The Los Angeles Rams Walk the Walk
In an NFL climate where many talk the talk, Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams walk the walk. While the Rams offense may be branded as a throwback, a downhill running scheme, the reality is that their mentality is almost completely divorced from what the NFL looked like even a decade ago.
According to Football Outsiders, the 2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (coached by current Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden), Houston Texans and Chicago Bears (who went to the Super Bowl that season) used a shotgun formation on just one percent or fewer of their offensive snaps that year. For the most part, the NFL was still dominated by the under center West Coast Offense which was spear-headed by short, timing concepts in the passing game. Since 1978, when the NFL changed its pass protection rules, these short, timing concepts have made up most of the NFL's under center passing game.
Below is an example of the 2018 San Francisco 49ers running a "quick game" pass from under center designed for an immediate reception in the flats:
These "quick game" concepts generally cap the potential of a play by design, as there is no way to exploit downfield weaknesses in coverage with routes that do not threaten deep. As the sport has evolved, there are fewer of these West Coast Offense passes from under center, but they have been assimilated into the shotgun.
Below is an example of the frequency that Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers run their "slant-flat" concept, mostly out of the shotgun:
Here's a sample of how many slant-flat passes Mike McCarthy has called in 2018.— 💀 Dahaunte Adams 💀 (@JuMosq) October 9, 2018
This doesn't include similar concepts like:
X slant-RB flats
slant-flats on the backside of other concepts pic.twitter.com/9NctU6Q7lU
Most of these concepts are designed to be thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage, leading to the most "explosive" results coming from quarterback Aaron Rodgers freelancing on scramble drills. In 2018, a five-yard pass,when the league-wide adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) is 7.4, is not nearly as valuable as it was in 1978, when the league-wide AY/A was 5.1 yards, which is why you are seeing the schematic value of orchestrating a deep passing game making more and more of a difference with each passing season.
The NFL's AY/A is at 7.4.— 💀 Dahaunte Adams 💀 (@JuMosq) October 11, 2018
That's equal to college football's passing efficiency (FBS) in 2015 and better than every season in CFB history prior to that. pic.twitter.com/hMYin3KLc5
When you study the 2018 Los Angeles Rams offense, this is the area where you start to notice the vast difference between them and most teams. Their innovation isn't actually innovation. It's exclusion. One of the driving forces for quarterback Jared Goff's AY/A of 10.0 yards per attempt? Completely disregarding the under center quick game nearly wholesale.
In six games in 2018, the Los Angeles Rams, by my count, have called 89 passes from under center in non-empty (at least one back in the backfield) looks. Out of those 89 passes, 82 (92.1 percent) came off play action. The vast majority of those passes were read from deep to short, a completely different mentality from the West Coast Offense passes designed to hit a man in the flats on a quarterback's third step. The deep-to-short read play-action game is the main reason why Goff has 16 pass attempt of 20 or more yards traveled this season, with four resulting in long touchdowns.
Below are all of Goff's under center throws from last week's game against the Denver Broncos:
While most NFL coaches talk about how they want to keep defenses guessing by making every play look the same, McVay actually does so by giving defenses run action on more than 95 percent of under center looks, no matter if it's a tailback handoff, an end around to a motion man or a play action pass. By committing to "minus splits" by receivers and a single bell-cow back, there are few pre-snap tendencies to scout when the Rams go under center. Defenses have to live and die with their decisions on post-snap run-pass conflicts. This is very different from other teams, like Gruden's Raiders, who telegraph much by personnel and situation.
Over the last three weeks, the Los Angeles Rams have thrown 39 passes from under center, all of which came off play action. In six games this year, they have only thrown seven straight dropback passes from under center, with six of them coming in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers. In a league exploding in passing efficiency, McVay has simply phased out quick passes out of under center looks, passes which made up the majority of NFL throws just a decade ago.
With the third-year Goff on pace to have a top-10 season in NFL history, it's hard to claim that McVay moving on from decades-long NFL staples has been the wrong move. One might even make the case that the volume of play-action passes that the Rams run has given them the reps they need to be able to block efficiently while Goff has his back to the defense. Los Angeles allows virtually no penetration, a visible difference between them and most NFL teams on back to-defense play-action passes.
For example, the Green Bay Packers ran just three back-to-defense play-action passes in the last 40 minutes of Monday Night Football this week, with all three of those plays blown up by the San Francisco 49ers, a team the Rams play this coming Sunday.
This is what I mean when I said San Francisco was blowing up Green Bay’s back to defense play action plays.— 💀 Dahaunte Adams 💀 (@JuMosq) October 16, 2018
One of the ways the Rams win games (https://t.co/Eh1hZiSHaK) and LA-SF is this week. Interesting matchup moving forward. pic.twitter.com/YS9YOZ2DHp
Until someone can make the Rams pay for showing run action on nearly every under center look, which no one has been able to do in 2018, don't expect them to stop. Depending on how you think the situation shakes out long-term, McVay's commitment is him going full galaxy brain or he's a few steps ahead of everyone in the NFL.