I've spent a lot of time watching and studying this Los Angeles Rams offense over the last few weeks, and the scheme itself is really fun to watch for a number of reasons. The Rams are dangerous on the ground and through the air. They prey on defensive weaknesses. They roll out a number of difficult personnel packages for defenses to match up to. They put their players in great position to succeed based off of their skill sets. Head coach Sean McVay and his coaching staff have done a marvelous job in Year 1 out west.
The Rams rank 14th in the NFL with 115.3 rushing yards per game. Todd Gurley, a former top-10 pick, has been a threat in all areas of the field both on the ground as well as in the passing game. He's a big, physical back with the short-area burst to fly through a hole and come out the other side at top speed. A one-cut runner with both speed and power, Gurley's ability to pick up large chunks of yardage in the zone run game really gets this offense started.
Shot 1 - It all starts, however, with Todd Gurley and the run game. Outside Zone is the staple run scheme. Gurley is a one-cut, downhill slasher who can pick up large chunks at a time, and that #Rams OL is greatly improved. pic.twitter.com/ulAUU4HKnQ — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
Note that there is audio commentary for each of the video clips.
Gurley's best traits are on display in those three examples of their zone run plays. He's got the vision to pick his way through traffic, the power to run through initial contact, and the speed to get to the corner or run away from defenders in the open field. The Rams run Outside Zone and Inside Zone primarily, but look out for Power and Trap concepts as well to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and get him going downhill as quickly as possible.
The Rams rank 11th in the league in carries per game, and their 45-55 run-pass ratio is the eighth highest in the league favoring the run game. As successful as they've been through the air, McVay knows how important it is to establish the run game. Much like the offenses he was a part of in Washington (with Kyle Shanahan and Jay Gruden as mentors), the offense starts with an effective rushing attack, and the passing game plays off of that.
With that in mind, the Rams have one of the best play-action schemes in the NFL. They utilize a ton of in-breaking routes at the intermediate area of the field, a void behind the linebackers who get sucked upfield by a run fake at the snap of the ball. Quarterback Jared Goff thrives off play-action.
Shot 2 - The #Rams have one of the best play-action schemes in the NFL. We'll focus on some of the staple concepts soon, but look how much trust and faith Jared Goff has on these throws. He hits the top of his drop after the fake, turns and WHIPS this pass over the middle pic.twitter.com/9eIZo4c0Yo — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
These three throws demonstrate just how comfortable Goff is in these concepts. There's a large amount of trust and faith in the system when you see throws like this. Goff turns his back to the defense on the run fake, hits the top of his drop, snaps his head around, and fires a pass between the numbers for a first down. In a lot of cases, this almost looks like a predetermined throw. Just drop back and pull the trigger, the window WILL be open, and a receiver WILL be there ... all the quarterback has to do is trust the play call.
What's also interesting about this is that Goff played in an offense at Cal that never had him under center. He never executed a play-action fake or turn his back to the defense like Carson Wentz did at North Dakota State. How would he react when forced to read things on the fly with faster defenders patrolling the middle of the field? McVay accepted that challenge, and with the schemes they've put into place they've created situations for Goff where things are so well-defined for him off of play-action that he has the confidence to pull the trigger and let his receivers go make a play. That's a result of great coaching, and it will continue to do wonders for Goff's development as an NFL quarterback.
Now, we haven't charted Goff's numbers off of play-action. I haven't found a reliable service to get that number from. What I can say is that a large majority of the time when Goff throws the ball after taking the snap under center, it's off of a play-action fake. A lot of the Rams' quick-game throws come with Goff in the shotgun (again, great job of McVay putting him in a familiar situation). Here are the numbers when Goff lines up under center compared to when he's in the shotgun.
|QB Jared Goff
|Yards Per Catch
|Yards Per Attempt
To be clear, I'm not extremely surprised to see these numbers. A lot of quarterbacks go deep off of play-action. That's one of the benefits of the run fake, to buy the quarterback time as his receivers attack downfield. The Eagles' defense needs to be aware that when Goff lines up under center; it's going to be one of two things. You'll either get a running play, or some kind of play-action pass attacking the intermediate or deep part of the field. The intermediate area is where the Rams want to go with the football more often than not. Here's the first example of a concept they use to attack that level.
Shot 3 - This is one of the staples of the #Rams passing game off play-action. The clear route from No. 2 WR along with the underneath route helps create a huge void inside. Jared Goff hits the top of his drop and hits the Dig route in-stride for a first down. pic.twitter.com/PL37PiEd9G — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
This is a passing concept that showed up for the Rams in the passing game week after week on tape. There are two vertical routes on one side - a comeback route from the No. 1 receiver and a straight vertical route from the No. 2 receiver. The No. 2 receiver's job is to clear out the middle of the field and hold the safety in the post. On the opposite side, there is typically going to be some kind of route underneath going to the sideline. This is meant to hold the attention of any linebacker in the middle of the field. If his eyes are on that receiver, he won't feel the dig route coming from behind, and that's the intended target on this play. With the middle of the field open, the dig route typically has plenty of room to make this catch, and there's a very well-defined window for Goff to throw into underneath. Watch how often the linebackers are affected both by the run fakes in the backfield and then by those complementary routes on either side of the field. There's a lot of eye candy to take the attention away from the middle, and that's where Goff wants to go with the football.
