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Has Sean McVay found his long-term offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur?

Mike LaFleur deserves a lot of credit for Rams offensive turnaround in 2023

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Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams completely overhauled their offensive staff this past offseason as head coach Sean McVay turned the page on 2022. One of the biggest moves was replacing offensive coordinator Liam Coen after just one season for Mike LaFleur who came over from the New York Jets. As detailed by MMQB’s Albert Breer,

“Sean McVay made some pretty significant changes to his offensive staff with the idea of injecting new ideas into the Rams’ scheme, and it’s worked...He brought in Mike LaFleur, who spent seven years under Kyle Shanahan with the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers—after McVay and Shanahan parted ways.”

With LaFleur at the helm, the Rams offense completely changed. McVay’s system was previously predicated around the wide zone run scheme. Prior to this season, the Rams made changes up front by drafting Steve Avila at 333-lbs and trading for Kevin Dotson at 322-lbs. Los Angeles once valued lighter, more mobile offensive linemen who could move well in space. Moving to more of a gap or power scheme that featured a lot of duo concepts, they needed guys who could win at the point of attack.

In 2017, the Rams offense led by McVay and Matt LaFleur took the NFL by storm with their wide zone featuring Todd Gurley. This season with McVay and Mike LaFleur, they have done the same with duo. With the wide zone in 2017, the Rams run game ranked sixth in EPA per play and fifth in success rate. Gurley ranked third in EPA per rush. This season, the Rams are eighth in EPA per rush and sixth in rushing success rate. Led by Kyren Williams, the 2022 fifth-round pick leads all running backs in EPA per rush.

Last season, the Rams offense lacked an identity and that was more than just because of the injuries on the offensive line. The Rams were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole because that’s how they had always done things. Coen was familiar for McVay and not necessarily the right hire.

Over the summer, McVay told Breer, “Mike I’ve known forever, but I know how close he and Kyle were, how instrumental he was in a lot of the things that they were doing.”

As outlined by Dan Pompei at The Athletic,

“The new offensive coordinator of the Rams is doing things McVay did in the past and things that Liam Coen, Kevin O’Connell, Shane Waldron, Zac Taylor and Matt LaFleur, Mike’s brother, never did when they were in similar positions under McVay...For instance, McVay thought it was necessary to make changes in the run game so he empowered LaFleur to implement some of the concepts he used with the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers that were different from what the Rams did previously.”

You can see some elements of the 49ers rushing attack in some of the plays that the Rams have been running. A notable one has been the straight pitch-back which the 49ers have used with Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel. Los Angeles has used it as a changeup a few times this year with Kyren Williams.

One of the biggest things that LaFleur has brought is utilizing motion pre-snap and play-flow misdirection to distract linebackers. The Rams have been using wide receivers in the run game and incorporating the jet sweep more, especially with Puka Nacua.

McVay’s offense have typically been high in motion at the snap. However, their overall motion percentage is much higher this year. In early December, the Rams overall motion percentage was 68.5 percent. At the end of last season, their overall motion percentage was just 56.1 percent. Their motion at the snap is higher this season as well at 43.4 percent compared to 31 percent in 2022.

LaFleur has been the perfect offensive coordinator for leading the Rams offense in this new direction. It brings flashbacks to the 2017 season when the McVay offense took the NFL by storm.

However, like most Rams assistants, LaFleur’s time in LA may be short-lived. If the Rams are lucky, they will get their current offensive coordinator for two seasons. There likely won’t be enough openings for LaFleur to get hired this year. Depending on how the Rams do next year, he could get poached away like most of McVay’s offensive coordinators have in the past. The stink from LaFleur’s experience with the New York Jets may help them keep him a little longer. However, at some point the inevitable will occur and the shine from McVay will glisten too much for other teams to pass up.

The Rams offense underwent a complete overhaul this season and at times, Matthew Stafford and Kyren Williams have both looked like MVP candidates. Rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua is breaking records. McVay deserves a lot of credit for looking at himself in the mirror and making the necessary changes. At the same time, LaFleur has played a big role in that as well. LaFleur could get interviews during this hiring cycle and will probably get hired away eventually. With that said, his impact on this season and this offense won’t go unnoticed. LaFleur has set the building blocks for the Rams offense and its identity moving forward.