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How to Defend Rams’ Bread and Butter Plays

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Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Over the past three years, Sean McVay and the Rams have put a pasting on the Cardinals’ defense—-McVay is 6-0 versus the Cardinals—-and his teams in six games, have averaged 32.5 points (for) and 9.3 points (against).

2017: McVay/Phillips vs. Arians/Bettcher: 33-0 and 32-16.

2018: McVay/Phillips vs. Wilks/McCoy/Leftwich: 34-0 and 31-9.

2019: McVay/Phillips vs. Kingsbury/Joseph: 34-7 and 31-24.

Last year, the Cardinals had two weeks to prepare for their first meeting with the Rams just as Bill Belichick did 10 months earlier in the Super Bowl. The Rams in 2019 were struggling, partly because Bill Belichick gave the NFL a blueprint of how to try to slow down the Rams’ multi-faceted offense. In Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots held the Rams to a mere 3 points in winning the game 13-3.

To think that the Cardinals’ coaching staff elected to give the players an extra day off during the bye week with such an important home game to prepare for is a cause for great concern. That’s a situation where one would hope the team owner or GM would step in and say no—-get your butts out there and get an edge on the Rams.

The Cardinals came back after the bye week and embarrassed themselves losing at home 34-7. The Cardinals’ defense in this game was thoroughly unprepared. The Rams, most of the time, were able to move the ball at will, with just their bread and butter plays.

QB Jared Goff, coming off his 2nd worst performance of the year throwing for 212 yards, 0 TDs and 2 interceptions in a humiliating 45-6 loss to the Ravens—-looked liked a completely different QB versus the Cardinals, throwing for 424 yards (74%) and 2 TDs for his highest QB rating of the season at 120.7.

WR Robert Woods caught 13 passes for 172 yards. TE Tyler Higbee caught 7 passes for a career high 107 yards and a TD. And RB Todd Gurley did his typical damage versus the Cardinals rushing for 95 yards and a TD.

“You try to find answers and we didn’t have enough today,” Kingsbury said after the game. “They came out and looked like a team that had been in the Super Bowl 10 months ago and we didn’t play with the same intensity, effort, passion, things we’ve had all year.”

Thus, let’s take a look at how Bill Belichick prepared his defense versus 3 of the Rams’ bread and butter plays. I would recommend that you fast forward to three plays of this video—-

  1. 1:56 mark—-Rams’ “Outside Zone Sift (Flat) Jet—-where the Rams fake a jet sweep and try to run RB Todd Gurley off-tackle to the same side as the jet sweep motion, figuring that the defense would over-react to the potential jet sweep and thus leave the off-tackle play wide open.
  2. 3:42 mark—-same formation—-and motion—-but this is the Rams’ patented bootleg to the opposite direction play designed to to hit TE Tyler Higbee on a deep cross or WR Robert Woods on a 10 yard out—-or WR Josh Reynolds on a cross the formation quick out.
  3. 4:40 mark—-this is their classic “trips right” inside shallow cross play out of the shotgun—-one that the Cardinals had no answer for and was one of the main reasons why Robert Woods caught 13 passes for 172 yards.

Here’s the video link:

Analysis:

Play 1: Yesterday I was suggesting that the Cardinals create a wrinkle where they employ a 5-3 defense versus 12 personnel or stacked formations like the Rams show here, with TE Tyler Higbee to the left and WR Josh Reynolds stacked behind him and WR Robert Woods lined up close to the RT—-the Patriots had a similar idea, but defended this with a 6-1 formation (which still gave the Rams one more blocker than defender)—-however—-the key to this play was the play-side DE over LT Andrew Whitworth won his matchup by squarely standing Whitworth up 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage and not giving Whitworth a chance to leverage him. The Patriots were swarming to the off-tackle hole, but Todd Gurley got tripped up by the Pats’ DE’s posting up of LT Whitworth.

Play 2: Notice the same formation—-only this time after the jet sweep motion from Cooks and after the snap, TE Tyler Higbee doesn’t block the OLB this time and he releases on his deep cross—-notice that the Patriots’ FS sees Higbee’s release and is already running to defend Higbee. Notice too how the Patriots defend Goff’s bootleg—-the edge player plays this extremely well, first by hammering WR Josh Reynolds on his slip-under-the-formation shallow cross, thus preventing a quick pass to him, but then by stringing the play out so as to put pressure on Goff and not allow him to scramble for a first down. Notice how the Patriots’ CB to the bootleg side reads the play (like he knows it—-because the Pats’ coaches have prepped this play over and over) and immediately picks up WR Robert Woods.

Play 3: Notice how when the Rams set up trips (3 WRs) to the right, the Patriots flip flop the safeties—-bringing FS Devin McCourtey to play over the top of the trips and having SS Patrick Chung slide over to the weak side. The Patriots run a 4 man rush with a delay DT twist up the middle to get solid pressure on Goff—-meanwhile, Robert Woods has a step on the slot CB who continues to chase Woods at top speed—-and meanwhile Chung was flipped to this side to (a) double on the crossing route and (b) cover the check down pass to RB Todd Gurley—-and if you watch Chung, look at how he positions himself to be able to do both. Pure textbook.

Now—-take a look at how the Cardinals attempted to defend the Rams’ bread and butter plays during this 34-7 loss. Notice how often Jared Goff is able to hit wide open receivers from the shotgun and off of his bootlegs. Notice too, how well Todd Gurley is running off-tackle. It’s tough to watch:

You know, it’s one thing if you can see what the coaches had in mind as to how to attack these bread and butter plays—-but to watch this kind of passive and uncreative effort has to make one question how the defensive coaches and players spent the 2 weeks they had to prepare for this game.

Hopefully, Vance Joseph and the defensive coaches are doing what we are doing here—-studying the film, picking up on ways that other defenses had success versus the Rams’ offense—-and devising a plan that can give the defense a competitive advantage.

I’ll tell you what—-if I was Kliff Kingsbury, I would do the homework on the Rams’ offense and what other defenses have been doing to stop the bread and butter plays and have a few sessions with Vance Jospeh to compare notes and to make sure that the game preps for next year are 100% on point.

if i were Kingsbury I would be sick and tired of having his defense be the reason for his less than impressive won/loss record, both at Texas Tech and now after one 5-10-1 season with the Cardinals.

Now—-this is further proof of why—-the Cardinals should bring in Wade Phillips as an assistant head coach and defensive guru for Vance Joseph. Would would know better how to defend the Rams’ offense and the rest of the offenses in the NFC West?