After losing to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, many expected the Los Angeles Rams to be right back there last season. But Sean McVay's group fell back, finishing at 9-7 to miss the playoffs.
The Rams had a number of issues that led to their regression, namely a poor season from Jared Goff, bad offensive line play and an offensive system that needed tweaking after defenses caught on to what McVay was cooking.
Two games in the 2020 season, and it looks like the Rams have their mojo back. Goff and Co. beat the Dallas Cowboys behind two rushing touchdowns from Malcolm Brown and then smacked the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 behind a big day from Darrell Henderson.
The Rams' rushing attack looks different in 2020 and that's a big reason for their early success. NBC Sports' Chris Simms believes the new rushing attack is a product of theft from his division rival Kyle Shanahan.
"The Rams [are] really nipping at the heels of the 49ers," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area when discussing the NFC West hierarchy. "The Rams offensive line is better this year, I feel like McVay has stolen some of Shanahan's run schemes, they are being more aggressive on the offensive side and the defense is well-coached."
But has McVay indeed taken some of the 49ers' schemes to bolster his own offensive attack? A look at their 37-19 win over the Eagles shows some similarities to what the 49ers like to do.
The Rams have always been a heavy play-action and pre-snap motion team under McVay. So while that hasn't changed, the Rams have been utilizing more of the outside zone concepts the 49ers find so effective. They use heavy pre-snap motion -- as do the 49ers -- to get defender's eyes moving and use outside zone to get the defensive line moving laterally and then hit them with a bootleg the other way.
Here's some of what the Rams did with Henderson in Week 2 against the Eagles.
#Rams RB Darrell Henderson Week 2 Recap:— Steve Frederick (@_SteveFrederick) September 21, 2020
12 Rushes / 81 Yards / 1 TD
3 Targets / 2 Receptions / 40 Yards
Led Rams RB in touches (Henderson 14, Brown 11, Akers 3) and was 2nd in snaps (Brown 37, Henderson 29, Akers 3).
Great to see the dynamic back we came to know at Memphis! pic.twitter.com/4bHFV8kBxS
If you look at the first play of the Henderson montage, you'll see some similarities to the 49ers' first play against the Jets, which was an 80-yard Raheem Mostert touchdown. There are a few differences, of course, with the Rams running the ball to away from the motion while the 49ers with the motion.
There are several examples of this. The third play in the Henderson reel is a varation of the inside trap play the 49ers run frequently.
It's not like the Rams have re-invented the wheel or taken the 49ers' playbook. But they have looked to attack teams in a similar fashion on the ground to make up for an offensive line that is more suited to wall off defenders than maul them.
The outside zone rushing attack coupled with heavy pre-snap motion also allowed the Rams to take advantage of undisciplined defensive backs whose eyes wander and can be attacked for big gains in play-action.
The best offensive minds in football thrive on deception. So it should come as no shock that McVay saw something he liked from Shanahan and added to his playbook.
Now, is that the entire reason for the Rams looking refreshed and rejuvenated? Absolutely not. But an improved rushing attack will only help Goff, who was the worst passer of play-action last season, improve and potentially take the next step.
The 49ers' vaunted rushing attack took them all the way to the Super Bowl last year, so Shanahan clearly is on to something.
And, after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.