There is no single diagnosis for the Los Angeles Rams offense. It’s easy to broad-stroke their demise as Sean McVay being “figured out” or Jared Goff simply playing worse, but the reality is that it has been a culmination of factors conspiring at once to sink an offense many imagined could be on an all-time run. The entire operation has collapsed, each pillar taking down another on its way to the ground.
For as much research as there is to suggest running the ball is not as valuable as the pass and a strong running game is not conducive to a strong passing game, there is no ignoring the Rams’ decline in the pass game following their decline in the run game. Perhaps more so than any other team in the league, Los Angeles’ heavy play-action passing system was tied to their zone running game. Boot-action, motions, slice action from tight ends, tight formations, and so on all blended together to create the illusion that the Rams’ running plays and play-action passes were indistinguishable until it was too late for the defense to react.
The Rams have not been able to live through their zone running game the way they used to. Part of the issue is that teams have often matched up with them up front by playing in 6-1 fronts with six players lined up across the line of scrimmage. Detroit and Chicago were the first couple of teams to show success with this tactic last season, and just about every defense since then has tried to mimic the strategy, including New England in the Super Bowl.
Additionally, the Rams just don’t have the same offensive line talent they used to. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has lost a step after being elite for the past two seasons, left guard Rodger Saffold left to play for the Titans, and veteran McVay-scheme mastermind center John Sullivan was allowed to walk in free agency (he remains unsigned). Every other spot along the offensive line has dealt with injury or straight-up poor play from the starter. It’s not just a worse unit than it was a year ago; it’s a legitimately disastrous group.
The defensive adaptation has forced the Rams to switch to more gap-scheme running concepts and 21 personnel sets instead of 11 personnel, while their offensive line’s collapse has led to less effective run blocking irrespective of the concept. The Rams are being forced to wade into unfamiliar territory and do not have the players up front to make for a smooth transition. Los Angeles’ run game decline is easy to see in the numbers.
|Los Angeles Rams Rushing Decline|
Yards per Carry
|2018||5.49 (1st)||4.6||56%||22.60% (1st)|
|2019||4.46 (12th)||3.9||46%||-5.40% (13th)|
In turn, the passing offense has had to adapt to the different, less-effective rushing attack. Instead of leading the league with a 36% play-action rate like they did a year ago, the Rams have only mustered an 11th-highest 25% play-action rate (subscription required). Those play-action passes have been replaced by standard dropback concepts, primarily quick-game concepts. Goff has never impressed as a quick-game passer, but over the past two seasons, the Rams had either made it easier for him than most quarterbacks have it, or crafted their passing game around intermediate play-action passes.
With the change in approach, Goff’s time to throw has seen a shift. In 2018, Goff’s average time to throw was 2.95 seconds, which ranked sixth in the league according to Next Gen Stats. Goff’s average time to throw has dropped to a 20th-ranked 2.77 seconds this season. However, Goff experienced a fourth-ranked 25.2% pressure rate in 2018 despite his high time to throw, whereas his lower time to throw in 2019 has been paired with a 21st-ranked 29.9% pressure rate (subscription required). In other words, Goff isn’t holding the ball as long this season, but he’s being pressured far more often.
Goff has never been someone to handle pressure well. Not only does he show an aversion to playing amidst an imposing pass rush, but he hardly has any creativity or understanding in how to navigate the pocket. Goff also doesn’t have sharp enough mechanics to get away with throwing in a hurry — his motion takes too long to come around, and he does not have the raw arm strength to overcome that. As such, Goff ends up with plenty of plays like the one above. Goff does well to get to the right receiver, but his “slide” in the pocket is a half-measure at best and his throwing motion comes around as flimsy as a pool noodle with no punch at the end to drive the ball out. To no surprise, the ball lands a few yards short of and behind the target. Gerald Everett (81), the intended target, had no chance at getting a hand on this pass, never mind actually bringing it in.
