The Rams' Identity Change Makes Them Super Bowl Ready
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
By Tayyib Abu.
Offense defined Sean McVay’s first two years in Los Angeles. The Rams thrilled us with an exhilarating attack. Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp electrified the NFL. The Greatest Show on Turf had come to Hollywood.
That two-year rollercoaster ride led LA to the Super Bowl. Then, the rollercoaster ride came to a shuddering halt as LA got bested by a Bill Belichick defensive masterclass.
Last year saw LA come back down to earth. The Rams went 9-7 as the team missed out on the playoffs. Coming into this season, it felt like no one was considering the Rams. The 49ers were hot off a Super Bowl loss, Russel Wilson was ready to cook, and the Cardinals were on the up. The Rams felt like the forgotten child. Yet, after 11 weeks the LA Rams are top of the NFC West, and they are doing it in a very different way.
DEFENSE IS THE MAIN ATTRACTION
The defense has been the foundation of the Rams’ success this season. Young coordinator Brandon Staley has organised a supreme defense. LA’s defense is second in points per game. It leads the league in total yardage per game. It is second in pass defense, while LA ranks fifth in rushing defense. It is a unit that is controlling games for Los Angeles.
Aaron Donald headlines the unit. The game wrecking monster might be the best player in the NFL. Out of any technique, Donald has the skill to clog running lanes and create internal pressure on the passer. Donald does the job of two players although Michael Brockers stars alongside him. Samson Ebukam generates pressure on the edge; he brings speed to the weak side linebacker position. At the same time, Leonard Floyd is a tackling machine on the strong side. The linebacker group has been superb for LA.
But if the linebackers are the unsung heroes, then the secondary is the A-List. Led by former All-Pro Jalen Ramsey, this group is playing at an incredibly high level. LA only totalled one sack on Tom Brady last Monday. Yet, they still held the Tampa passing offense in check. Furthermore, LA had two interceptions.
Ramsey is the star of this group; the trash-talking, charismatic corner is back to his best. The corner is playing physically on the outside and is making it difficult for receivers and quarterbacks. John Johnson is having a Pro Bowl year at free safety.
LA deploys a lot of two safety formations. With Donald upfront, they don't need to stack the box when teams are running. It is allowing them to shrink the open field with more defenders in coverage. The best defenses are complimentary, Brandon Staley has fit this defense together like a well-constructed Jenga tower. Now the talent is shining through and dominating.
THE OFFENSE IS NO UNDERSTUDY
With the defense playing so well, the offense has faded into the background. The Rams have shifted from a high octane attack to an efficient, ball-control offense. With three running backs who offer something different, LA plans to run the ball out of passing formations. A team like Baltimore last year had significant success running the ball out of 13 personnel. LA can do it out of 10 or 11 personnel.
With a smart running game, the Rams have been able to design a quick play offense. Goff’s QBR is 21st and Sean McVay has created an offense whereby Goff doesn’t have to extend himself. LA uses a lot of bootlegs, screens and play-action. It all comes from establishing the run out of passing formations. It is very similar to last year’s 49ers offense.
Coach McVay has remodelled his offense in one truncated pre-season. Tyler Higbee is beginning to star for the Rams as he plays the George Kittle role for his team. Kupp is a super YAC receiver, while Gerald Everett brings the power.
However, for all of the smart plays, there is one glaring problem. In passing and rushing yardage per game, LA is a top 10 unit. Yet it is 18th in points per game. For the systematic, quick play offense to work; it needs points on the board. Long drives that end in field goals will not be enough come January. And the red zone is where they need Goff to step up. He is an effective game manager, but he needs to take control in goal to go situations.
WILL THE SEQUEL BE BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL?
The Rams are an excellent team. They are currently the number two seed in the crowded NFC. LA is one game back from the Taysom Hill led Saints. However, that should not be on the Rams’ mind. LA still has big games to play. Key battles at Seattle and Arizona are still on the schedule.
This week sees the 49ers come to town. The Rams lost to San Francisco earlier in the year. After a superb win on Monday, LA has to win this game. There might not be any red carpet rollout for fans in LA this year but the fans will be keenly watching to see if the production of Sean McVay’s Rams: Part Two is as good as the original.