How the Rams Offense Broke Down Minnesota’s Defense

The Rams hung 38 points on the Vikings defense like it was nothing on Thursday Night. We’ve written before about how Sean McVay’s schemes put the offense in a great position to succeed. But the Rams had everything going against Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota D. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Todd Gurley always seemed to find the open running lane. The Vikings Defense couldn’t handle the speed of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. And Jared Goff was on the money with just about every throw.

Sean McVay did a tremendous job of manufacturing favorable mismatches in the passing game. Three of Jared Goff’s 5 touchdowns came with either Todd Gurley or a wide receiver matched up in 1-on-1 coverage on linebacker Anthony Barr. The first touchdown to Todd Gurley is below.

Here, the Rams aligned with 3 receivers to the right, a tight end to the left, and Gurley in the backfield.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

The Vikings were playing quarters coverage in response (4 defensive backs responsible for 4 deep vertical zones).

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This is a coverage the Vikings play often, and it’s a common coverage across the NFL in the red zone.

In quarters coverage against a 3×1 formation, the backside safety is responsible for the #3 inside vertical to the opposite side. Below, you can see that the backside safety would end up cheating to the front side, as was his responsibility.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This was not a surprise to McVay. He anticipated this coverage and sent his tight end on a fade route in order to take the backside corner out of the play.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This left Todd Gurley in 1-on-1 coverage against linebacker Anthony Barr.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass
Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

That’s a mismatch. Gurley ended up running down the seam, and Goff made a pretty damn good throw.

Rams TD 1

One of the things that stands out about McVay’s offense is his use of tight splits (receivers aligning inside the numbers close to the formation). This does a couple of things for the offense. The alignment is conducive to receivers running crossing routes over the middle as well as various other route combinations where receivers cross each other. The defense has to be aware of pick routes in these situations, and this gets them to play more off-coverage. This leads to more free releases for receivers and the ability to maintain the timing of the passing game. These route combinations also can create confusion of assignments for the defense, especially in zone coverage.

In addition, the tight splits create the potential for more receivers to attack more areas of the field. A receiver aligned tight to the quarterback’s left can end up being the deep threat down the right sideline. In fact, this is exactly how the Rams scored their second touchdown of the night.

As you can see below, all of the Rams receivers were aligned inside the numbers. Keep an eye on Cooper Kupp, who eventually catches this 70-yard touchdown pass.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

The Rams knew that the Vikings often like to lock their corners up on the outside in certain zone coverages. On this particular play, McVay had his receiver on the right side, Robert Woods, run his cornerback off to the opposite side of the field.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass
Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This left no one to defend the deep vertical to the right side of the field. Anthony Barr was the only player who had a chance to pick up Kupp. A linebacker on a wide receiver. Not what you want if you are the Vikings.

Rams O backup
Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass
Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

This was the design and one of the benefits of the tight splits. Kupp was aligned on the left at the start of the play and ended up downfield outside the numbers on the right side.

Goff TD 2 tight splits and PA

The Rams used play-action here, which was something they relied on throughout Thursday’s game. On this play, it slowed down the pass rush and created enough time for the routes downfield to develop. It also sucked in the linebackers and made them lose sight of Kupp for a split second.

It also certainly helped that Goff initially looked left to hold the deep safety. Another great play design, another great throw, and another Rams touchdown.

Quarterback Jared Goff has quickly become overshadowed in this offense by his own head coach. Many call him a system quarterback. While the jury may still be out on that, the Rams would not have scored 38 points on Thursday Night if not for Goff’s passing ability. Each of his 5 touchdowns required a good or great throw. We already showed you his first 2 touchdown passes. Take a look at his other 3 below:

Goff throwing receiver open

Goff TD on Post

Goff TD 5

Those are each big time NFL throws.

Goff doesn’t get nearly enough attention for how well he has played since his rookie year. After a 2017 season in which he threw 28 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions, Goff has started 2018 with 11 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 127.3 passer rating. Not bad for a system quarterback.

Between Goff’s stellar play, McVay’s schemes, and the talent of Todd Gurley and the receiving corps, the Rams are the most fun offense to watch in the NFL. Through the early going, they also look like the class of the NFC.

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