Diagnosing defeat: LA Rams Sean McVay’s play calling contributes to loss

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

There is a growing sense of frustration about the LA Rams running game, particularly over the lack of commitment to do so on the football field. LA Rams rushers have flashed the brilliance of performing well, and yet the team abandons the run at the first sign of trouble.  The Rams stopped trying to run the ball even during some of the team’s worst beatdowns of the season. Seriously?

So is that kneejerk reaction a wise decision?  Or does the team amplify the margin of loss by doing the opposite actions that are necessary to stabilize the team? Let’s do a quick and dirty analysis of the LA Rams rushing performance in the three losses this year and see what we find, shall we?

Let’s examine the Rams’ three losses this year, and focus upon the running game alone. We can gather the data of the number of rushing attempts, rushing yards, percent of rushes to total offensive plays, and finally the average yards per rushing attempt.

Week   #      Yards    %    YPC
4          23      121     36    5.3
9          21        94      30    4.5
10       10        52      19    5.2
Total   54      267      29   4.9

Notice the pattern? In three losses, the Rams ground game was very productive. And yet, the frequency at which the offense ran the football has steadily declined. The worst-case scenario occurred in Week 10 when Kyle Shanahan’s game plan completely derailed the Rams. In a game with a hastily stitched together group of receivers to face a division rival, the Rams all but abandoned the run. Huh?

In truth, the Rams panicked and abandoned a perfectly functioning running game, when the defense and the team could least afford to do so.

Let’s examine another game where the Rams fell behind. This time, we’ll look at the LA Rams 2021 Week 2 road trip to the Indianapolis Colts, when the team came back to win by the score of 27-24.
How did that game play out?

Week     #      Yards    %    YPC
2           29      101       50   3.5

Well, that’s curious. Despite falling behind late in the third quarter, committing two turnovers, and a somewhat ineffective rushing attack, the Rams won a game in which the team remained committed to run the ball. Hmmm…

Passing because the team falls behind? Not true

Now, I have read in forums and on social media that the LA Rams ‘fell behind early and were forced to abandon the run’. Oh really? How about that 2020 Week 3 game in Buffalo where the team fell behind by the score of 21-3 at halftime?  The Rams stuck with the running game in that one, and almost came back thanks to one helluva effort, losing on the road by the score of 35-32.

Week   #      Yards    %    YPC
3          42     167     50    5.2

The difference? The Rams simply did not panic. In that game, the Rams stuck with a very effective running game which opened up the passing game eventually. And if you notice, the Rams ran the ball 50 percent of the time in that game.

To be perfectly honest, the Rams are currently running the ball approximately 39 percent of the time.  That is significantly less than 2020’s rate of 45 percent of the time. But it is on par with the disaster that confronted the LA Rams in 2019 when the team rushed 38.8 percent of the time.  In 2018, the team rushed over 44 percent of the time. In 2017, the team rushed the ball nearly 47 percent of the time.

The buck stops here

Since Sean McVay is both the head coach and the offensive play-caller, there are no checks and balances on the offense. That is a problem because the pattern of losses that have developed with this team since Super Bowl LIII has been the inability of the offense to put up points when necessary.

While it’s too soon to claim that McVay is the problem, it’s certainly warranted to conclude that his pattern of abandoning the run accelerates the loss. Not only does the offense fail to adapt to the defense that has sold out to defend the pass, but the one-dimensional attack exhausts a besieged defense long before the final gun sounds.

Sure. Keep chanting that firing Raheem Morris will fix everything. Keep believing that the losses are on a defense that takes the field midway in the first quarter down by 14 points due to the offense and turnovers. Keep raging at the guy who others rage at. But if you do, you will find yourself in a closed loop. Part of the problem is simply that the offense abandoned any sense of balance, and allows the defense to dictate a one-dimensional passing attack.

The problem seems to be far more than a defensive coordinator in over his head.