The Sean McVay-Matthew Stafford marriage continued rolling in Week 3 as the Rams knocked off the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a convincing win.
One thing is apparent from the first 3 games of the season: If Matthew Stafford has time, the Rams have the scheme and personnel to break down any coverage they see and attack all areas of the field.
Breaking Down Zone
Let’s start with this 22-yard completion to Cooper Kupp that really seemed to settle Matthew Stafford into the game. This was a sail route concept, a 3-level stretch designed to knock the top off the defense, hold the underneath coverage, and create a void at the intermediate level.
The design and execution of the routes were good, but another reason that play works is that the defense has to be cognizant of Stafford attacking downfield.
Attacking Man Coverage
While the Buccaneers didn’t play man coverage as their predominant coverage of choice, the Rams were able to take advantage when they did. The below completion to Cooper Kupp (another 22-yarder) came with Kupp running a wheel route as the #3 inside slot receiver. The #2 receiver’s route impacted the path of Kupp’s defender, which helped create the separation.
On the very next play, McVay called for another man-beating route combo designed to create a pick or natural rub on Kupp’s man.
Given the state of the Buccaneers’ secondary, they didn’t want to find themselves in too many situations where they had to call or rely on man coverage. That said, it’s tough to sit back in zone on 3rd down against Matthew Stafford, because he’ll pick you apart. So the Buccaneers did have to utilize man coverage on 3rd down multiple times. It didn’t work out well. L.A. converted on 10 of 15 attempts on the money down, including 8 of 12 through the air.
Throughout the day, the Rams used formations to help provide indicators of man coverage and make sure they had the best play called. On this 3rd-and-5, tight end Tyler Higbee was aligned as the boundary-X receiver with linebacker Lavonte David over him.
That meant a high probability of man coverage. The Rams dialed up another man beater, dual crossers between Higbee and DeSean Jackson. Below, you can see all of the chaos that these routes created in the Buccaneers defense. Linebacker Devin White ended up picking Jackson’s man.
DeSean Jackson’s touchdown earlier in the game came against man coverage on 3rd down as well. This time it was 2-man, with a safety providing help over the top. That safety fell in response to Stafford looking to the opposite side of the field initially, though.
The Buccaneers were unable to generate enough pressure throughout the day. And when they can’t get to the quarterback, that defense is vulnerable. Stafford and the Rams took full advantage in Week 3.
It’s been surprising to see the Buccaneers struggle to put pressure on the quarterback so far this season. They have the fewest sacks in the NFL despite having more passes thrown against them than any other team. They’ll need to find ways to get to the quarterback to regain their 2020 form on defense.
The Rams, on the other hand, are just starting to get going.