Perspective for Los Angeles Rams after Week 1 win over Dallas Cowboys
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The Los Angeles Rams got off to a fantastic start for their 2020 season with a huge 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1.
We'll learn more about this team over the coming weeks and months, but it was a very impressive showing against what will likely be one of the better teams in the NFC. We had some obvious heroes (DT Aaron Donald, CB Jalen Ramsey) and some surprises (S Jordan Fuller, CB Darious Williams). Overall, it was a comprehensive victory that was well deserved and much needed.
Here's how things look coming out of Week 1.
We didn't get any clarification from HC Sean McVay after the game, but it seemed like the only injury picked up was TE Gerald Everett who had a back issue.
S Taylor Rapp and RB Darrell Henderson, Jr., who had both been dealing with injuries throughout training camp were both used sparingly. Hopefully both should be at or near 100% going into Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Worth noting that only Hendo was on the injury report for Week 1.
Last night was perhaps the most conservative gameplan we've ever seen from McVay. The offense was extremely condensed.
Per Next Gen Stats, QB Jared Goff had the lowest Average Intended Air Yards of any quarterback in Week 1 meaning he was throwing the ball shorter than anyone. The run game was implemented in heavy order with 35 carries by the running backs; that's more than any single game from the 2019 season. Not only that, but the run game was extremely direct. There was much less crack tosses and zone stretch runs which have been a hallmark of McVay's offense. Instead, he used Malcolm Brown primarily to plow through the A gaps (either side of the center) to churn up small yardage chunks and set up shorter 3rd down situations.
The frequency of those short 3rd downs and the Rams' success with them was the biggest factor in the success of the gameplan. On the Rams' 13th 3rd down of the game, Goff threw his lone interception of the game (which of course shouldn't have counted since he was smelling Aldon Smith's wrist at the time he threw it). Over the prior 12 3rd downs, the Rams had converted eight of them. In fact, only two were 3rd and 7 or longer; of the 10 that were 3rd & 6 or shorter, the Rams were 8/10. That's just extremely successful for an extremely condensed offense.
So, we're looking at an outlier of a gameplan but one the Rams were nevertheless successful implementing. But (Heath Ledger Joker voice), why so conservative?
Two main factors. One, you might have heard (or been part of the discussions that others were hearing) that the Rams' O-line wasn't very good in 2019. Despite this, they made no personnel moves to adjust the line outside of a 2020 NFL Draft seventh-round pick in OT Tremayne Anchrum who was a healthy scratch last night. Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams' OL the second-worst in the NFL, and the Rams decided to run it back. So they were never going to implement a gameplan (ESPECIALLY early on) that was going to put a ton of responsibility on the line's shoulders. McVay instead used a ton of lateral expansion with early screens and motion along with short passing layers and a direct running game to bring the level of difficulty and responsibility for the line way, way down. And second, the Rams were facing a very good front seven from the Cowboys. As we were reminded throughout the second half at points, this was a talented group that McVay was understandably hesitant to allow them to affect the Rams' offensive plans.
So credit McVay and staff for a fine offensive gameplan, and credit to the players for executing it. We might not see anything this conservative from McVay again this year, so bask in it.
On the defensive side...my goodness. What a statement. The early returns showed how soft the middle of the defense is up the spine especially in the passing game coupled with some poor tackling and spacing. I mean...come on...
But credit first-year Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley for turning things around in the second half and in good measure.
The Rams clamped down on the running game keeping a pretty nice lid on RB Ezekiel Elliott, and the secondary was faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic. Yes, CB Jalen Ramsey played up to his reputation against one of the better receiving groups in the NFL, but CB Troy Hill and CB Darious Williams were perhaps just as good despite much less fanfare. And the safeties, including rookie S Jordan Fuller, were spectacular over the final 30 minutes. For a sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to play as much as he did (71 of 72 defensive snaps) and play as well as he did highlighted by that stop on 4rd & 3 was just a revelation and a really commendable point for Staley to take credit for.
This is going to be a performance that will look better and better over the course of the season. Hats off.
These don't really start to take shape for at least the first month, but...
Fuck the Niners.