As we make our way through the NFC West in our newest series, “The Breakdown,” we take a look at the Los Angeles Rams schematic philosophy. After a roll-coaster first half of the season with Case Keenum at the helm, last year’s number one overall pick Jared Goff took over and didn’t do any better as the offense sputtered out-of-control. Typically the backbone of the team, the Rams defense was underwhelming in 2016 albeit a disastrous offense that kept them on the field and left them in unfavorable positions. Let’s examine what the Rams do on both sides of the ball.
The Breakdown: A Look at the Los Angeles Rams Schematic Philosophy
A New-Look Offense
With Sean McVay as the team’s new head coach, expect the offense to receiver a much-needed makeover. During his time with the Washington Redskins, McVay established a lethal play-action game to create the proper matchups and opportunities in space from three-receiver combos. These passing concepts were further adept at isolating conflict defenders and creating clear Hi-Lo reads that Kirk Cousins was able to attack with noticeable efficiency, and will only aid Goff’s progression.
The young coach also incorporates a variety of different formations, alignments and pre-snap movements that were found in the Rams offense this past season, while the franchise added viable weapons for Goff this off-season. They recently traded for talented receiver Sammy Watkins, drafted two more in Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds, and spent a second-round pick on tight end Gerald Everett who is expected to be used in a role similar to McVay’s former athletic flexible option, Jordan Reed.
The development of a high-caliber play-action offense should immediately lift the burden on the offensive line in the running game. NFL fans witnessed the direct impact of a strong play-action offense for the Atlanta Falcons with their respective running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and the Rams have their own talented runner in Todd Gurley. Following an eye-popping rookie campaign, Gurley’s number took a noticeable dip as the result of an inept offense. Expect him to return to his 2015 form this coming season.
Precise use of personnel is a staple of McVay’s passing game, designing a system that features a deep threat who can uncover down the field (likely Tavon Austin) and intermediate option that can also work from the slot on breaking routes (Watkins and Kupp), while Everett and 2016 fourth-round Tyler Higbee will be tasked with working both the underneath and intermediate levels.
A Fresh Defensive Outlook
McVay hired former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to the same position in Los Angeles. His 3-4 system operates as more of a one-gap unit similar to a 4-3 Under front rather than subscribing to the traditional two-gap principles. In Denver and at the Houston Texans, Phillips implemented a bevy five down linemen looks to capitalize on the talents of edge rushers Von Miller and J.J. Watt which helps explain the additions of Connor Barwin (free agent) and Samson Ebukam (2017 fourth-rounder). Both are expected to serve as the outside linebackers opposite Robert Quinn with Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Ethan Westbrooks inside.
Phillips prefers to have the first level of his defense operate as up-field players who can penetrate the backfield. There was original concern that Donald, one of the game’s top defenders, was going to be forced to take on two gaps, but he will likely rotate with Brockers at nose tackle; Donald is simply too quick, powerful and nuanced as a pass rusher to be neutralized by centers.
As for the secondary, Phillips placed an emphasis on talented, versatile defenders in the back-end that could handle coverage rotations and blitzes from the slot. Kayvon Webster comes over from Denver and is expected to be the number two corner opposite Trumaine Johnson, while the additions of free safety John Johnson (2017 third-rounder) and corner back Nickell Robey-Coleman (free agent) look to bolster the last line of defense.
Offensively, the Rams literally have no place to go up and with Goff in Year Two, the overhaul of offensive weapons and hiring of McVay, there is a large amount of untapped potential. The personnel on the other side of the ball appears questionable in the secondary, but with Phillips guiding this unit, there’s a legitimate chance to maximize their talent. Expect the Rams to make strides in 2017.