1. SPACE SUITS AND SOLAR SYSTEMS
When the Los Angeles Rams offense is mentioned one immediately sees jet sweeps, wide receivers blocking, and that good old fashion resounding sound, the outside zone. This version of the Rams is much more than that. They’ve continued to expand upon the run game and now the outside zone is a piece of it, instead of the staple the rest of their offense is built around.
Desperation breeds innovation. In the case of the Rams, building a top offense around Jared Goff breeds innovation. With a quarterback who struggles against the blitz and pressure, and doesn’t have the ability to carry an offense with his arm from the pocket alone, Sean McVay and his coaching staff have engineered a wide variety of vessels to craft easy offense for this football team.
Liken this to the space race, going to the moon not only took actual humans to the moon, depending on what you think The Shining is really about, but also led to the creation of products we use down here on the green and blue: tempurpedic pillows, cordless tools, baby formula, freeze dried food.
The Rams are currently at the top of the NFL in run offense DVOA at 9.9%. This is in spite of rotating three different running backs at the position, losing starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth and are now starting Joe Notebloom at the position, and inserting former fifth round pick David Andrews into the lineup, the Rams run game is still crushing it.
Last week in a Superbowl rematch, the Rams ran the ball 36 times for 186 yards and 1 touchdown, with Cam Akers attributing 29 of these carries and 171 yards on his end alone. Against a Patriots pass defense that has been revitalized, playing lock down man coverage, quickly switching route combinations, and making sure tackles, obliterating New England on the ground was the best path to attack a slower front that lacks impact players. The Rams did this by running a wide assortment of plays, including some made of wormholes and unknown elements, offering a glimpse into the future.
Los Angeles has two tight ends left. This is a typical formation they run outside zone out of. The Patriots counter with a 5-2 front, that includes safety Adrian Phillips (#21) acting as a linebacker, to help chase down anything from the backside of the play. Rather than stretch New England horizontally, they attack them vertically by running duo. Duo is more than a meme. It’s an inside run play designed to create strong double teams without pulls involved. The backside edge blocker seals the end of the line of scrimmage. And everyone else blocks down and away from the strength of the formation.
Here, the Rams get a strong ‘Trey’ between left tackle Joe Notebloom (#70) and tight end Tyler Higbee (#89), and a strong ‘Ace’ between left guard David Andrews (#73) and center Austin Blythe (#66).
Everyone gets their hat on the hat they needed, but no one creates the vertical movement to create space for Cam Akers. The back reads John Simon (#55) crash the ‘D’ gap, which makes Devin McCourty (#32) and Stephon Gilmore (#24) the edge defenders. Rather than burrow and get what he can, Akers bounces this run out wide. Simon plays the inside gap too aggressively and can’t jump outside to make the tackle, Gilmore is blocked by Robert Woods, and McCourty is the deep middle defender, taking his first steps backwards. This bounce around Simon creates 35 yards for Akers.
Guard-tight end counter has been a great change up for outside zone heavy teams like Cleveland and Minnesota this year. The Rams run this same play here to the weakside of the formation. Austin Corbett (#63) pulls to edge defender Anfernee Jennings (#58) and tight end Gerald Everett (#81) pulls through the hole to the first defender. The Rams have five blockers to the four defenders the Patriots have.
The key to this run is the ‘Duece’ between Notebloom and Andrews. They fit perfectly together and lift the defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. (#91) off the ground, and carry him to Ja’Whuan Bentley (#51). This block creates the seam for Everett to get up to McCourty. If it wasn’t for Phillips (#21) getting around Cooper Kupp’s block Akers would still be running to this day.
On second and one the Rams have two tight ends right along with Kupp in the flex wing position. With the number of movements, sweeps, reverses, screens, and play action passes Los Angeles runs off this formation, nothing is settled. New England trots out a 6-2 front to defend a possible run. Out of this formation, Los Angeles simply runs inside zone left.
