Few things went as planned for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. The offensive line broke down and there was little that was able to be accomplished with that decline. The phrase “built around the run game” is thrown around a lot and in the modern NFL; that means less about being a run-first offense and more about building the structure of the passing game off the run game concepts.
This is how the likes of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay have some of the best play-action schemes in the league. At its best, the play-action pass game looks exactly like the run and that’s where the sell becomes its most effective. Last season, the Rams didn’t have that connection. The run blocking struggled, the play-action structure struggled, and Jared Goff was not good enough to cancel out those schematic deficiencies.
Through two games of the 2020 season, the Rams are back to being the peak Rams. The overall pass blocking has been around the league average — ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate has them at 17th — but LA is back to being a top run blocking unit, seventh in Run Block Win Rate. The run blocking has helped mask some of the problems in straight pass blocking with a better play-action game and the Rams are taking that a step further by getting Goff on the move.
Per Sports Info Solutions, Goff already has 17 dropbacks this season on designed rollouts this season. That easily leads the league with the next highest quarterback at eight. Goff also led the league in designed rollouts last year with 76, 11 more than the next quarterback. The biggest difference from last season to this season is that these rollouts are coming from a place of strength, not desperation. Last year’s rollouts were often rushed and frantic. This year, there’s been a better sense of calm and control in both the dropbacks and the play design.
Goff already has two touchdown passes on designed rollouts, which is just one fewer than he had throughout all of 2019. He’s also been more accurate on those throws, a 100% on-target rate per SIS. Last season, his on-target rate was 23rd of 32 quarterbacks with at least 10 designed rollouts.
Jared Goff Designed Rollouts, 2019-2020
In Week 1, these rollouts were used to create space and set up shorter throws. On seven designed rollouts, no pass traveled more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The best play of the bunch might have been a 31-yard screen pass to Robert Woods at the end of the first half. On a third-and-5 from the Rams’ 48-yard line, LA came out with a tight trips bunch to the right. Woods came to the left on jet motion before the snap and set up for the screen. The play-action had the linebackers biting to the left, but the rollout froze them to make them look right before Goff threw the pass back to Woods with little in the way down the field.
Take a look from the end zone angle and you can see the confusion all the movement caused the defense. The rollout was just enough to freeze Jaylon Smith (54) on the screen side which allowed the blockers to get in position. Both Leighton Vander Esch (55) and Xavier Woods (25) were forced to change direction twice and taken out of initial pursuit on the backside of the play.
Against the Eagles in Week 2, the throws still stayed mostly short. Eight of Goff’s 10 rollouts traveled within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. But again, the play design and spacing allowed those throws to be incredibly effective. Overall, Goff went 10-of-10 for 117 yards and two touchdowns on designed rollouts against the Eagles.
Late in the first quarter on a first-and-10 near midfield, the Rams came out in 11 personnel but with Cooper Kupp inline on the left side of the formation. The run action went to the right as Tyler Higbee faked a backside pull and Robert Woods ran a crossing route to the left. Both of those routes cleared out the middle of the field.
Kupp was on the backside of the line blocking before he peeled off to turn for a catch. Philadelphia safety Marcus Epps (22) had cleared to chase Woods on the crossing route, which left a huge hold for Kupp on a gain of 19 yards.
A striking aspect of these plays is how they’re set up to put multiple defenders in conflict. Unlike last season when the Rams were just trying to get Goff out of the pocket both for the sake of the quarterback and the offensive line, this year the Rams are back to going on the attack and forcing defenders into impossible positions.
The Rams’ first touchdown of the game early in the first quarter came on a rollout from the 4-yard line. LA again used a tight trips bunch to the right. This time, Higbee was the target as the inside receiver. The two outside receivers broke inside to set a natural pick while Higbee sprinted to the flat to beat linebacker Nate Gerry (47).
Higbee’s third touchdown of the game also came on a rollout — a tight end leak play that left a wide-open left side of the field for an easy score.
The positive play of the Rams has allowed them to be in this advantageous situation. Per Football Outsiders, LA’s average drive has started with a five-point lead, the fifth-best mark in the league. When they’re in control of the game script, or at least not trailing early, the offense can be set up to keep the heavy bootleg game going.
As the season progresses, the deep shots off this will come. There were already a few spots against the Eagles where a deep or intermediate route could have been thrown but Goff chose the safer option, which was still successful. But if the Rams can keep these types of plays in the offense and the rollouts become a point of attack instead of a defense mechanism to make up for poor line play, the Rams can again become a dangerous offense set up to make everyone involved look better.