The New Look Rams Have Put the NFL on Notice
On Sunday night, the world finally got to see what the new-look Rams looked like with Matthew Stafford under center. Stafford wasted no time making his presence felt, and just three snaps into his Rams career he did this:
As exciting as Stafford’s debut drive was, the bomb to Van Jefferson was Los Angeles’ lone touchdown in the first half. The Rams went into the locker room leading the Bears 13–7, but fans were left wanting more.
Then came the opening possession of the second half:
This deep shot to Cooper Kupp was Stafford’s 2nd touchdown of the day, and it seemingly opened the flood gates for the offense moving forward. The Rams next three possessions went as follows:
The Rams’ offense in the second half of this game was utter perfection. Chicago possesses one of the better defenses in the league, but they never stood a chance in this one.
What we saw in week one is exactly what the Rams were hoping for when they acquired Stafford this offseason. Early signs indicate the trade was a resounding success, but the question now becomes, is this dominance sustainable?
To highlight what Stafford brings to this L.A. offense let’s take a look at his week 1 performance compared to the last time we saw Jared Goff in a Rams uniform:
We’re only looking at two games here, but putting them side by side perfectly encapsulates how Stafford can elevate this offense.
Last season, the Rams had 2 pass plays of 50+ yards for the entire season.
This year, it took Stafford barely over 2 quarters to accomplish this feat.
The jaw-dropping deep throws always garner “oohs” and “ahhs” from fans, but these plays do more than simply produce flashy highlights. The threat of being burned by one of these long balls drastically impacts how defensive play-callers formulate their game plans.
Despite the love we saw for the long ball in week one, the Sean McVay offense has historically been built around the run game. The Rams took the league by storm a few years ago when running back Todd Gurley was the centerpiece of this offense. At his peak, Gurley was a magnetic force whom defenses directed their focus towards on every single snap. His presence not only fueled a great ground game, but it also made play-action passes the bread and butter of the Rams passing attack.
Since 2017 when McVay was hired, the Rams have led the league in play-action pass rates. When defenses honed in on Gurley, McVay had a knack for dialing up well-timed play-action fakes to pick up chunk yardage.
Unfortunately, injuries caused Gurley’s production to fall off rather quickly, and when he declined, the offense went down with him. Take a look at the relationship between Gurley’s production and the Rams ability to score points on offense during the Sean McVay era:
In 2020, Gurley was cut by the Rams and the team fell all the way to 22nd in the points per game standings.
Without a dominant run game to serve as the backbone of this offense, the entire unit struggled. Defenses became more aware of Goff’s limitations as a passer, and they adjusted by placing more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage. This tweak suffocated the L.A. rushing attack which in turn muted the impact of their play-action fakes. Defenses dared Goff to beat them over the top, but he wasn’t able to make them pay.
On Sunday night, the L.A. run game sputtered a bit out of the gates. The Chicago run defense was stout and held the Rams to just 14 first-half rushing yards. For previous iterations of the Rams’ offense this would have been a death sentence, but with Stafford under center, the results were remarkable.
Following the deep touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp to open the second half, the Bears quickly realized they weren’t dealing with the Rams of old. Chicago adjusted their defense to avoid getting burnt over the top a third time, but the Rams were ready to counter punch.
The ensuing Rams possession didn’t end with a long touchdown, but the end result was still 7 points added to the scoreboard. With the Chicago defense fearing another deep strike, the Rams were able to attack the underneath areas of the field and march down the field with relative ease. They picked up chunk play after chunk play and capped off the drive with a 1 yard rushing touchdown from Darrell Henderson.
It’s only been one week, but it appears Stafford has already flipped the script for this entire offense. Previously, it was the run game that opened up the passing game, but against Chicago on Sunday, the opposite rang true.
If you simply looked at the box score, you might think the Rams didn’t have a very balanced attack on Sunday night. The run game came alive a bit in the second half, but the team finished with just 74 yards on the ground compared to 312 through the air. Despite the lack of rushing yards, balance was the name of the game for this offense in week one.
Stafford only completed 20 passes when the final whistle blew, but 6 different players logged a reception, and each of his 3 touchdowns went to a different receiver. Any time the Rams stepped up to the line of scrimmage, all 5 of their skill position players needed to be accounted for. Whether it was a bomb to Van Jefferson, a handoff to Darrell Henderson, or a screen pass to Tyler Higbee, Stafford and the Rams had multiple options available on every single play.
That’s the frustration defenses have to deal with when they square off with Sean McVay and his offense.
If defenses try and shut down the ground game, he dials up deep shots and beats them over the top.
If they respond and take away the long ball, he utilizes runs, screens, and short passes to beat them underneath.
McVay is constantly one step ahead of his competition, and on Sunday he continuously found holes in the Chicago defense and attacked them relentlessly. He took what the defense gave him, and he just kept taking.
That’s been the beauty of the Sean McVay offense since he took over in 2017. He’s a briliant playcaller with an uncanny ability to quickly identify the weakness of a defense, adjust on the fly, and make them pay.
Now that he has Stafford under center, the ways in which McVay can attack a defense have drastically increased. Stafford’s arm strength and accuracy have unlocked an entirely new area of the field, and McVay no longer has any limitations within his playbook.
Stafford appears to be exactly what this Rams team was missing last year, and if week one is any indication, he’s completely removed the ceiling on this offense.