LA Rams head coach Sean McVay is still relying on a few familiar rushing staples, but he is also making subtle changes to his team's running game. Those changes are helping second-year running back Kyren Williams dominate defenses.
Williams added two more rushing touchdowns to an impressive tally during Week 4's wild, 29-23 win over the Indianapolis Colts. One reason he's thriving is because McVay's mixing more power-blocking concepts into the zone schemes he still adores. And the results are impressive indeed. Despite the lack of commitment to the running game, the LA Rams second-year rusher has piled on five rushing touchdowns, good enough for a third-place ranking for NFL running backs. Just for comparison purposes, he is just one touchdown shy of the NFL's top-scoring rushers: San Francisco 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey and Miami Dolphins RB Raheem Mostert
Those same schemes had become predictable, but defenses are now playing a guessing game about whether the Rams will block hat-on-hat across the trenches or continue to get linemen out into space. Either way, 195-pounder Williams is making would-be tacklers pay the price.
Draft steal a record-breaker in tweaked ground scheme
Five rushing touchdowns and one scoring reception through four games is an excellent return from a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Williams' second TD plunge against the Colts matched a benchmark last set by franchise icon running back Marshall Faulk, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Keeping pace with Faulk is impressive for any Rams running back. It's a tangible reference point for how much No. 23 has already done to revitalize a rushing attack that had been dormant in recent years.
While Williams has keyed a revival on the ground, subtle tweaks to the playbook are also making a difference. Tweaks involving using some pin-and pull concepts, a classic hallmark of power-style running games.
One such concept didn't bear fruit against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, but as Pro Football Journal pointed out, the "Rams ran a lot more gap-blocking than in the past." Like any new skillset, the Rams offensive line will improve over time as they become more experienced and familiar with the new strategy.
Counter and gap runs are staples of any power X's and O's. So are blockers pulling around the corner to absorb defenders, even if those blockers aren't beefy offensive linemen.
Against the Colts, it was record-breaking rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua who pulled to find work in the middle on Williams' second touchdown run. Although Nacua ultimately found nobody to block, it was notable how those starting in the trenches blocked hat on hat.
Using receivers to block is nothing new for Coach McVay. It's how he used to deploy former Rams veteran wide receiver Robert Woods in key ways to help spring running back Todd Gurley for long runs.
Now, it's WR Nacua and fellow Rams wideout Ben Skowronek contributing to a more physical and direct blocking approach. The pair aren't the only newbies changing the way the Rams clear rushing lanes.
Rookie guard changing how Rams block
LA Rams rookie left guard Steve Avila is beginning to look like a draft steal, even as a second-round pick. He's wasted no time adding some major oomph to the Rams' blocking.
Avila (#73) brought the thump when he helped clear the way for Williams' rushing touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2, highlighted by Blaine Grisak of SB Nation's Turf Show Times.
The play was a great example of how the Rams are using more power on the ground. A double team inside, with tight end Tyler Higbee (89) acting as the puller around the corner created a nice counter the 49ers couldn't stop.
Runs like this demand mammoth maulers up front, but McVay still needs his O-linemen to be swift enough to quickly attack the second level. It's the key to the coach's preferred zone-stretch runs.
Those outside-zone rushes are a still a feature of the Rams' offense, but Avila adds an aggressive edge to a finesse concept. Like he did on this perimeter run against the Niners, also highlighted by Grisak.
There's more brawn working alongside McVay's brain, combining to create a tougher and more varied rushing attack. The new-look ground game has refreshed what had been a stale offense and is giving these rebuilding Rams a chance every week.