It’s a beautiful example of how everyone making their block opens up the bounce. Run blocks don’t have to be crushing and soul stealing to be effective. Kupp seals the edge by cracking down on Phillips. Tyler Higbee climbs to the second level and takes care of Bentley. The quick scoop between Corbett and Blythe allows Corbett to quickly climb up to the other safety turned linebacker Kyle Dugger (#35). With every gap and every defender sealed up, Akers has an easy bounce off Kupp’s block.
This is when the Rams leave the atmosphere. After flipping through their playbook and gashing the Patriots heavy boxes, the Rams utilize both Kupp and Van Jefferson (#12) as pullers to run a sweep play right. Los Angeles gets two big double teams. One from Simon to Dugger and another from Byron Cowart (#99) to Bentley. Kupp goes in motion before scrambling around the edge, and then Jefferson follows suit.
The strong double teams are an illusion. These blocks craft the same look as duo, sticking both Dugger and Bentley in the box, instead of pursuing the motion and getting out wide to defend the sweep. Each one does its job, except Higbee can’t quite get his head on Dugger’s outside shoulder. This allows him to escape into the alley where Jefferson is able to finish the block and send him into orbit. From there Akers carries a caravan of four Patriots past the first down marker.
This last run play is a good old fashioned hot air balloon ride for Los Angeles. It’s simply outside zone. Nothing to see here. The one difference is the jet sweep motion. They motion Robert Woods (#17) behind the line of scrimmage to run around the edge to block the alley defender.
The blocks are pristine. Higbee and Everett drag the first level, but Everett can’t quite peel off in time to get to McCourty (#32). Everything else is perfect, from Corbett and Rob Havenstein (#79) working from the ‘5’ to the linebacker, to the power backside scoop between Andrews and Corbett, it’s all beautiful, the type of blocking the Rams rode to their Superbowl run two seasons ago.
For the last few seasons the Rams have been on the forefront of the NFL’s scheme battle. McVay’s offense has stretched further and further out into the unknown. Their quarters heavy defense makes the most out of Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald and opens the door for the rest of their defense to cover less space and make more plays. The Rams are more than a fringe playoff contender this year. As long as they can limit how much Goff has to do, how often he has to win from the pocket on his own, they’ll have a chance to repeat their past success.
2. FOR BFD, FOREVER AGO
Two weeks ago, the one and only bigfatdrunk and I were recording an episode of BATTLE RED RADIO, and he brought up an hypothesis that he has. That as teams go for it on fourth down more often the benefit of going for it may have decreased because teams are converting at a lower clip now that defenses are better prepared for the packages and playcalls in these situations.
I went and did some digging. These are the fourth down conversion numbers over the last five years.
Fourth Down Conversion Rate
|Year||Converted||Did Not Convert||Conversion%||Total|
|Year||Converted||Did Not Convert||Conversion%||Total|
Every season the NFL has increased the number of fourth down conversion attempts. The big jump came last year when teams attempted 55 more fourth down conversion attempts. This year teams are on pace to attempt 582 conversions, which doesn’t include the impending postseason attempts. 2020 should finish right around where 2019 did.
As far as conversion rate goes, last year saw an enormous dip from 2017-2018 from 56.31% to 47.18%, but it’s been resuscitated back up to 54.9% this season. It still hasn’t been as successful as 2018’s peak though.
So, fourth down conversion rates aren’t down this year, but are up after a slight drop off last year. Just a year too late.
3. THIS WEEK IN JOSH ALLEN
Last week Josh Allen spent the first half feeling and finding his way through the dark. He missed some quick passes. Was caught off guard by all that Pittsburgh blitziing, ugh, so annoying. Allen was 10/23 (43.5%) for 76 yards and threw 1 interception in the first half. In the second half things came together and Allen went 14/20 (70%) for 162 yards and 2 touchdowns, and was sacked 0 times. This game had everything from Allen. The silly and insane, the efficient and ruthless, and enough downfield attempts that drove the motorcycle off the ramp to jump over 57 school buses.
Stefon Diggs was the star of last week’s Buffalo game though. His routes were absolutely filthy, putting the Pittsburgh cornerbacks in pullups. In one v. one match ups he mashed them up with slants and curls, and was impossible to cover.