More specifically, teams are getting home with blitzes more often. Goff has been forced to deal with being hurried and having bodies in the pocket on pure dropback concepts far more this season than ever before under McVay. Goff has been pressured on 49.2% of blitzes this season compared to just 41.1% last season, per Sports Info Solutions charting. Likewise, Goff’s yards per attempt against the blitz has dropped from 8.6 to 7.8, while his 88.1 passer rating against the blitz comes in just under the 2016-to-2019 league average of 91.5. It has been 11 games and Goff has yet to prove he’s up to snuff against the blitz.
Here is Goff showing off nearly identical issues to the last example. Goff gets no chance to even think about sliding in the pocket on this play, but he comes back to the right receiver and has a chance to stick an accurate throw. The receiver is wide open and Goff isn’t being pressured from his throwing arm side. However, Goff tries to shy away from the contact instead of punching out a throw to his receiver. Goff’s arm again comes around loosely and his throwing shoulder is somehow behind his midpoint when the ball comes out. A select few quarterbacks can get away with that, but Goff has never proven to be one of them, and this ball falls to the dirt as a result.
In this instance, it’s genuinely difficult to figure out what Goff thought was going on for him to not throw this ball to the receiver crossing over the middle. Goff immediately peaks right at the snap and sees Mark Barron (26) blitzing — middle of field is open, check. He then appears to look at the safety to his left (Minkah Fitzpatrick, 39) — closest defender to potentially cut off the crosser is too deep and doesn’t have a good angle, check. The only possibility for Goff having not thrown the crosser is that he believed the safety on the other side of the field would drop down to play the crosser near the right-field numbers, but Goff doesn’t so much as give it a sniff and instead turns to read the far side of the field. Goff may have fixated on the deep pivot on the left sideline, but with Pittsburgh bringing five rushers, he should know he doesn’t really have the time to wait on that and needs to rush the ball out.
Goff isn’t always at fault, to be fair. The offensive line, especially right tackle Rob Havenstein, has been awful in pass protection. It’s true that Goff has a faulty internal clock as is, but the quality of pass protection the Rams are shelling out right now would not be adequate for quarterbacks with functional internal clocks, either.
As such, some plays aren’t so much Goff’s fault as they are the offensive line accentuating the quarterback’s weaknesses. That sounds like it’s still Goff to blame, but a quarterback being thrust into a situation that is uncomfortable for him is not the same as a quarterback actively making a wrong or bad play. No quarterback is perfect and they are only made less perfect by how well their teammates function around them.
On this play, both tackles get worked. They are each bull rushed into Goff in a hurry, sandwiching the poor quarterback between about 1,000 pounds worth of football players. While Goff deserves a small portion of blame for sitting at the top of his drop for a bit too long and showing zero ability to maneuver away from the pressure, this play is much more a result of both tackles getting bullied into the quarterback’s lap. Plenty of good quarterbacks would end up taking this sack the same way Goff did.
The Rams are stuck in an endless cycle wherein they cannot run the ball effectively, therefore they end up in less favorable down-and-distances, which then leads them to turn away from play-action because the threat of the run is not as strong. The reduced play-action makes it tougher on a quarterback who is used to, and largely only capable of, holding the ball for a long time. Goff’s necessity for long-developing concepts and inability to navigate the pocket then plays into the offensive line’s struggles, and so on.
The cycle repeats and repeats until the Rams ultimately finish a game wondering at what point they could have changed something. Over and over again, the Rams are left with no clear answer and don’t prove to be any better the following week. Los Angeles’ vicious demise has only become more violent over the past month, too. Goff did not throw a single touchdown in three November games and the team only averaged 13.3 points over that stretch.
Every team the Rams face from here on out can either force a shootout or has a fearsome defense. Arizona (twice), Seattle, Dallas, and San Francisco all appear to be equal or better teams than Los Angeles for one reason or another. Only Arizona is ranked slightly below them in overall DVOA. If the Rams can’t get their act together on offense, it’s entirely possible they only win one or two games for the rest of the season and miss the postseason.