The Los Angeles Rams have one of the top offenses in the NFL. It’s a multi-layered attack led by head coach Sean McVay, and it’s a group that has put up big plays in bunches. The Rams rank second in the NFL in completions of 20-plus yards (60), run the ball extremely well (fifth in yards per game with 132.7), and score points on 48 percent of their drives (third in the league). How do they do it? And, perhaps more importantly, how did the Chicago Bears shut them down last week? Can the Eagles repeat that effort? Let’s go to the film and break it down.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
I know people think of McVay and Jared Goff and the passing game with this Rams team, but really it ultimately comes down to the run game. That’s the starting point here, and Los Angeles leans heavily on a zone blocking scheme to attack teams on the ground, particularly with the Outside Zone Run.
On Outside Zone, the objective is to stretch the front side and to cut off the back side. You’ll see the entire offensive line take a wide step toward the direction of the play, and the offensive linemen on the play side are trying to get their defenders moving laterally toward the sideline. On the back side, the linemen are trying to actually cut off their defenders, "reaching" them, and sealing them off from making the play. These actions help create a crease for the running back, Todd Gurley, and he’s able to hit the hole downhill for a big play. Even though the name of the play is Outside Zone, it is definitely an inside run.
Last week, Bears defenders on the front side were really stout at the point of attack. Khalil Mack did a great job of setting a strong, hard edge, either forcing the running back to cut back before he wanted to or to "run the hump," meaning the running back is now going east-west instead of going north-south. Gurley carried the ball 11 times for just 28 yards (2.5 yards per carry) against the Bears, which were his lowest numbers since McVay took over last season.
The Rams are one of the best play-action teams in the NFL thanks to the run game. They use play-action a ton, and Goff is very efficient when he drops back off of a run fake. There are two significant benefits of play-action. First, it makes things very clean for the quarterback from a progression standpoint. You’re typically not looking at multiple progressions off deep play-action, so things are well defined. Second, the pass rush is usually slowed down by the run fake as well, particularly against outside zone run-action, where defenders have to try and move laterally before attacking the quarterback.
The Rams love to attack downfield with two- or three-man route concepts off play-action, stretching the defense both vertically and horizontally. The Bears were not having it. Watch how quickly they attack downhill, getting after Goff on those play-action fakes and getting into his face before he could get comfortable and step into a throw. The third-year quarterback never once looked comfortable on Sunday night at Soldier Field.
The Rams also love to attack teams with different misdirection concepts in the screen game. Teams are worried about the run game as well as the vertical passing game off play-action when they face this offense. They’re worried about the Jet Sweeps and different gadgets thrown in there. In addition to all of that, Los Angeles does a great job of teeing up its screen passes. Whether it’s screens to the back or out in space to the receivers, McVay loves to spread the ball around in this part of the offense.
Against the screen, it’s pivotal that you have pursuit to the football from the defensive line. Screens are all about numbers. Can you get more blockers out in space than the opponent has defenders? Defenses need to maintain the numbers advantage any way you can, so having your defensive linemen chase the screen from the back side is critical. Also, you need defenders to defeat blocks for the same reason. If you’re a defender and you get blocked, the offense wins. If you’re a defender and you just cut down a blocker in space, the offense still wins. Defenders must defeat blocks and get to the football. Chicago did a great job of this last week against Los Angeles, and the Eagles did a great job of this against Dallas (the longest screen for the Cowboys went for 3 yards). The Eagles need a repeat effort on Sunday night.
Ultimately, when you look at the Bears and the way they dominated the Rams, it started with that defensive front. Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, and company were extremely disruptive in the backfield, constantly making Goff uncomfortable and forcing him into tough, pressured throws.
The Eagles have the guys to do the same thing. Last week, Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, and Brandon Graham were outstanding against the Cowboys and had a big hand in the Eagles coming back in the game and nearly winning it.
The Bears were strong on the back end of the defense as well. Not only were they extremely disciplined in their zone coverages (the Rams excel at attacking soft spots in zone coverage and Chicago did not allow that to happen), but they also attacked the catch point at a high level.
The Bears were disciplined, they attacked the catch point, and they impacted receivers from their spots in off-zone coverage. This was textbook execution by their corners and safeties. Obviously, Chicago is working with its full allotment of players on the back end, where the Eagles are not, but that’s no excuse in the NFL. You have to play with who you have. One thing that stood out to me (and pretty much everyone else) last week was the play of Rasul Douglas.
Douglas had his best game as an Eagle on Sunday. That interception was a play he’ll need to make against the Rams in their vertical concepts, and he attacked the quick throws in the flat very well from his post as the Cover 2 corner. After having one of his worst games against the Cowboys a few weeks ago, it was great to see Douglas bounce back the way he did.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.