The other aspect of Digg’s game that people don’t think about, is how great of a blocker he is. The Bills have one of the best screen games in the NFL. Diggs’s ability to cut defenders out on the edge is a monumental reason for their success.
They lied to you. Having a true number one wide receiver is an integral aspect for a typical NFL offense to be great.
At 10-3 the Bills nearly have the AFC East locked up. Miami losing to Denver was crucial for their playoff and division chances. Buffalo has Denver, New England, and Miami remaining. Miami has New England, Las Vegas, and of course Buffalo remaining. With a tougher schedule left, and a team that will have more problems than Buffalo will have against New England, the division title race shouldn’t last until week 17.
Instead, Buffalo should be playing for playoff seeds. A #2 seed isn’t impossible with Pittsburgh’s back to back stumbles, and Buffalo having the head to head advantage now. Getting homefield advantage is crucial for Buffalo. They have something other teams don’t have. A quarterback with the arm who can throw through the howling elements way up there in western New York.
Last year the Bills were a great team with an insane man at quarterback. This year the Bills have morphed from being a great passing team dragged down by the rest of their team, to now, a nearly all around complete team. Buffalo has improved this last month and the rest of the team is starting to catch up to their passing game. All of this is coming together at the perfect time for Buffalo to be the team to be fed into the Chiefs eviscerating passing attack in the AFC Championship Game.
4. I WILL SCREW THIS UP
The marquee game of week 14 had nothing to do with playoff implications, or young quarterback showdowns, but instead had everything to do with the absurd. The league’s two most devastating franchises are the Falcons and Chargers, who have lost football games in ways never ever thought of, way past the point of the imaginable.
Entering week 14 Atlanta’s record in one score games was 2-5. They blew a 29-10 lead to Dallas thanks to the funniest onside kick of all-time—just touch the ball—allowed Nick Foles to comeback down 26-10, lost all sense of reality when Todd Gurley accidentally scored a touchdown against Detroit and watched in horror as Matthew Stafford threw a buzzer beating touchdown, and they let Taysom Hill off the hook in a close defensive game.
The Chargers are just as depressing, if not more so. They beat Cincinnati 16-13 after Randy Bullock missed an easy game tying field goal. Since then they 1-7. Justin Herbert is going through what Philip Rivers suffered through, and is learning what he learned, the Chargers are cursed. They gasped as Harrison Butker nailed a 58 yard overtime field goal against them; they couldn’t convert a two point conversion against Carolina forcing them to score a touchdown to win, and lost thanks to Keenan Allen fumbling the ball over to Carolina; Justin Herbert threw an interception on his game tying drive attempt against Tampa Bay, Will Lutz kicked a field goal in overtime and Mike Williams was stopped one yard short on 4th and 6, Drew Lock threw a game winning touchdown, they went 0/2 with six seconds left and the ball on Las Vegas’s four yardline down 26-31. These are all things that happened.
Entering this game these two teams were a combined 3-12 in one score games. You knew it was going to come down to one score, and the end would be death defying stupid. Rationality came to fruition. In an ultimate who wants it the least game, the Chargers were the ones who ate the rotten fruit.
In the span of three minutes and sixteen seconds Matt Ryan threw an interception, Justin Herbert threw an interception, and Matt Ryan threw another interception. Each team blew easy field position, and Ryan forfeited a possible game winning field goal. Justin Herbert with :16 left was able to hit Tyron Johnson on a corner route to set up a Michael Badgley 43 yard field goal, the same Badgley who is 19/26 this year, including 7/11 between 40-49 yards. This time he was able to hit.
Atlanta is now 2-6, and Los Angeles is now 2-7 in one score games. The football gods didn’t let us down.
5. MILES OR DAVID
In my mind, Miles Sanders and David Montgomery are linked together. Each player was selected in the same draft. Miles Sanders was selected in the second round (53rd overall), and David Montgomery was selected in the third round (73rd overall). Both have similar squatty run styles. Sanders has been more productive playing behind a great offensive line last year until it fell apart this year, and Montgomery toils behind a team that wants to run the ball, but can’t run the ball. Sanders has 311 carries for 1,564 yards (5.0 Y/A), 8 touchdowns, and 194 DYAR. Montgomery has 412 carries for 1,649 yards (4.0 Y/A), 10 touchdowns, and 46 DYAR.
