Aaron Donald and company toppled our pass protection and took away any plays that involved long developing routes; even our max protect concept resulted in a sack. Their defense left us no choice but to resort to quick throws and a punishing run game.
We stretched out their 5 man line and attacked the middle with an Inside Zone double team:
Once we established that, the linebackers were looking to cheat inside so we responded by shifting the double team to their 3-technique (‘Counter’ run shown here):
The Rams responded in a couple of ways, first they shifted their 3 technique outside (5 technique) and made us use a Tight End to double team him,
while our Tight End corps will burn you in the passing game they can’t block a college walk-on much less an NFL defensive lineman.
The second way they adjusted was to line up so that our double team moved inside to their nose tackle. Then they pinned that down (red path) which left one of their linebackers free to make a play (Power run shown):
You could blame Moses for not coming off his guy and blocking the ‘Free Hitter’ but Tackles are rarely coached on Power runs to do anything other than cave in the line to give the RB a lane to run through, which Moses did.
We answered back by moving both Tight Ends to the same side and that solved the Free Hitter problem. The run blocking was a chess match we dominated to the tune of 229 yards at 5.9 ypc.
Chris Thompson: The one thing their formations could not adjust to was CT’s speed. We ran our Pin and Pull play where the Wide Receivers ‘Pin’ the guy inside of them and the Offensive Lineman ‘Pull’ outside to block defensive backs and linebackers.
On this Pin and Pull play most teams would have blocked it like so:
Williams would block the man over top of him and Lauvao would pull and block whoever has force (furthest defender outside.) Long would pull and block the linebacker.
But because we have CT back there all we cared about was hitting this thing outside as fast as possible. In an unorthodox move we pulled Williams outside and let the Defensive Lineman over top of him run into the backfield. Lauvao was tasked with slowing him down just enough so we could hand the ball off. This scheme clogged up Long’s path and left us with only Pryor and Williams to lead the way and CT’s speed took care of the rest:
You’ll notice the Defensive Back going in motion with Reed running the wrong way and that’s because we hit two Counter plays for 40 yards earlier in this drive. He was overplaying any possible misdirection.
TL;DR: The Rams front is built to get after the quarterback so we attacked them using a downhill run game. A formational chess match played out with our double teams and they never solved the problem of CT’s speed.
Gap vs Zone: Last year we were a heavy Outside Zone team with a few Gap runs sprinkled in as a change up. But because of how aggressively teams are playing our zone runs this year we’ve had to run a more balanced scheme. Our results for the game (not counting the 61-yard Draw play):
Zone runs (Outside Zone, Inside Zone, FB Insert): 19 carries for 70 yards (3.7 ypc)
Gap runs (Power, Counter, Pin and Pull, Trap): 14 carries for 64 yards (4.6 ypc)
Offensive Line and Tight Ends
+ plays are good– plays are badPass pro: If Kirk had 3 seconds or longer to throw with a clear lane: +1. If he had less than 3 seconds to throw or the Blitz was not picked up: -1
Pass Pro finished positive mainly due to the play calling utilizing a lot of quick throws.
Brandon Scherff was the most active lineman on the day. We asked him to do everything from target small and quick defenders in open space to block down and move 300 pound guys. Here is Scherff knocking a guy back to Moses and then climbing upfield to seek and seal out the linebacker (#75 Right Guard):
He’s swatting 300 pound dudes like they’re dummy bags.
Morgan Moses was the most consistent lineman. We asked him to cave guys inside toward the center of the field which is something he’s been doing for us for years, but in this game he showed he also has the ability to pull and target guys in space. Here Pryor was unable to handle his block and Moses identifies that and knocks the defender downfield (#76 Right Tackle):
Last year targeting in space was something Moses struggled with, this year he’s off to a more promising start.
The only lineman to finish in the minus was Shawn Lauvao. His problems came in pass protection and letting guys get inside of him on a couple of run plays. Here he is unable to seal out his man (#77 Left Guard):
That’s it though in terms of complaints. Their are not many to be found when your offense grinds out 229 yards on the ground.
