After a disappointing loss in New York, the Bears have returned home to prepare for yet another nationally televised contest against the NFC-leading Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams are headlined by their high flying offense, which is lead by two top-ten picks having absurdly successful seasons and a young head coach whose scheme has taken the league by storm. Said scheme is entirely predicated on only two key concepts, but they and the plays that stem from them are so well-designed and well-executed that it’s been nearly impossible to stop.
What does any of that mean? Find out that and more in my full scouting report of the LA Rams’ offense.
Jared Goff, 2016’s first overall pick, takes the snaps for LA and he’s in the midst of a pro bowl caliber season. It all starts with his arm, as it should for any elite quarterback, and he has a great one that can make every throw in the book. He will occasionally overthrow a deep ball, but most of his passes are on the money and have the touch to get over underneath defenders and land in the breadbasket. His mechanics are superb, stepping into every throw and driving them into his target.
Goff isn’t too athletic, though he does move well in the pocket. He’s mastered the art of the slide step, and in doing so really helps out his OL by stepping out of trouble and allowing the blockers to wash edge rushers around the pocket. He goes through progressions very well, seeing the whole field, and keeping his eyes downfield instead of on the imminent rush.
He will run on occasion, but he isn’t too successful when he does. He won’t break off any big plays with his legs or make anybody miss and can look a bit awkward when he takes off.
He’s exceptionally skilled at throwing guys open and allowing for large yards after catch totals; this, I would say, is his best attribute. On some horizontal routes, he’ll lead the receiver upfield a bit and get them to the second level, which in LA’s offense can stretch 10-yard gains into 25 plus yard chunk plays.
The last thing I’ll say about Goff is that he isn’t immune to ill-advised throws, sometimes deep and into double coverage. This flaw is magnified when there’s pressure in his face, and he’s prone to forcing throws into too-tight windows to avoid taking a sack. This is something the Bears have to take advantage of on Sunday night.
Todd Gurley mans the backfield, and he’ll probably be the only one doing so in Chicago due to capable backup Malcolm Brown‘s injury. He’s an incredibly smooth runner and a great receiver, getting the ball by way of traditional runs, jet sweeps, shovel passes, and crisp routes out of the backfield and from a wing spot.
What I love about Gurley most on film is that he limits wasted motion. He gets downhill, reads the play-side defensive tackle, makes one cut if he has to, and accelerates through the hole.
Arm tackles don’t stand a chance. He’s too big and he runs too hard, fast, and he’s a physical player, one who initiates contact instead of bracing for it. He’s great in the screen game for all the same reasons and is utilized perfectly in this area.
The Rams have the best group of blockers at receiver in the NFL, and truthfully this is what makes their offense work as well as it does. At the line of scrimmage, downfield, kicking out an end, leading through a hole, or even in pass protection against some of the league’s best edge rushers, these guys exercise maximum effort and technique in every block they make.
They’re pretty good at that pass-catching thing as well. Brandin Cooks is the fastest and he’s one of the best deep threats in the league, but Robert Woods might be the all-around better player. Josh Reynolds is a nice one to have in the red zone but the passing attack is centered around mainly Cooks and Woods, and only them now that Cooper Kupp is on IR with a torn ACL (when healthy, he made this offense nearly unstoppable).
As a group, the receivers know how to find soft spots in zones, even on two-man routes. They can struggle to get separation against well-played man defense down the sideline on comebacks and go routes, but they can run away from DBs in man on routes that slice across the field like slants, posts, and shallow or deep crossers.
Tyler Higbee is the tight end in the game in most of their base sets, used mainly as a blocker but he can be a check down/underneath option as well. He’s integral to the run game and will be tasked sliding across the formation and picking up an edge rusher in pass protection (it seems like a schematic flaw that TEs and WRs have to do this but it’s actually genius. I’ll explain later).
When the Rams spread it out or want to make something happen in the red zone, Gerald Everett comes in. He doesn’t play as much as Higbee but receives more targets when he’s in the game, so it evens out their stat lines – so much so that Higbee and Everett have the exact same receiving numbers on the season (19 catches for 217 yards each).
And finally, we have the big boys up front. From left to right: Andrew Whitworth, Roger Saffold, John Sullivan, Austin Blythe, and Rob Havenstein. There’s no real weak spot, all do their jobs well, but I will say that if a guard is isolated on a very good interior DL, they are prone to being beaten in pass protection (ie Kansas City’s Chris Jones or a certain stud wearing number 96 in Chicago).