Shot 4 - Another one of the #Rams staples off play-action is the 3-level stretch. Ball is meant to go to the intermediate route, but depending on the look of the safeties Goff will go over the top for the big play. Has happened many times this year. pic.twitter.com/DTFSwg8dnc — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
That last concept is great for picking up anywhere from 12-to-22 yards on any given play. If the receiver is able to run through the catch and pick up a bunch of yards after the play it'll be an even bigger gain. However, one of the Rams' big "deep ball" plays comes off of a concept that should be familiar to Eagles fans at this point: the three-level stretch. The Rams run a lot of three-level concepts off of play-action, with receivers flooded to one side of the field at all three levels (deep, intermediate, and short). These concepts work against pretty much any coverage. The ball still typically goes to the intermediate receiver, but Goff has shown that he will throw the deep ball depending on the safeties. Sammy Watkins, an explosive game-breaker who puts his ball-tracking abilities on display in that big play against San Francisco, is their primary deep threat. Expect to see some three-level concepts from the Rams on Sunday.
Shot 5 - Another concept we've seen a lot of from this #Rams offense off play-action. You get a Post from No. 1 and a deep out cut from No. 2. Typically attacks quarters coverage but it works in a lot of situations. Nice 6- or 7-man protection shot play. pic.twitter.com/WLGHhLrG5C — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
This is another shot play we've seen from the Rams off of play-action. It's a two-man concept that really is viewed as one of the top Quarters beaters in all levels of football, but it can win against a number of other coverages as well. Here are two examples of the Rams running it this year against Houston. If the middle of the field is open, expect this ball to go to the post route every time, like it does on the first play to Robert Woods (who likely won't play in this game due to injury). If the middle of the field is closed (meaning that there's a safety in the deep middle), then expect that No. 2 receiver to get the ball on the deep out-breaking route for a first down.
Shot 6 - It's 'The Play' @BenFennellNFL @jco3215. The #Rams (and other teams) have run this a bunch of times this year with plenty of wrinkles to it. Watch out for Todd Gurley down the seam. Also show where it originated this fall. pic.twitter.com/mZv3A2WR0Y — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
Another vertical passing play we've seen a lot from this Rams offense is a concept that's kind of taken the league by storm this fall. It started in the very first game of the season with the Chiefs against the Patriots** where running back Kareem Hunt flew down the seam for a long touchdown pass. The Patriots used it the very next week, and McVay stole it from them to use against the Dallas Cowboys shortly thereafter. Gurley is explosive enough to get down the seam and be a factor in the passing game downfield. McVay has incorporated a few wrinkles into the concept throughout the course of the season. With the speed of Tavon Austin to stretch the defense horizontally, gaps are created at the second level to open up a void for Goff to deliver the football.
There are some of your biggest play-action schemes from this Rams playbook, but the Eagles need to be ready for more than just those intermediate routes. Like any good coach, McVay incorporates complementary play concepts that counter off of those downfield throws. If the Eagles, an aggressive defense, flow hard to where they THINK the ball is going to go, the Rams will dial up something to attack the opposite side of the field or hit them underneath with a play they weren't expecting.
Shot 7 - Shades of Kyle Shanahan influence in this play-action pass game. They have a ton of concepts that complement their deep/intermediate passing plays. I guarantee you'll see at least one of these on Sunday vs #Eagles defense. Screens/throwbacks vs aggressive defense. pic.twitter.com/DgooHh6W1p — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
These are plays that I've seen often from the Kyle Shanahan (who McVay coached under in Washington) playbook. The screens, the throwbacks to the tight end, the underneath routes in the middle of the field off of boot action, these are all complements to Los Angeles' play-action shot game. Keep an eye out for these on Sunday.
From a personnel standpoint, McVay consistently finds ways to leverage the strengths of his players and hide their weaknesses. For the former, I present exhibit A: Tavon Austin.
Shot 8 - Sean McVay does a great job of putting his players in position to leverage the strengths and hide their weaknesses. He's gotten a lot out of Tavon Austin in the screen game, on gadgets, and even as a tailback on basic run concepts #Rams #Eagles pic.twitter.com/r8IPLCIbol — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
Austin was drafted in the Top 15 a few years ago out of West Virginia as an "offensive weapon." Part receiver, part running back, all dynamic playmaker in college, the Rams had struggled to really get the most out of him throughout his career. Now, with McVay, you're seeing him used in space on gadget plays, as a decoy (which you've seen in so many of the shots already in this piece), and on carries both in motion and out of the backfield as a pure tailback. When the Rams deploy him, how will the Eagles match up? Will they treat him as a running back or as a receiver? It's a very similar discussion as to how they defended Tarik Cohen a couple of weeks ago against Chicago. I'll be intrigued to see what the Eagles do in those situations.
Shot 9 - #Rams are also very good with Bunch / Stacked WR sets, and biggest benefactor of that is rookie WR Cooper Kupp. Again, leverage a player's strengths and hide his weaknesses. Kupp doesn't need to beat press on any of these. Scheme gets him free release to win mid-route pic.twitter.com/8mMC9r0jkl — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 7, 2017
I also have to pay compliments to the Rams' coaches for the way they use wide receiver Cooper Kupp. The rookie mid-round pick from Eastern Washington set all kinds of records in college and was a fan-favorite throughout the draft process. Kupp has been extremely effective in the slot for this team. Like what Sean Payton does in New Orleans and Bill Belichick does in New England, the Rams use bunch sets and stacked receiver looks to help create space for Kupp. More importantly, these looks help keep Kupp clean off the ball. One of the primary issues analysts had with Kupp coming out of school was his inability to get off press coverage. If you notice in those plays above, he NEVER has to get off press and I'm sure that's by design. Kupp can use his route-running skills and excellent hands to win in space. He's turned into a really effective player in that offense.
So how do the Eagles defend this scheme?
First off, they have to stop Gurley and the run game. That's a must. Secondly, get to Goff and throw him off schedule. Make him uncomfortable in every way possible and keep him from executing these pass plays within the structure of the offense. The linebackers and safeties have to play with strong eye discipline, particularly against play-action, and prevent the explosive play. This will be a big test on Sunday, and I'm really excited to see how it bears out.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. 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.