We tried replacing Davis with Niles Paul but the Rams didn’t respect him as a receiver:
That’s our 11 personnel which should force the defense to put out a lighter personnel with 5 Defensive Backs, but instead they stayed with a heavier personnel that had an extra Defensive Lineman. They out-beefed us and the result was a run play for negative yards.
Vernon Davis was unable to handle the inside slants yet again but unlike last week we were able to scheme around it. We moved pieces around–notice the TE behind Scherff in the Counter play shown in the previous section–to where Davis could kick out block instead of block the inside slants.
There was a clear contrast between Josh Doctson and Grant’s understanding of the run game:
Doctson (bottom of the screen) is lined up too far outside to handle the run blitz coming from the safety at the line. He can’t reach him and the result was a one yard run. We yanked him after this play and replaced him with Ryan Grant:
Grant lines up all the way inside behind the Right Tackle. Now he is in a better position to handle the run blitz. This is one example of why Docston wasn’t able to see the field as much as he would’ve liked early in the year.
Pryor was up and down. He displayed amazing awareness on that Pin and Pull touchdown shown earlier; he was able to fall off the force defender which was Williams’ target and then crack down on the linebacker. On the Pin and Pull run before that (shown in the Morgan Moses section) he whiffed on his block. So yeah, up and down.
[Great Decision AND Accurate Throw: +1Good Decision but off target: +0.5Screen pass/Checkdown: 0Had better options but accurate throw: -0.5Poor Decision AND Off Target throw: -1That is just a rough guide, context matters. For example: If it’s third down and Cousins makes a poor decision which ends the drive, that is a -1 regardless of how accurate the throw was.% = good plays/total plays]
The Rams fielded a pass rush which limited the types of routes we could run. We tried a couple of long developing 2 man routes but quickly took them off the play sheet after it became obvious our line couldn’t handle what they were throwing at us.
There was one crucial play late in the game that Kirk missed (Doctson and Pryor bottom of the screen):
but otherwise he was able to find the open guys underneath, make the quick throws and Manage The GameTM
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends (Receiving)
The only big gaffe I noticed was Niles Paul failing to adjust to a Cover 3 Cornerback. This is 101 stuff if you’re going to be a receiver for Kirk Cousins, anytime the Corner gives you this kind of cushion (top of the screen):
you take it. Cut off your route and look back for the ball. Instead Paul runs his full comeback route and Kirk is left waiting for him to turn around. I minused Kirk on the play too because he never comes off of Paul’s route to find Crowder (off screen) open over the middle:
Player of the Game
Chris Thompson. Obvious reasons are obvious.
Who Else Played Well: Williams and Scherff. Those two guys can maul lineman and target smaller, quicker guys in open space. Moses showed he might be another bullet in the chamber of do-it-all offensive lineman. Long was fine but we didn’t ask him to do too much. Ryan Grant is low key our best all around Wide Receiver. Jamison Crowder is easily the best route runner.
Gotta Get Better: Run blocking from our Tight Ends. Their inability to handle the inside slant has stalled our zone run game. Pryor isn’t quite hitting on all cylinders just yet (and never will, sigh.) Lauvao is the weak link to the offensive line, his run blocking is a B-/C+ while his pass pro is leaking sacks.
What Does It Mean For The Future?
Gruden is married to the idea of using 2 Tight End formations but he fields a roster consisting of Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Niles Paul; chronically injured, can’t block, and below average, respectively. What’s the plan here.
As of right now Perine and Kelley don’t have any tools in their arsenal to make a safety miss. With CT there is a 50/50 chance he’s breaking one past the safety.
On the bright side, Gruden can draw up a run play. I counted half a dozen runs where our backs were left with only a safety to beat.
The Offensive Line is coming along. They are running a scheme different from last year and while their might be an issue at Left Guard, this is a line that can impose their will on others.