How Sean McVay and the Rams have changed their run game for the better

Obviously, the primary storyline in Sunday’s wild-card game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions is the Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff former team thing, and justifiably so. But when you dig deeper into both of these offenses, their run games are exceptional, and Sean McVay’s Rams run game isn’t just great — it’s very different with Kyren Williams as the lead back.

McVay used to be one of the primary purveyors of outside zone runs, but that’s changed exponentially in recent years. In 2023, they’ve run behind gap blocking schemes on 42% of their snaps, which ranks fifth in the league. In 2022, the Rams ran gap on 29% of their attempts, which ranked 20th. In 2021, they ran gap on 20% of their snaps, which ranked 28th. In 2020, it was 17%, which ranked 28th. 

This is a full-on sea change in offensive philosophy, and Williams is benefiting in a lot of ways. On this 14-yard run against the Baltimore Ravens’ estimable defense in Week 14, the Rams excelled in a Duo blocking scheme. Center Coleman Shelton and left guard Steve Avila doubled defensive tackle Travis Jones, and right guard Kevin Dotson and right tackle Joseph Noteboom doubled defensive tackle Broderick Washington Jr. Then, Shelton kicked up to seal linebacker Patrick Queen, and Noteboom took Roquan Smith out. Williams had a pretty easy gap against one of the NFL’s best defenses. 

Last week, McVay used one word to describe his primary back.

“Stud. He’s exactly what we’re looking for in a Ram, mentally and physically
tough, plays smart, loves to compete, really productive player. He’s got an
energy. He’s like the Energizer bunny. When he goes and when he doesn’t,
we’re a totally different offense and so love what he’s done. Really happy for

Lions head coach Dan Campbell is well aware of the challenges — no matter how the Rams run the ball.

“I do know this, the crossover tape and some of the things I have seen, number one, they are still explosive on offense,” Campbell said Monday. “They’ve been explosive, their play-pass game. But what’s making it so dangerous, their run game. That’s what’s showing up. They’ve got a pretty dangerous run game. This mid-zone, they’re running a lot more gap than they have previously, and so that’s kind of where it all begins with them. And you put that with  Stafford’s ability to push the ball down the field and it’s dangerous.”

No team has more runs with motion this season than the Rams – 382 attempts for 1,692 yards, 1,033 yards after contact, 15 touchdowns, and 4.4 yards per carry. The Rams also have the NFL’s most runs with jet motion – 236. So, this is a primary construct of the Rams’ new run game.

Again, Campbell has been spamming himself with those concepts.

“I know for us, the challenge with it is really not what it does to you defensively from a schematic standpoint, it’s more about the eye-candy of it. If you’ll just stay true to your rules and understand who’s got that motion, who’s got this turbo motion, and play your rules and don’t let those things – don’t start chasing the butterflies. Man, just, you stay focused on your responsibilities, your keys and don’t – because one step the wrong way with that motion and all of a sudden, we lose a support player and that’s where they get you because this back is patience and when he sees it, he’s able to make the cut.”

The Lions do have a very good run defense. They’ve allowed 3.7 yards per carry on 408 carries, and that YPC is third-best in the NFL behind the Patriots and the Texans. But the Lions are well aware that they’ll see a lot of Kyren Williams in this wild-card matchup, and it’s the primary story beyond whatever Stafford-Goff stuff may be of interest. 

In this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” the guys got deep into Sean McVay’s ever-changing ground game.

You can watch this week’s “Xs and Os,” previewing every game in the wild-card slate, right here:

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and on Apple Podcasts.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire