The LA Rams have struggled against cover zero defenses, so the team should plan to see much more of it
The Miami Dolphins did something before the LA Rams got to their bye week that few teams have been able to do on a regular basis. The Dolphin ran a cover zero defense (a.k.a. a zero blitz) so well that the Rams offense did not have a way to counter punch out of it. To the Rams, it was a surprising turn of events. To Rams quarterback Jared Goff, it was a very long afternoon, marked by utter futility. For the fans viewing the game, it was painful to watch.
We knew it was only a matter of time until defenses tested the Rams’ ability to protect Goff with a combination of either rushing more defenders or rushing defenders over and over again from the A-gap blitz. Since it was effective in 2019, it was safe to expect the Rams to see it again this year. While the Rams did in fact see it again, nobody expected the Dolphins to be so effective at it. And no one could have imagined that the LA Rams would be so helpless to respond effectively.
The theory of cover zero
I’m probably the last guy qualified to speak at length about defeating a cover zero defense, but since the Rams failed to demonstrate, I’m forced to talk through it. A cover zero defense is a man coverage defense that covers all of the receivers on a play, and all other defenders rush the quarterback. The defense believes that by rushing more defenders than available blockers, they can get to the quarterback before he can complete the pass.
But the same cover zero scheme is a huge risk for the defense. With no man ‘over the top’, a quick route-running receiver can make the defense pay the ultimate price. And so, the use of the cover zero scheme for most defensive game plans is very down and distance dependant. Unless, of course, that defense faces the LA Rams.
Effective offensive counterpunches
So how do offenses counter? Well, the Rams showed that they can run very effectively against the cover zero defense. In fact, the Rams can always run very effectively, but running against the cover zero limits the risk of an errant throw and keep Jared Goff free of a pinball-type battering in the pocket.
The Rams can also run the 12-package offense and with two tight ends can extend the protection for Goff to allow him to find the open man. Of course, the Rams can also launch one or both tight end into active routes if the defense does not go with their cover zero, and that can create mismatches in defensive coverage.
More cover zero defenses on the way
Since the Rams struggled against the Dolphins, you can bet teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, and the San Francisco 49ers will attempt their version when facing the Rams. Fortunately, few defenses have a secondary as talented as that of the Dolphins, which allows the offense to find an open receiver fairly quickly. The Seahawks attempt cover zero against the Buffalo Bills and paid the price.
Hopefully, the Rams have addressed the shortcoming.
The Rams have a dangerous offense. But they are most dangerous when they are advancing the ball, moving the chains, and putting points on the board. The Rams have demonstrated the ability to do exactly that when they combine their running game with an effective and efficient passing game. When the Rams have encountered cover zero defenses, the offense panics and the team tries to pass their way through it. Now the Rams simply need to take a deep breath and work with what works for their offense. Run the ball. Move the chains. Put points on the board.
It worked so far. It will work the rest of the way. The Rams are not a pass-happy team. Rather, they are an offense that relies upon the ground game to dictate to the defense. With any luck, they’ll remember that fact in the second half of the 2020 NFL season.