In 2018, the Los Angeles Rams hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs. Throughout that season, the Cowboys ranked fourth in run defense EPA and fifth in run defense EPA. On that January afternoon, the Rams rushed for 238 yards between Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson.
Heading into the 2020 Wild Card round, the Seattle Seahawks ranks sixth in run defense EPA. Cam Akers had 28 carries for 131 yards while leading the Rams to victory.
Fast forward to 2023 and the Rams are on the road against the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Coming into this game, the Lions rank fourth in run defense EPA and are first in run defense DVOA. While the Rams have a strong run game, the stats would tell you that the Lions have been strong against the run and it may be tough to get a lot going in the run game.
However, there is a twist. This offseason, the Rams completely revamped their run game. McVay got away from the wide zone that is so successful in the Shanahan offense. In its place, the Rams moved to more of a power and gap scheme that features a lot of duo run concepts. In fact, the Rams have run duo 20 more times than the next closest team. Why is that relevant. Nate Tice of The Athletic who writes “The Overhang for Yahoo Sports broke it down. Said Tice,
“In 2023, the duo run concept, a former auxiliary run play for the Rams, has become a main player...The Lions are pretty poor in defending the duo run concept, allowing the fourth-most EPA per play against it.”
The Rams pounding the rock on the first nine plays of their opening drive against the Ravens.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) December 14, 2023
A healthy mix of Duo and different types of Zone runs plus a Jet Sweep to Puka Nacua. All out of a similar formation structure featuring shift & motion galore. pic.twitter.com/AYk7PDtpGt
Much like in 2018, the Rams have a run game that has taken the NFL by storm. Simply put, when running the ball and focusing, the Rams have been almost unstoppable. It’s a big reason for their 7-1 record following the bye week. According to Tice, when Matthew Stafford, Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua, and Cooper Kupp are on the field together, the Rams average 0.16 EPA per designed rush. That’s tied for first since 2000 with the 2011 Carolina Panthers who had Cam Newton at quarterback.
Kyren Williams has been one of the best running backs in the NFL as he leads the league in EPA per rush. While the Lions do have a strong run defense, the Rams’ duo run scheme that he’s been so successful in this season could be beneficial.
This isn’t to say that the Rams are going to rush for over 200 yards against the Lions. That’s a defense that hasn’t given up 100 yards to a running back all season. With that said, Williams could still be in for a big day. It’s going to be crucial for the Rams pair of guards in Kevin Dotson and Steve Avila to make impact blocks at the second level. This season, the Rams rank fifth in adjusted line yards.
The Rams have shown over the back-half of the schedule that they aren’t afraid to run at a defense and set the tone physically on that side of the ball. Williams has been a big part of that as he ranks sixth in yards after contact per attempt. He also has a tackle for loss percentage of just 7 percent.
In 2018 it was Anderson and Gurley and in 2020 it was Akers. This is Kyren Williams’ time. The Rams running back has been the engine of the offense this season. When he rushes for 80 or more yards, the Rams are 7-1 this season. The lone loss was against the Baltimore Ravens. It will be up to Williams against the Lions to take some pressure off of Matthew Stafford and help lead the Rams to a win.