by Rivers McCown
There are times where, as a writer, I have an obligation to do a lot of original research. Sometimes that research leads me in weird places, and we find out cool facts but not necessarily sweeping conclusions about a team.
Then there are times when you are asked to write about the demise of the Los Angeles Rams passing offense, something that died in the NFC Championship Game (hell, perhaps as early as Week 13 against the Lions in 2018) and was never fully resuscitated. There are many well-known theories about why Sean McVay's offense is no longer doing the job. Let's first just crystallize the damage in numbers.
|The Decline of the McVay Rams|
|Pass DVOA||Rank||Run DVOA||Rank||Yards per
|2018, Weeks 1-10||48.5%||4||20.7%||1||8.71|
|2018, Weeks 11-17||9.6%||17||22.5%||1||6.08|
|2019, Weeks 1-3||-1.2%||20||11.9%||4||6.28|
|Week 4 v. TB||20.5%||n/a||21.4%||n/a||7.60|
Now let's crystallize how broken it looked on Sunday even as Jared Goff threw the ball 68 times and created perhaps the worst 500-yard game in NFL history:
Fourth-and-2 play: Jared Goff gets pressured up the middle pic.twitter.com/ylymPHeiXP
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 1, 2019
This fourth-and-2 play was dysfunctional from the start, with a linebacker bearing right in on Goff. The quarterback needed to read hot. But Goff's throwing lane was occupied by Shaq Barrett, and his right tackle wasn't really able to engage Barrett to keep him from making a play. Goff had no time to find another receiver. He got decked, and that was a major turning point for the Bucs holding on for this win.
As for the theories on why, that's a rich and textured story that mostly begins with Goff. In case you, for some reason, did not watch the Super Bowl: Goff was often confused by Bill Belichick's looks on defense. The Patriots mostly set up their defense to custom-stop Los Angeles' best running plays, and that tape is out there for any head coach to grab. Many of them have. There were quite a few six-man looks that Tampa Bay threw at Los Angeles this week.
Despite Los Angeles' running game being threatened, they still are running fairly effectively. In this particular game, that didn't work out because they got game-scripted hard, letting Tampa Bay get off to a 21-0 lead. More on that Tampa Bay run defense in a bit, though.
Over his last nine regular season games, Goff is at 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He has taken 15 sacks. His completion rate is just 60.4%. He has fumbled nine times on those sacks, including one that broke what remained of this game. He didn't crack 300 yards in any of his postseason games and his career postseason completion rate is 55.0%. He is, empirically, playing like Kirk Cousins.
Play-action is another big difference-maker, one that we talked about the last time the Rams were in this column. McVay's schematic changes haven't yielded a good answer to how to fix Los Angeles' play-action passing game. Through their first three games, Los Angeles ran play-action fifth-most of all NFL teams, but averaged just 7.8 yards per play on it -- 19th in the NFL. In 2018, that number was 9.4 yards per play. In 2017, it was 8.9. Goff also has continued to have problems with the deep sideline throws in general.
Sean McVay's system set the world on fire, but the difference between McVay and Belichick -- something that was on display during the Super Bowl, even, as the Patriots found some hay with James Develin on the field -- is the difference between reactive planning and proactive planning. It's too early to throw around claims like "McVay can't adjust his system enough to save Goff's elite status," but after 12 games without a real boom, we're certainly thinking it very loudly.
Where the Game Swung
Here are some of the big swings on this chart, courtesy of our Edj Sports overlords and their Game-Winning Chance (GWC) statistic:
- Goff's first second-quarter interception intended for Cooper Kupp was worth 13.1% GWC for the Bucs.
- Goff's second second-quarter interception (intended for Gerald Everett) was worth 13.8% GWC for the Bucs. This is where the chart craters for Los Angeles in the second quarter.
- Los Angeles' failed fourth-and-2 in the third quarter at the Tampa Bay 40 cost them 12.2% GWC. The decision to go for it made plenty of sense -- failing sucks.
- Jameis Winston's pick-six was worth a game-high 22.4% GWC, bringing Los Angeles back into the game.
- Goff's sack/fumble, courtesy Ndamukong Suh, cost the Rams their remaining 16.2% GWC, ending the game and the chart.
By the (D)VOA
Surprisingly little difference between the VOA and the DVOA so far. Obviously the Los Angeles defensive egg is the big thing here.
Coaching Matters, Mk. 385: Tampa Bay's Defense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the worst defensive DVOA of the 2018 season. They had a midseason coordinator change in ousting Mike Smith, who, in 2017, coordinated the Bucs to ... last in defensive DVOA. While they were 13th in defensive DVOA in 2016, they also had the second-most defensive variance that year and allowed 27 or more points six times, including 40 to Bruce Arians' Cardinals. Tampa Bay has had a rich tradition of taking Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, then letting them wade around in a bowl full of overpaid veterans, journeymen, and players too raw to contribute.
So while we were doubting that a lot would change instantly in Tampa Bay -- especially after they let McCoy go -- what we have is a team that returns almost zero starters from last year's opening day roster. David is still here. Justin Evans and Vernon Hargreaves returned, as well as Carlton Davis. Beau Allen is here but at a reduced snap rate. Carl Nassib is here but wasn't used as much last season. There has been a ton of turnover. First-round pick Devin White has played right away, last year's first-round pick Vita Vea is getting real snaps after a lost first year, and a collection of long-time Arians scheme-knowers like Deone Bucannon and Kevin Minter are also hanging around. Oh, right, and Ndamukong Suh is here, too!
Enter former Arians' defensive coordinator and Jets head coach Todd Bowles. Bowles was a big practitioner of the DB blitz with the Jets in 2018, using it the second-most of any NFL team. He also came with five defensive backs as a standard base package, something that Smith seemed reticent to do in both 2017 and 2018. The Jets under Bowles blitzed 28.8% of the time in 2018 and 35.0% of the time in 2017.
|The New Tampa Bay Pressure Blueprint|
|Pressure Rate||24.8% (32)||25.0% (31)||27.1% (18)|
|Adjusted Sack Rate||4.3% (32)||8.0% (8)||7.4% (15)|
While there is nothing normal about what Shaq Barrett is doing to offensive linemen this season -- he has feasted on injured Cam Newton and Eli Manning -- he also tied his season-low with just one sack against the Rams. Well, I guess it did happen to basically win the game, so we can give him a pass:
Shaq Barrett spins another one. pic.twitter.com/etPqNQ8dLZ
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 1, 2019
More importantly, the pressure rate of this defense has reached a more sustainable level. The sack rate has hovered near the same line, but that is because the 2018 Bucs overperformed their pressure rate by a significant amount as far as actual sacks go.
Vea, Minter, and Nassib have been massive contributors to a revamped stout front. The Bucs were second in run defense DVOA heading into Week 4, and though the Rams put up a good rushing DVOA, they also gained just 28 rushing yards. Given how poorly White has played so far, and how Suh has been mostly a non-factor as a rusher, there's even room for improvement.
We're not wild about every change Arians has brought to the Bay. He has been wildly conservative offensively, drowning his passing game in Peyton Barber carries and kicking field goals like the Bucs aren't tempting fate every time they line up to take one. He also is stuck with Jameis Winston, who seems to have a wish to be pick-sixed by every NFL team at least once.
But sometimes you can make up a lot of ground in a hurry when the talent infrastructure is solid and the new plan is way better than the old plan. Nobody is calling Bowles a genius, but even just the idea of stability is a big upgrade over Smith's overly conservative take for Tampa Bay.