Rams’ win vs. Titans shows L.A. could go deep into the playoffs
With QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and rookie coach Sean McVay, opponents had better watch out
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff threw for more than 300 yards with four touchdowns on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. And the Rams clinched their first division championship since 2003. As is true for most NFL games, a team’s fortunes are often tied to the success of the quarterback. But if you watch the coaches’ film of the Rams’ game against the Titans or dig just a little deeper into the box score, you will see that Goff may be one of the last offensive players or coaches to deserve acclaim.
Averaging 5.4 yards per carry, Rams running back Todd Gurley ran for 118 yards, which is absolutely a credit to Gurley’s abilities as a rusher — he is among the league’s most talented runners — and his offensive line. Gurley had 81 yards before contact, in part because of the Rams’ O-line. They got push against the Titans’ stingy run defense. Prior to the game, the Titans allowed only 87 rushing yards a game. That was good enough for third best in the league.
However, the Rams’ running game wasn’t an offensive spark Sunday. Head coach and offensive mastermind Sean McVay used the pass to set up the run. This leads you to think that Goff’s precision passing and decision-making were core to the early game plan.
Although Goff did make some impressive passes after properly reading the defense, McVay didn’t ask him to do it early or often. Goff’s accurate fourth-quarter TD pass on a corner route to Cooper Kupp was one of just a few excellent plays by Goff. It gave the Rams a 27-23 lead that they did not relinquish. McVay and the Rams opened the game by passing to Gurley. That strategy paid off, so the Rams continued to revisit that throughout the game. Gurley would occasionally line up as a receiver, but his biggest plays came on screen passes, which require very little of the quarterback.
The running game with Gurley was exceptional, but again, the O-line needs to be credited — not only for the athleticism the linemen showed, by getting downfield and executing blocks, but also for their acting. Defensive linemen are smarter and faster than they have ever been, so running back screens don’t often work. D-linemen normally recognize that a screen is being run because of how easily they are allowed to beat the offensive line. Then they retrace and tackle the back. That wasn’t the case in this game. The Rams ran several successful screens to Gurley, including an 80-yarder.
Screens are considered “blitz beaters,” the type of play you run against an aggressive blitzing defense. In actuality, RB screens can be better against zones, especially if they are well-disguised. If the defense is fooled, a gap is created between the linebackers getting depth and the lineman chasing the quarterback. The Rams used play-action to help lure the lineman and got the ball to Gurley with space and his offensive linemen between him and the second level of defenders. Using a good screen will also allow the quarterback more time to pass on traditional dropback passes because rushers become wary of the screen.
Gurley is a gem. And McVay allowed him to shine on Sunday. If they can keep this up in the playoffs, Goff will sparkle in the few moments he is asked to do so as the Rams advance. It might still be hard for us to wrap our minds around the Rams as a favorite. But I am starting to think we should.