Personally, I’m a Sanders guy. He’s a more explosive runner and is a better tackle breaker. Just a better athlete all around. Most importantly though, I like when Philadelphia goes with their all-white uniforms and Sanders rocks the long white sleeves. It’s a great look.
These week these two players were connected in a way outside my brain. Each player took an outside zone left hand off. Each player hit the ‘B’ gap. And each player turned it into an 80 yard touchdown.
6. SAVE YOUR MONEY
I’ve seen enough. Aaron Donald is the greatest defensive player I’ve ever seen, and yes, this is going to sound blasphemous, but he’s even better than J.J. Watt. His hands are blenders, he can rush everywhere from the ‘1’ to the ‘5’, he splits double teams like sword flashes, chops, chop-rips, swims, leaping rips, it’s all on the table, and there’s never been a player who can bend the interior like him.
Since the NFL season is over for most NFL teams, since no one can ever just enjoy right here right now and drool over the upcoming NFL postseason, you’ll see free agent list articles come out, detailing possible players your favorite team can sign. This site has an article detailing exactly this for your Houston Texans today.
One of the names that is going to be tossed around is Leonard Floyd. He was a former first round pick from Chicago who signed a one-year prove it deal with Los Angeles. This season he has 7.5 sacks, and has eclipsed his career high going back to the 7 he had his rookie season. I like Floyd. He’s a fine player. He’s an incredible athlete, but he doesn’t have the skillset to consistently generate a pass rush on his own. Do you want to know why he has the sack totals he has? It’s because he plays with Aaron Donald. It’s that simple.
Throughout his career Donald has fed his teammates. Robert Quinn had 40 sacks in 3 seasons playing along him until injuries slowed down his career. Someone named Matt Longacre had 5.5 sacks in 2017, and had only 1 over the course of the rest of his career. Dante Fowler had 11.5 sacks last season, he now has 2 in Atlanta, and has provided a whimper on his big contract. Clay Matthews had 8 last season, and no one bothered to give him a call this season.
Let this be your warning. Save your money. Don’t give Floyd a big contract. Someone is going to. Don’t be the one.
I just like watching Mike Gesicki catch footballs. He catches everything.
8. MAHOMES’S KEENUM
A long time ago, back when I was a sickening and disgusting person, I wrote an article where I pulled up every sack ever recorded, went one standard deviation past the mean, and found that a big sack is any sack that loses seven yards or more. After going back and looking at the players who had taken the most of these sacks, there was no one else other than Case Keenum to name this play after. The website it was published at is dead. It says someone else wrote it, but I wrote it. I’m so glad it’s no longer 2016 anymore.
This week Patrick Mahomes was wasted and stumbling and screaming at the sun after binging on Heaven Hill and Keystone Light while wearing lime-green plastic neon glasses and a black tank-top with enormous pink font. He went full Keenum. He returned to the red dirt of Lubbock. He buckled up and scampered back into the most beautiful Keenum I’ve ever seen. This is what would have happened to him if Andy Reid didn’t find him, and he was left to his own devices in New York or Cincinnati, or some other godless football location.
This 30 yard loss is the most yards lost on one sack this season. Joe Flacco losing 28 yards on a single play against Miami is now second. Without including fumbles these are the five worst sacks taken this season.
If you were wondering who is leading the league in Keenums, it’s Carson Wentz with 26. Jalen Hurts wasn’t particularity good last week. The key was that he didn’t actively hurt his team like Wentz always was. An entire brain can mean so much for a team with the type of talent Philadelphia has.
9. WOO FOOTBALL TEAM WOO
Every summer I go through the fortunate stats, every team’s draft class, starting roster, read the FOA like a good little boy, and go back and watch things I’m interested in before the NFL season begins. During this process my libido draws me to certain teams that I especially keep my eyes on once the season begins. Usually these teams, like Carolina and Cincinnati fall away, and instead, it’s someone I never expected to steal my entire heart. Last year it was Buffalo. This year it’s Washington.
