The Rams’ Offense Has Lacked Explosiveness Thus Far. Let’s Examine Why

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sean mcvay

For the Los Angeles Rams, one of the big questions after two weeks is where did all of the big plays go?

The Rams longest play of the season so far is a 29-yard catch by Allen Robinson II in the third quarter of the win over the Atlanta Falcons. The longest run is 18 yards by Darrell Henderson against the Bills.

Yes, the Rams are 1-1, but they currently rank 29th in the NFL on Yards per play according to TeamRankings.com. That would be the lowest in Sean McVay’s tenure. The Rams were fifth in the NFL at yards per play (5.9) 19th in 2020 – the last Jared Goff year. But they were 11th in 2019, third in 2018 and seventh in 2017.

Yards per play is a great indication of an offense’s overall functionality. Teams can’t just dink and dunk their way down the field against an NFL defense all the time. Mistakes happen. A penalty….or a sack can derail a drive which means you have to mix in some big plays to score points or else you’re in trouble.

For comparison’s sake, the Rams’ opponent Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals have four plays over 20 yards (the Rams have three). Darrell Williams has a 30-yard run, which would be one-fourth of the Rams total rushing output for this season.

Here’s looking at the cause for the lack of Rams chunk plays.

Offensive Line Injuries

This is not the offensive line the Rams envisioned during the off-season. Remember, third-round pick Logan Bruss was lost for the season with a torn ACL in pre-season. Center Brian Allen is hurt and then Tremayne Anchrum broke his ankle against the Falcons and is out for the season.

Alaric Jackson came in for Anchrum against the Falcons and did a great job, but that five-man unit probably hasn’t worked together very much.

Offensive lines are a team within a team. They need to be in sync. They need to have clear communication to handle blitzes, and well, so far, the Rams running backs haven’t had a lot of holes, and while the pass protection was good against the Falcons, it wasn’t great against the Bills.

Where’s The Speed?

NFL offenses like to have a wide receiver whose main job is to ‘take the top off of the defense’ which in normal language means a fast guy to run a streak pattern every so often so that the safeties can’t just play within 20-30 yards and crowd the passing lanes. Think Tyreek Hill.

This was why the Rams invested in DeSean Jackson for a brief minute last year and it was sort of the role for Odell Beckham Jr. when he came over in the trade.

This may have been the role envisioned for second-year wide receiver Tutu Atwell, but it just hasn’t happened for him yet. He was only on the field for two snaps against the Falcons, and he hasn’t made a catch this season.

As good as Cooper Kupp is – and he really is – and Allen Robinson II showed some spark against the Falcons, they aren’t speed burners.

It’s the Defensive Game Plans

All right, let’s make you the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator for this week, what do you do? Well, you try to pressure Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, right? But the Rams running game definitely doesn’t scare you, but the passing game does.

So you emphasize tackling in your secondary. Kupp is so good at those intermediate routes anywhere from 12-18 yards, but after he catches the ball, you must tackle him. Defensive coordinators hate giving up yards, but they’d rather give up 15 than 55.

To some degree, the reason the Rams don’t have a lot of chunk plays yet is because they’re taking what is there. Defensive coordinators get paid too, you know.

Matthew Stafford’s Elbow?

There are too many whispers and comments about Stafford’s elbow for there not to be something significant there. If you want to be a Debbie Downer, you could say his arm just looks fatigued. But that’s going to happen when you have thrown (checks notes) 6,902 passes in the NFL, not counting practice and training camp.

So where does this fatigue show up? It would be the inability to throw the ball deep. Stafford is still accurate, mobile and, at 34, he’s not old. But defenses may start to creep up even more on the wide receivers until Stafford shows he can deliver a deep ball.

How Worried Should We Be?

Through two games last year, the Rams had four passing plays over 30 yards. This year they don’t have any.

You look back at the yards per play numbers and the teams at the top are winners. The Saints were No. 1 in 2017 and went 11-5. In 2018, it was the Chiefs who went to the AFC title game that year. The Chiefs were second in 2019 (somehow the Cowboys were No. 1) second in 2020 and No. 1 in 2021.

This could all just be game plan specific and tailored to what the Rams do well, which is an efficient passing game, and a serviceable running game, but teams that win big in the NFL consistently make big plays. That’s a reality.