The Los Angeles Rams offense in 2022 was not what fans were accustomed to seeing with head coach Sean McVay at the helm. Between injuries, a new offensive coordinator, and a string of bad luck, the Rams offense looked discombobulated for much of the season.
By the end of 2022, the McVay offense ranked 23rd in DVOA and 29th in Expected Points Added (EPA). Both rankings were by far the worst since the Rams head coach took over in 2017.
Now, the Rams enter the season with a healthy and refreshed Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp to lead the offense. Additionally, Liam Coen left to return to Kentucky and Mike LaFleur replaced him. The offensive line will also enter the offseason healthy.
With an inexperienced defense, it’s going to be imperative that the offense comes out of the gates swinging. In all likelihood, the offense will need to carry the team as the defense grows.
This may not be a new look Rams offense in 2023, but there will be changes and hopefully that leads to improvement. Here are five ways that the McVay offense will look different in 2023.
1. Deeper at the Tight End Position
The Rams entered the 2022 season with just two tight ends on the roster. While McVay has always been heavy in his usage of 11 personnel, keeping just two tight ends limited what Los Angeles was able to do. That has changed heading into this season.
In the trade for Jalen Ramsey, the Rams acquired Hunter Long from the Miami Dolphins. Les Snead then drafted Davis Allen out of Clemson on day three of the NFL Draft. This gives the Rams four viable tight ends that they can rely on in the offense.
It’s clear that whether it’s a tandem of Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins or Higbee and Long, the Rams want to use more 12 personnel or at least have the option. They’ll likely always be a heavy 11 personnel team under McVay. However, if they have the ability to get into heavier packages, it will open up a lot in the offense and allow them to be more versatile.
2. More Vertical Passing
Even with a healthy offensive line, the Rams aren’t going to be able to be a drop-back passing team. That would be a recipe for disaster for a young offensive line. With that said, a healthier offensive line should allow the Rams to attack the vertical areas of the field more.
Between injuries to the offensive line and Van Jefferson, the Rams weren’t able to take the amount of vertical shots that they would have liked. These routes take time to develop and that requires the offensive line to hold up in pass protection.
Only 8.9 percent of Stafford’s passes last season were considered “deep passes” by Pro Football Focus. This ranked 32nd in the NFL. This number was up at 11.1 percent in 2021. With Jared Goff in 2017 and 2018, his deep passing percentage was 11.6 and 11.7 percent. That’s very clearly where the Rams want to be.
Despite fewer opportunities, Stafford still remained efficient as a deep-passer. His 102.4 passer rating on throws 20 yards or more ranked ninth in the NFL.
The Rams have the wide receivers to accomplish this. Van Jefferson had the third-highest average depth of target in 2021 in deep passing situations and his 49.3 yards per reception on deep passes led the NFL.
Similarly, last season, TuTu Atwell ranked third in average depth of target and second in yards per reception on deep passes. Below is Atwell’s receiving direction chart via Pro Football Focus.
Jefferson will be healthy and Atwell will be looking to take the next step in his development. If the offensive line remains healthy, expect more vertical passing.
3. New-Look Offensive Line
The offensive line that the Rams roll out in 2023 could look much different than the one that they opted to go with in Week 1 last season. For starters, Snead drafted Steve Avila with the 36th overall pick. Avila will be playing left guard and give the team some stability on the inside. Outside of Rob Havenstein at right tackle, the other three positions and who plays them are completely up for grabs.
This type of change was needed as the offensive line struggled at times when healthy and then were completely decimated by injuries as the year went on. They set a record for offensive line injuries in a single season.
At left tackle, the Rams could once again go with Joe Noteboom or decide to go in a different direction with Alaric Jackson. Will Coleman Shelton or Brian Allen play center? The Rams drafted Logan Bruss in the third-round last year, but he’s coming off of an injury. If Brian Allen plays center, do the Rams go with Shelton or Bruss at right guard? Tremayne Anchrum could also be in the mix.
The biggest thing will be for new offensive line coach, Ryan Wendell, to pick the best five and for those players to start to build continuity and chemistry. If the Rams can achieve those two things, they should get significantly better offensive line play this season.
4. More Pre-Snap Motion in Run Game
The Rams had a huge up-tick in pre-snap motion at the end of the year which makes sense as this is when TuTu Atwell got more involved in the offense and Baker Mayfield took over. Atwell is a player that excels in motion and motion also helps a quarterback. It may also be a reason why Cam Akers took off at the end of the year as well in the running game.
Would love to see more jet motion, especially with Atwell. I think we will with LaFleur. The Jets ranked inside the top-five in pre-snap motion on run plays.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 1, 2023
Here you see how Atwell motion clears the LB pre-snap and opens space for Akers. pic.twitter.com/dhu49x5kOG
Post-Robert Woods, the Rams seemed to get away from jet sweeps and bringing a wide receiver in motion. Between 2018 and 2021 Woods was sent in shift/motion 863 times according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He had the third-most shift/motion carries during that time and was the only wide receiver to rank inside the top-25.
While McVay would still bring Cooper Kupp across the formation pre-snap, he only got two carries within the first five weeks of last season. Between weeks 12-14, Atwell had seven carries.
In 2021, the Jets ranked inside the top-five in pre-snap motion on run plays. Motion at the snap on run plays has been proven to give offenses an advantage. It’s a minor 0.05 EPA/play, but that’s still an advantage. Especially if Atwell is more involved, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more pre-snap motion and jet sweep play-fakes in the offense.
5. Younger Wide Receiver Depth
Heading into the 2023 season, the Rams have two players who are well-versed in the offense in Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson. Both players have put up productive seasons in the offense and shown that they can execute on a consistent basis.
Behind them are Ben Skowronek, TuTu Atwell, and Puka Nacua. While Skowronek and Atwell have shown promise, they have yet to be thrown into a full-time role. Nacua meanwhile has garnered some praise during OTAs. However, will that translate to the regular season?
The Rams have typically been a three wide receiver team. In 2017, they traded for Sammy Watkins prior to the season. Heading into 2018, they traded for Brandin Cooks to team up with Woods and Kupp. During the Super Bowl run, the Rams had three receivers with Kupp, Jefferson, and Odell Beckham Jr./Woods.
Skowronek and Atwell are both unproven and it’s hard to say that this is a good thing heading into the year. With that said, it also is a reason for excitement. If Atwell can take that next step in his development, could he fall into a Brandin Cooks-like role in the offense? Can Skowronek continue to work as a de-facto tight end and create mismatches while still developing as a threat in the intermediate areas of the field? The Rams offense could draw up some creative play designs depending on how these players develop in a larger role.
This may not be the most talented wide receiver room that the Rams have had in the Sean McVay era. However, with the unknowns, there should be a combination of excitement and anxiousness to see how they perform.