I absolutely love my football team. I thought their season was over once they lost to New York (G) the second time, but the NFC East wouldn’t permit that. I thought their season was over once they lost Kyle Allen, but Alex Smith wouldn’t permit that. So, now, after beating Pittsburgh and Washington, they are in the driver’s seat of the NFC East with one game up on New York (G), one and a half games up on Philadelphia, with games against Seattle, Carolina, and Philadelphia left.
Unlike the rest of the division, Washington is spectacular at one thing, playing defense. They have a top five defense despite having secondary injuries, shoddy cornerback play, and slooooow linebackers, a group that has recently been rejuvenated by Cole Holcomb and Jon Bostic. They’re this year’s version of the San Francisco 49ers. A young defensive line led by four first round picks still on their rookie contracts.
Chase Young is a predator and is going to be the all-time generational player Jadeveon Clowney was expected to be, who was merely great until this season. Montez Sweat is a rim protector and my favorite R&B singer. Jonathan Allen is the oldman of the group and has one of the league’s best bull rushes. Daron Payne is a run stopping gargantuan.
Rushing with these four isn’t enough. They love to bring five and six at times. It’s like cutting someone’s head off, and then throwing it out of an airplane and through a basketball hoop. This is the trick shot video I want to see.
Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby have played better lately too. I love Kamren Curl at strong safety. The sixth round pick can do a little bit of everything. He can play man in the slot, he tackle well, he can roll to defend half the field. Free safety has been a bit of a rotation, but with the pass rush they have, it’s hard to protect long enough to take these shots.
It’s all come together this last month. Against San Francisco, they torched, mutilated, vivisected, and devoured Nick Mullens. The constant pressure led to a condensed pocket horrified flat route pass that was pick sixed. Beautiful. In this game Washington’s defense had 11 passes defensed, 12 quarterback hits, 4 sacks, and 2 touchdowns. These are the brutal and barbaric highlights.
Alex Smith left last week with a calf strain, bringing Haskins back into the starting lineup. I like Haskins as a person. He seems like he works hard and cares a lot. He just doesn’t have the accuracy to play NFL quarterback. It’s as simple as that. Plus, Washington doesn’t need a playmaker at the position. With the defense they have, they just need someone who doesn’t make mistakes. The quarterback is a middle manager. Smith has been exactly this. This version throws the ball downfield a little more often, and is slowed down like the type of rap music you listened to in middle school.
I love everything about this team. I love the name FOOTBALL TEAM. They don’t need a logo. The game is more than enough. I love to just say it. Go FOOTBALL TEAM. That feels good. The defense is brutal, young, interesting, and dynamic all at once. Their offensive line has tons of big bellies and block the outside zone well enough. The colors clash well. Ron Rivera is an incredible stepfather. Terry McLaurin, Cam Sims, Steven Sims, and the quarterback turned monster truck Logan Thomas is a pass catching group where every player has different skill sets.
Go FOOTBALL TEAM. They should win the NFC East this year.
10. I’M SO PROUD OF YOU
Up to this point of this season I absolutely hated watching Baker Mayfield roll right, roll left, see a sprinkle of pressure, then roll right or roll left. It was nauseating watching an easy offense derailed as Cleveland hung on by beating bad teams by close scores.
Baker was an entirely different player against Baltimore. Those weeks of tying Mayfield to a telephone pole and shooting tennis balls at him while he kept his eyes up and threw passes to the local middle school has paid off. Purple and splotchy. It looks like Mayfield may have his lessons.
In a silly and beautiful Monday Night game against Baltimore, Mayfield played the best game of his 2020 season. He sat in the pocket, navigated it well, climbed it to find space to hit the flat, and scrambled to make plays on the run when it was warranted. It was beautiful.
The Browns, like the Bears, were phonies this year. The Bears fell off as they should. The Browns hung on as the playoff team who shouldn’t have been one that was aided by luck. That being said, if this is the real Baker, this version who knows how to actually play quarterback instead of captain a sailboat blown around by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns are an actual football team.
I hope he is. It’s always better when people succeed instead of fail.