By Taylor Kolste, Riley-Kolste Football
When speaking at the 2019 USC Football Coaches Clinic, head coach Sean McVay spoke of the importance of having an offensive identity. McVay went on to mention that there are a lot of different ways to be successful. But that one common denominator between all successful teams is that they have an identity. McVay stated that the Rams’ offensive identity is rooted in the “marriage of the run and pass game.” Meaning the utilization of plays “that start out looking the same, but are different.” This article will go over a series of plays that the Rams feature from their bunch formation to give fans an overview of both the Rams’ base scheme, as well as, a few of their complementary plays that work off of this action.
For the Rams’ offense, everything starts with the wide or outside zone. Some coaches call this play ‘wide zone,’ whereas others refer to it as ‘outside zone.’ Below is a diagram of this scheme from a bunch formation:
For the Rams, this is often-times a weakside run. This means they are going to run toward the ‘open side’ of the formation (away from the tight end). This is a zone blocking scheme, so the entire offensive line is moving in one direction. Covered linemen (the center and right tackle in the diagram above) will block the near defender. Uncovered linemen will double-team with their adjacent lineman before working up to the near second-level defender. Because this is an outside zone play, the linemen will try to ‘reach’ their defender. They will try to seal this defender to the inside. If they cannot reach the outside number of this defender, they will run this defender to the sideline to create space for the running back.
The running back will cut the ball up behind their block. The aim is toward the ‘ghost tight end,’ this is where the tight end would be if they were running towards him. The running back will read outside-in, 1-gap at a time. This tells him if the c-gap is open, he will bounce the ball. If the defensive end maintains his gap integrity on the outside, the running back will now shift his vision to the b-gap and continue through this process until he finds the open running lane.
One interesting aspect to how the Rams use this scheme is they don’t reach block with the play-side tackle. The play-side tackle will take a flat angle inside number of the defensive end to block him out. Because of this, I refer to this scheme as a ‘mid-zone’ play. Typically, on an outside zone, most teams try to reach the defensive end. This may give the running back access to the sideline. Because of the technique the Rams employ with their play-side tackle, the ball rarely ever bounces to the sideline. This will only occur if the defensive end spikes into the b-gap (https://youtu.be/FkIChVJ0J9Y). Otherwise, the offense is just trying to stretch the defense laterally to open up a lane for the running back.
Working off of their outside/mid zone scheme, the Rams employ a number of similar looking boot plays. Below is a diagram of the boot play they use from their bunch formation:
With the Rams’ boot schemes, they will always have a high option (the corner route in the diagram above), a low option (the pivot route), a backside crossing route that works between the high and low route and an outlet route (the trail route by the tight end). The quarterback will read low to high, looking to his flat route first, second to his crosser and then to the corner route if both of his first two options are taken away. If all three options are taken away, he will look to the late trail route by the tight end.
It’s effective against aggressive defenses that are fast-flowing towards their base run scheme. As seen in the video above, this play looks exactly like the previous one. The flow of the inside linebackers typically gives the offense a 2-on-1 on the flat defender. If he moves inside with the run action, the quarterback will quickly have his first option in the progression. If the flat defender is able to take this route away, the crossing route is typically becomes available.
Working off of the Rams’ boot schemes are their half-boot throwback plays. These schemes are similar to their boot plays. Now, the tight end and receiver stay backside of the line allowing the quarterback to throw across the field.
So, this scheme looks initially like the outside run play. Then it looks like the boot play, but it’s actually neither. When using these types of schemes, McVay emphasizes the Rams employ “routes that start out looking the same but are different.” In the example shown above, the double-move route ran by the Z-receiver is an example of this. On the previous boot play, this receiver would stem inside and then run the corner route. This is the Rams’ go-to scheme whenever the backside corner is following the X-receiver on his crossing route.
This opens up space on the backside of the field for the Z-receiver to attack. The Z (typically Robert Woods) will stem inside and then lean to the corner to move the free safety. This scheme initially looks like the boot scheme, the free safety will likely bite on the fake and move towards the anticipated boot-side. The quarterback throws the ball back across the field to his receiver running the corner-post route.
The Rams would also employ throwback screens off of this half-boot action. Below is a diagram of this:
This scheme could be the boot, the half-boot throwback, but is actually a screen to the running back. This is an effective scheme for the Rams as defenders would usually chase the boot action and rally back into zone coverage in anticipation of the play-action pass.
These four plays are one example of how the Rams marry the run and pass game together. They employ plays that “start out looking the same, but are different.” This can be used as a microcosm of the entire offense. To watch the series of plays in succession, see here: https://youtu.be/ewnpffQPCOg.
To learn more about this offense, check out my book, Breaking Down the 2018 L.A. Rams Offense, at the following link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1794188207
To see an excerpt from the book, this link includes the manuscript for the entire first chapter of the book. The first chapter focuses on the personal character and leadership of coach McVay. Introducing this culture allows him to develop within the team. Without the work ethic and humility, the genius of the Rams’ scheme would not exist. Without McVay’s leadership, the Rams championship-level culture would not exist. I believe anyone can learn from McVay’s example. To become a better version of themselves and to become a more effective leader in their lives.
If you have any questions or feedback on the book or article, contact me via Twitter at @TaylorKolste or email at TaylorKolste@gmail.com.