LA Rams HC Sean McVay needed to freshen up the script, so the LA Rams' head coach made something old into something new again. He chose a throwback running play to transform his offense and make second-year running back Kyren Williams a star.
You can sum up the success of the LA Rams' offense in 2023 with four simple words. Kyren Williams running 'Duo.'
The latter is the no-frills name given to the power-based blocking scheme Sean McVay has called over and over to make the Rams feared on the ground. The Duo has helped 2022 fifth-round draft pick Williams become the first running back for the Rams to top 1,000 yards rushing since Todd Gurley in 2018.
Williams achieved the feat after powering his way to 104 yards and a touchdown during Week 16's 30-22 win over the New Orleans Saints. It was the third 100-yard rushing game in a row for Williams and his sixth overall this season.
Those games have been built upon a relentless diet of Duo runs. Put simply, Duo is a play run at the inside of a defense behind two double-team blocks along the interior.
It's a downhill play, a lot different from what the Rams used to run.
Rams have swapped stretch plays for downhill runs
The concept was executed perfectly when Williams found the end zone against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football in Week 16 for a score highlighted by Nate Tice of The Athletic.
Freeze the clip at the 0:02 mark and you'll see both double teams in action. Left guard Steve Avila (73) and center Coleman Shelton (65) absorbed one defender, while right guard Kevin Dotson (69) and right tackle Rob Havenstein (79) doubled a lineman on the other side.
Tice's reference to the "cut" made by Williams is significant. It's a bridge between the two different eras of the Rams' running game on McVay's watch.
The Rams were tethered to outside, zone-stretch runs during the early part of McVay's tenure. Rushing plays were all about one cut and go, with backs gashing defenses laterally.
This season, it's all about running downhill or north-south if you prefer. Williams provided an example of the new way on this run against the Cleveland Browns in Week 13, highlighted by Blaine Grisak of SB Nation's Turf Show Times.
Once again, both defensive tackles were quickly double-teamed, leaving Williams to use a nifty cut or two to escape attention at the linebacker level. Those moves were the only fancy thing about a straight-ahead, hat-on-hat play designed to bludgeon defenses.
McVay's shift to Duo has made the Rams a more physical offense. It's also given them a base play to disguise some of the cuter stuff in the playbook.
That stuff still includes a zone-based run here and a jet sweep there, along with a whole lot of pre-snap movement. These Rams can beat up any defense when they put the whole thing together.
It's what they did on this nine-play special against the rugged Baltimore Ravens in Week 14. Tice broke down the variety, including a note-perfect Duo run on the first play.
Duo is turning Williams into a force, but it's also helping linemen like powerful center Shelton dominate. They are leading a prolific ground game that's even changing the way the Rams move the ball through the air.
Duo emphasis has changed Rams air attack
The NFL doesn't evolve as much as many like to pretend. There are always a few inviolate concepts. Like if you run well, you throw the ball off of play action. It's working for Rams' quarterback Matthew Stafford.
His play-action passing statistics have jumped since Duo became the staple of the offense. Stafford has thrown for 808 yards from 82 PA attempts, up from 68 attempts and 614 yards all of last season, per Pro Football Reference.
The Rams can use fake handoffs more often because defenses are becoming conditioned to focus on Williams first. Being hit with one Duo run after another will do that to a unit.
Duo runs aren't the only notable change McVay has made to his scheme. There's more movement and bunch sets preceding passing plays, but riffs in the running game have made the biggest difference.