridiron Grading (@GridironGrading) November 17, 2023
Data from @MathBomb continues to be one of the best resources out there.
I knew the Bengals line was unathletic but the reality is they’re not even close to the rest of the league.
This is damning. pic.twitter.com/OfgyNE6iye
Over the final eight games, the Rams braintrust has to define the future and move towards it. While the offense does have some good pieces, each individual unit has to be scrutinized for who can provide value going forward.
Maybe with a loss to Seattle, particularly a bad one, maybe it’s time that the personnel packages should be torn down and re-examined for building blocks. Back-to-back 5-12 seasons is not a tear down and rebuild without a clear purpose, it’s just plain bad.