We knew heading into this game that the Colts’ zone coverage looks were primed to get picked apart by Sean McVay’s scheme and Matthew Stafford’s arm. While there was a bit of a lull in the middle of the game, both were able to break down Indy’s coverage for multiple big plays that led to a Rams win.
L.A.’s first touchdown of the game is a great example. Look at the formation McVay used. The Rams aligned in a 3×1 set but did so with their receivers in unconventional positions. Tight end Tyler Higbee was on the perimeter to the left, running back Darrell Henderson was on the perimeter to the right, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp was aligned in the backfield.
Why do this? To help define the coverage and the matchups for Stafford. With cornerbacks T.J. Carrie and Rock Ya-Sin aligned over a tight end and running back respectively, the odds were good that this was zone coverage.
Since Higbee was running his defender off to the left sideline, and the free safety in the middle of the field (Julian Blackmon) was cheating to the 3-receiver side, all Stafford had to do was hold Blackmon to the right. Kupp would then get to run a vertical route with a free release against a safety.
That’s a match up the Rams will take any day of the week. The result was an easy touchdown.
The formation and personnel was key here. The route concept was 4 verticals, but because of the alignment, L.A. got a favorable coverage look. Had Kupp been aligned in the slot to the left instead of the backfield, the Colts probably would have played quarters coverage with safety Khari Willis sitting on the goal line. Perhaps they would have played “Red-2” (basically 5 across the goal line). Either coverage would have made for a smaller window and a much more difficult throw. Instead, Willis was focused on playing the curl-flat zone underneath, not Kupp’s vertical.
On L.A.’s go-ahead touchdown drive in the 4th quarter, the Rams struck for 44 yards on another well designed and beautifully executed play that broke down Indy’s zone coverage.
Focus on the top of the screen. On the outside, Van Jefferson was running a post. Cooper Kupp was running a wheel route from the slot.
The timing of the routes on this play made the difference. Not seen here is the deep safety on Jefferson and Kupp’s side. The Colts were playing Cover-4 to that side, and the safety’s responsibility in that coverage is to take the #2 receiver (Kupp in this case) if he releases vertically. However, because Kupp used a slow release off the line, the safety moved on from Kupp shortly after the snap and looked to help out on the #1 receiver, Van Jefferson.
The corner ran with Jefferson and the defender over Kupp dropped to the flat, leaving no one to cover Kupp downfield.
The Rams were in the end zone on the next play.
The combination of design, play-calling, timing, and execution has created what appears to be a formidable offense through two weeks of the season. The Stafford-McVay marriage is looking great so far. However, the Rams will have a much tougher test in Week 3 when they host the Buccaneers.