An overshadowing theme of the playoffs and late regular season for the Rams has been the arrival and surge of CJ Anderson. Yet with one of the best backs in the game in Todd Gurley, Anderson has unexpectedly surpassed expectations. With one of the wealthiest contracts for his position Gurley massively underperformed on Sunday against the Saints. Acknowledging his performance saying, “I played a sorry game.” What had been an offense led by Gurley has now turned into an impromptu duo that has been wrecking defenses. So what has led to this and how has it been so successful?
Let us take a look back to week 14 where the Rams were in Soldier Field in what turned out to be an extremely disappointing loss to the Bears. In research I’ve found this to be the most critical game and can be pointed too for a turnaround of sorts. CJ Anderson was still unsigned and, the MVP argument for Todd Gurley although running on fumes still had gas left in the tank. In the sense of personnel and depth, the Rams running game was singular with Gurley hoarding all the work in the backfield and for much of the season rightly so. Los Angeles’ killer play action orchestrated by Mcvay and executed mostly by Gurley’s imposing presence had been successful all season. So successful that at times their running game didn’t need to be all the successful for the play actions to work.
However, in hindsight the Rams ran into a season defining and beneficial roadblock, also provided their last four games starting with the Bears they’ve played some of the best defenses in the league. The Bears were relentless with stacked boxes all game. Prioritizing pressure, suppressing the running game, giving minimal offensive momentum, and forcing Jared Goff into secondary looks he had yet to see over a few deep plays proved to be a kryptonite for Mcvay and Los Angeles. It worked as Goff threw four interceptions and the Rams only managed 6 points; the only time they were held under 20 points all season.
The Rams are notorious for their use of 11 personnel using it 96% of the time this year. Yet against the Bears the Rams adjusted their 11 personnel using tight schemes bringing the three wide receivers close to the offensive tackles. Used heavy in the first half Mcvay did adjust it a bit in the second half but only using it less. Using the tight scheme they did only enabled Chicago’s gameplan of stacking the box and adding to fuel to the fire of Chicago’s strength in their front seven. When the Rams did indeed use other personnel it used 12 personnel and every time they did so they sent a receiver in motion.
The most staggering statistic and takeaway I had from this game was that the Rams threw the ball on 19 straight plays, excluding one run for no gain in the middle; accounting for four possessions and amassing three points. There is and was no excuse for that playcalling despite there were a handful that were checked out of some run plays. Occurring towards the end of the third quarter into the fourth quarter, the Rams were only down by 11 points when the egregious play calling happened.
This game proved more than just the Rams need for more variance from their offense and backfield. Yes Gurley is used as a receiving option out of the backfield, but this game showed the opposing defenses some sort of blueprint for the lack of different personnel groupings. Following the Bears the Rams played the Eagles at home. They lost the game and many would say that their issues were fixed despite the loss. While this was the last week without Anderson, changes could be seen in more variance from the backfield. Which included many more stretch runs, a small detail that may go unnoticed yet critical of having the running back line up a yard deeper in single back sets to provide more opportunity for the blocking to develop.
The bigger problem in this game was that against the Eagles the Rams lost the turnover battle 3-1. These two weeks against the Bears and Eagles were the only times this season the Rams lost the turnover battle, their only other loss which was too New Orleans they tied in the turnover department. The turnover battle will be vital in the Super Bowl.
The addition of CJ Anderson has provided stability in the running game and consistency in playcalling. Anderson’s nickname is the ‘bowling ball’ and he has been that type of back and has done so efficiently. Which has allowed the Rams to put Gurley in more favorable rushing scenarios which is when he rushes laterally inside or outside of the tackles compared to up the middle. CJ has a rushing average of 7.8 yards per attempt, 4 touchdowns, and 466 yards in 4 games and has been beyond exceptional. Gurley since the addition of Anderson has posted an average of 4.1 yards per attempt, 4 touchdowns and only 201 rushing yards. Gurley was still a large presence in the passing game posting 16 receptions over this four game span and having a massive impact on the play action game.
CJ Anderson has provided an element to the offense of the Rams that they haven’t had in this Sean Mcvay era. Providing the Patriots defense with that much more to scheme against. Expect Belichick to prepare his team for the play action especially when Gurley is in. Mcvay will show success in this aspect of the Super Bowl if he is able to counter attack by putting Anderson in manageable blocking situations in play action. Which would catch the Patriots in more favorable personnel for the Rams. Expect this among many other things to play a crucial role on February 3rd.
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