The Rams look like a completely different team on offense compared to 2016, and that isn’t exactly an accident. Sean McVay is doing a great job of putting his players in position to succeed on a regular basis. He is doing so by making it difficult for defenders to confidently play to their responsibilities, and this was on full display during Thursday night’s game against the 49ers.
The below play is a great illustration. This ended up being a toss running play to the left. The goal on a play like this is to be able to seal off the edge and get your running back to the outside. If the Rams simply ran a toss to the outside, it would be much easier for the defense to react quickly. The success of the play would then be much more reliant on talent and individual effort. But McVay added a wrinkle to this play to manufacture good blocking angles and give his players the advantage. At the snap, the Rams faked jet-sweep action away from the play with wide receiver Tavon Austin.
You can see that after the snap, the play-side linebacker is initially frozen in response to the jet-sweep action, despite the entire Rams offensive line moving in unison to the left.
By the time Todd Gurley had the ball in his hands, the Rams already had the edge sealed off. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp’s legal crackback block was instrumental to the play’s success. However, the jet-sweep action allowed left guard Rodger Saffold to pin the play-side linebacker to the inside, and this is what sprung Gurley for a big 29-yard gain.
It’s difficult to fool NFL defenses with play designs that have never been seen before. However, adding little wrinkles like this to traditional plays can create hesitation in defenders and help to manufacture big gains.
The below play is another example from the Rams’ Thursday night win over the 49ers. The Rams aligned in a tight formation with only 1 receiver split out wide. McVay knew, based on film study, that this look would get the 49ers to bring an extra defender down into the box and play Cover-3 (3 deep defenders each responsible for 1/3 of the field).
McVay called a typical cover-3 beating route combination, the post-wheel. The idea here is that the outside post route should take the deep 3rd defender to that side with him, leaving a vacancy down the sideline for the wheel route.
But McVay didn’t just run a simple post-wheel combination. He used play action to hold defenders and help make that void for the wheel route even bigger. As you can see below, wide receiver Robert Woods, running the wheel route, initially appeared to be run blocking. This forced his defender to think it was a running play.
Woods’ defender took an initial step towards the line of scrimmage to help out against the run. This led to a wide open Robert Woods and a 21-yard gain.
Again, McVay could have called a simple post-wheel combination route. But the extra touch of play-action and the initial run-blocking look by Woods helped ensure a big play.
You may think that attempting to fool the defense is a simple and necessary concept, unworthy of high praise. Shockingly, though, many offensive coordinators do not do enough to put defenders on their heels. McVay, on the other hand, regularly attempts to impact defenders and not let them trust what they are seeing at the snap. This approach is helping make life easier for LA’s young quarterback, Jared Goff. The result through the first 3 weeks has been an offense averaging 35.7 points per game.