The success of the 2017 Los Angeles Rams came out of nowhere. After being a laughing stock in the Jeff Fisher era, this peaked with the team’s 4-12 record in 2016, where the team lost 11 of their last 12 games. Fisher was fired and replaced by Sean McVay, who was under pressure as the youngest head coach in NFL history. So no one knew what to expect.
I don’t think any of us expected NFC West champions, though.
The Rams became the first team to go from the worst offense to the absolute best in the timespan of a year. While this may have been surprising at the time, there were numerous hints that suggested they would have a successful year.
-Acquiring Robert Woods, Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan in free agency
-Hiring Sean McVay as head coach
-Trading for Sammy Watkins
-Drafting Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds
So the success is clearly sustainable.
The success also allowed offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to get a promotion with the Tennessee Titans. While it’s the same position as the one he had in Los Angeles, this time he’s actually in charge of calling the plays (McVay was in charge with the Rams). The talent of the Titans offense can’t compare to the talent of the Rams offense, but LaFleur is inheriting a better quarterback in Marcus Mariota.
Since LaFleur wasn’t technically calling the plays with the Rams, this piece, as a result, will highlight what Titans fans should expect from him coming from McVay’s wing. The following GIFs will come from the 2017 Rams offense.
As LaFleur is familiar with the blueprint of McVay’s scheme, he understands how fresh and diverse the route combinations are.
This third down play is an example of a route combination the Titans offense never had under Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie. The right side of the field has a three wide receiver set. Sammy Watkins is used to clear the middle of the field on a crossing route. (He was often used as a decoy to clear openings for other receivers) Josh Reynolds (#83) is used to clear up space for Cooper Kupp, who sells a post route and instead comes back inside. Kupp is wide open, allowing for an easy throw for Jared Goff and an easier first down.
This is the kind of play LaFleur needs to give to Mariota constantly. Despite his label as a running quarterback, Mariota is at his best as a quick pocket passer, similar to Tom Brady or Philip Rivers. The use of play action exploits the zone coverage, allowing for a quick open across the middle of the field. The right exterior allows slight pressure to come in, but because the receiver—Watkins— is open, it’s completely offset.
Last year, the Titans run game was way below expectations. DeMarco Murray was a shell of his former self, lacking the explosiveness and quickness of previous seasons. Derrick Henry often forced his running ability to the sideline, further crippling the offense. In a better scheme, that should be fixed.
To better compliment Henry, the Titans released Murray and signed Dion Lewis in free agency. With Taywan Taylor joining the backfield on a few occasions as a gadget player, this could lead to all sorts of possibilities in play calling.
In 2017, Tavon Austin was relegated to a jet sweep option in the backfield. Because there was so much receiving depth in front him, he was able to thrive in a limited role.
On this play, he isn’t the jet sweep option, but rather in the backfield in the under center formation. The majority of the Rams offensive line swings left as soon as the ball is snapped, and the jet sweep is faked by Goff, instead giving the pitch toss to Austin. With plenty of blockers in front him, Austin uses his raw speed to pick up the first down.
Taywan Taylor is similar to Austin in terms of his potential as a gadget player. He also has lightning fast speed that is essential to these types of option plays.
The Titans backfield was awful in the pass game. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for 50 receptions for a measly 402 yards. In comparison, the Saints combination of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram posted 139 receptions for 1,242 yards. Hell, Lions back Theo Riddick had more receptions (53) and yards (444) than Murray and Henry combined.
LaFleur was part of a Rams coaching staff that gave Todd Gurley much more exposure as a pass catcher, where he produced 64 receptions for 788 yards. Dion Lewis is closer to Gurley’s level as a receiving back than Henry is, but both backs need to be heavily involved in the pass game to make up for the lesser talent at receiver.
Besides Gurley’s outrageous athleticism, he was constantly put in positions where he could let his skill set thrive. This play is an end around fake (What’s not seen is the end around option starts out as a jet sweep fake, and the hard count is deployed to put the Philadelphia Eagles defense off guard). The defensive line gets pressure on Goff, but Gurley is left open, allowing Goff a simple dump-off play.
With three Rams blockers pinning one defender, Gurley gets all kinds of space on the sideline, picking up the first down and a lot more.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, this was used successfully against the blitz.
This play comes at the expense of the Titans defense, ironically enough. Former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been known for heavily blitzing, and the Rams were prepared here. The offensive line lets the pressure come through so that Gurley has blockers downfield. Not only does this get the first down, it also results in a long touchdown run as well.
LaFleur could mix all of this in with the versatility of the Rams offense, allowing for some insanely creative play calls.
This is sensational. It’s a play action, end around fake executed flawlessly. Robert Woods, the end around fake, is actually designed to run a screen route. Woods’ movement sells the end around and the defense is baited, giving Woods all kinds of outside space. All he has to do is make one cut and he’s in the end zone for an easy score.
It’s clear that Matt LaFleur will try to run the same offense with the Titans as McVay is with the Rams. We just don’t know if it’ll be executed on the same level. The Titans don’t have the same level of talent as the Rams, but if LaFleur can develop the young guys, we’ll be able to see the offense performing at a much higher level than in 2017. It’s not saying much considering who coached last year, but it’s a start.
Is there pressure on LaFleur to prove himself as an offensive coordinator now that he’s in a position where he calls the plays? Yes. But optimism is encouraged, and there’s no reason to believe Titans shouldn’t have higher expectations for the offense’s direction going into the 2018 season.