Whitworth is their anchor. Even in his mid-30s, he can stonewall the best pass rushers one-on-one. The best example that comes to mind is the job he did neutralizing Danielle Hunter in week four during LA’s first-half offensive extravaganza. He and Havenstein can pass protect very well but they can also get out and run. They will track down speedy DBs and flatten them on screens and downfield on outside zones.
The “get out and run” aspect applies to the interior as well. The theme here is great athletes who understand positioning. The guards and center won’t really drive guys back on their own and pancake them but they’re apt at walling DTs off with reach blocks and opening up holes for Gurley. They will take their opponents for rides downfield with double teams and they know when to break free and attack the second level.
HC: Sean McVay
Yes, the media idolizes McVay to a frightening degree and it can get a bit tired and annoying, but most of their praise is deserved. His football IQ is off the charts, and it shows in his play calling and play design.
The Rams come out in almost exclusively 11 personnel (one RB, one TE, three receivers). They love to run bunched or tight formations because it makes it easier to utilize their receivers in the run game, but also because it gives them a more constant jet sweep threat. They will run pre-snap jet motion about half the time, and actually, give the motion man the ball about two to five times a game.
The two sets that they run their core stuff out of are a bunch with the TE as the inside man, and a doubles look with the TE on the line of scrimmage with a receiver in that gap between the TE and OT. They spread it out in obvious passing situations and frequently down in the red zone but they really like condensing the formation for the most part.
Their run plays with Gurley almost always come out of an under center look. In shotgun, they will run a shovel pass with their stud running back from time to time but it’s a majority passing set.
The “core stuff” that was referenced above is their outside zone runs and the play action that spawns from it (for reference, outside zone is a run play in which the offensive line all blocks the play side gap, tries to wash their defender out of the play, and it’s up to the halfback to read the linemen and decide which gap he wants to take). They run it out of that bunch look or in-line TE/gap receiver look, but they can go both to the strong side and to the weak side.
They run that enough and it’s successful enough that defenses have to be consciously working to stop it at all times, so they kill their opponents with play action. It works so well for a few reasons, the first of which is that the line sells it well. It is difficult to tell the difference between the real run and the play fake, so the back side end has to shift down the line of scrimmage to help stop the run if need be (because Gurley cuts it back inside frequently).
This helps slow down the pass rush. It gets the pocket moving and keeps the edge rushers conscious of the run. Then once Goff pulls the ball back and it becomes clear that they’re throwing, Higbee will arrive from across the formation and pick up the unsuspecting rusher; either that or a receiver will stay back and block the end.
Higbee or Woods or Reynolds or whoever is blocking that backside end will usually be able to hold him back just long enough to give Goff ample time to find a receiver, whose route is allotted a longer time to develop due to the slow play action. And nobody besides that backside end has a prayer of getting to Goff against the outside zone play fake because they are trying to run with the OL and maintain gap responsibility against the run.
Other run play options are some inside zones with Higbee kicking out the end or designed bounce-outs with Higbee and one or two receivers walling players off inside and allowing Gurley to get to the sideline. But make no mistake about it, the outside zone and the play fake that will follow is the engine that powers this offense.
As for route concepts, one of the more frequent ones you’ll see is a levels concept, with crossers at varying distances to try to draw the linebackers in and hit a chunk play behind them. They can send Cooks deep on a post or Woods to the sideline on a comeback route as well. One of their more deadly ones is a drag route that turns into a go route once the receiver is safely isolated on an unsuspecting defender. It results in some massive plays and needs to be watched for at all times.
McVay also utilizes the bunch to set some natural picks and hit quick slants and crosses that result in quality yards after catch. Their screen game is very well designed too; they bring a jet motion one way, the defenders start to flow, and all of a sudden Gurley has the ball behind Whitworth and Saffold and the defense is completely screwed.
The one area of play calling I might question is down in the red zone. The Rams have a surprisingly low conversion rate, only scoring touchdowns about 58% of the time. This is good for 18th in the league. Gurley gets most of the touchdowns in the goal line but for some reason this is where they like to spread it out the most, often inserting Everett and making Reynolds the primary target.
If you watch Mitch Trubisky‘s touchdown to Anthony Miller against the Jets, that’s their favorite route combination near the goal line. It’s a couple of in routes with a corner route from the slot coming in behind them.
Matchups the Bears or Rams can exploit: None
These teams match up evenly on paper. Neither side has any real personnel or schematic weakness that the other can take advantage of. This game is going to come down to execution.
If the Bears can defend the outside zone to the best of their abilities, they will win this game. If Whitworth, Havenstein, and Higbee can slow down Khalil Mack, the Rams will escape Chicago with a victory.
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