Just over two years ago, on January 12, the L.A. Rams installed Sean McVay as the youngest head coach in “modern history.” Why the qualifier? Well, Curly Lambeau, for example, was a head coach at age 21.
The precocious McVay opened the 2017 season with a 46-9 thumping of the Colts, and he has proceeded to make history, and silence establishment critics, ever since. The Rams proceeded to go 11-5 in 2017, toppling the perennial division favorite Seahawks and winning the NFL West division. The storybook season ended with a playoff loss to the Falcons, but McVay was an easy choice for AP Coach of the Year (and Sporting News, and Pro Football Weekly, and UPI).
In 2018 the Rams got off to an 8-0 start. In their week 11 showdown with the only other team in the conversation as having the league’s best offense, McVay’s boys edged the Kansas City Chiefs, 54 to 51. Not your father’s or mother’s football. This game signaled that the era of the New Wave Offense was fully upon us.
The Rams lost three times in 2018, to the Saints, Bears, and Eagles, all playoff teams. This weekend they’ll have a chance for revenge, when they face off against New Orleans in the NFC Championship game.
Fervent Packer fans should be in front of the TV on Sunday. Why? Because they’ll get to see pretty much the same offensive playbook that Matt LaFleur is bringing to Green Bay.
Within weeks of McVay being named head coach, he selected his right-hand guy, LaFleur, to be his offensive coordinator. The two previously worked side-by-side from 2010 through 2013, as assistant offensive coaches for the Redskins. They are thick as thieves, and no one is happier about Matt’s promotion than is Sean.
Why would LaFleur leave such a dream job with the Rams after only a year? He wanted to – and this is the sole reason – add to his resume the experience of being an NFL play caller. Even though he had to know odds were excellent that the Rams would be in the Super Bowl in early 2019, LaFleur passed up a chance at the ring in order to position himself for a top head-coaching slot. That’s the kind of purpose and planning LaFleur brings to Green Bay.
In my opinion, all those skeptics who think LaFleur hasn’t proven himself, needs more seasoning, or hasn’t paid his dues, just don’t get it. Matt is the guy picked by McVay to be his wing man in operating one of the two premier offenses in the league. Yes, in 2017 the Rams were easily the highest scoring team, at 29.9 per game; this year they ramped it up to 32.9, though Kansas City eclipsed them at 35.3.
As for passing yards per game, McVay’s offense is second only to the Chiefs. There’s an easy explanation for that, however. The Chief’s QB is Pat Mahomes, about to be named the league’s MVP. The Rams have third-year and second-tier Jared Goff, whose 101.1 rating indicates the talent gap between himself and Mahomes (113.8).
It doesn’t matter a whole lot how much of the credit for the Rams ascendance (they hadn’t had a winning team since 2003) should go to Sean, and how much to Matt. Matt was standing there next to the “Boy Genius” from preseason through postseason – he’s contributed greatly to each game plan, he was at the pregame meetings, he’s in charge of the offensive position coaches, and so on – he’s certainly learned a ton just by having that vantage point.
What to Watch for on Sunday
The overall intention, which LaFleur has brought up in his recent media appearances, is an offense that creates down-to-down deception while presenting defenses with the same look. It’s the offense engaging in a continuing cat-and-mouse game with the defense.
By bringing deception into almost every play, an offense forces defenders to make split decisions. The offense capitalizes when defenders makes mistakes.
Look for play-action that you never saw to such an extent under McCarthy – and especially on the early downs. You’ll often see the quarterback fake (or not) a handoff to one player sprinting sideways and then to another heading up the middle.
Look for effective pre-snap motion, not merely the McCarthy habit of moving a player and from one side of the formation to the other and re-setting. Look for “jet motion”, where a lightning-fast receiver goes flying past the QB toward the sidelines – he may be a decoy, get the handoff, get a lateral, become a screen option, or veer downfield. Think fast, defenders.
Look for tighter formations, leaving fewer defenders out on the flanks – and thus creating more open spaces. What a contrast to those empty-backfield, five-receiver sets that McCarthy featured.
These new wave guys tend to favor explosive plays over 14-play marches down the field.
Without getting too crazy about learning the x’s and o’s, I’ll just be trying to get some sense of what Green Bay fans have in store for them.
Running back Alfred Morris played for the Redskins in 2012 and 2013. He’s now at San Francisco, where another McVay and LaFleur pal, Kyle Shanahan (same age as LaFleur), has installed much the same offense. Here’s how Morris puts it:
“It’s ‘Oh, they’ll never do this and this out of this set or this formation’ and then you try to game plan and it’s like ‘No, they actually will. . . It’s all about not creating tendencies.”
Morris seems to be talking to all of us who’ve been tearing our hair out, year after year, over Big Mike’s predictable formations, schemes, and play calls. For better or worse, the Packers won’t being doing the same old thing on offense come September.
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