The turnaround of the 2017 LA Rams under Sean McVay was truly remarkable. The 2016 Rams were last in the league with a 14.0 point per game average. In 2017, the Rams ranked third in the league as they averaged 28.9 points per game. While the likely main contributor to the Rams turnaround was McVay’s superb leadership and development of a championship-level culture, McVay also did a great job of creating a simple, yet dynamic scheme that Jared Goff excelled in.
One of the areas of the Rams offense that was particularly effective was their use of screens off of play-action. The 2017 Rams ran 26 screens off of play-action with an 11.7 yard per play average and one touchdown. Here is a statistical breakdown of the different play-action screen plays that the Rams used:
As the chart above shows, the most common screen that the Rams used was their slip screen off of an inside zone play action. Below is a diagram of this:
This play was always ran with either an H-Back or tight end to block the backside end. The play side tackle would pass set the end, and each of the other four lineman would take their zone play action steps to the play side. Both guards and the center would release to block for the screen. The covered lineman on the play side will stay on the down-lineman if the defender is not working aggressively up the field. For example, if running this play towards a 1-technique, the center will engage this defender and stay on him if he thinks that the defender could run down the screen. If the defender is rushing aggressively, and the center thinks he can shed him and work downfield, he will do so. Below is a video of this play:
One of the reasons that this play works so well is that it works against the momentum of underneath defenders. These defenders typically have to rally back aggressively to take away any play action passes. If these defenders are dropping aggressively to get into their zone, they are not in a position to make a play on the slip screen. Bill Walsh talked about this same idea in his book, Building a Champion. When talking about the play-action pass, Walsh stated “the next development was a back faking a run and then becoming a receiver, which really opened up the passing game. In this instance, linebackers, on finally recognizing a pass, would turn to run to their zones, only to have the ball thrown to the back who had just drawn them in. We utilized Roger Craig and Tom Rathman in this manner very effectively.”
The 1-technique was not rushing aggressively on this play, so the center stays on him and does not release for the screen. The play side guard releases to block the strong safety. Even though the center does not release, and the backside guard is not able to get out in time to block the play side linebacker, the linebacker hesitates just enough to allow the running back to run away from him on the screen.
The Rams also had success running this concept off of fly motion. Here is a diagram of this:
The screen itself is the same play as before, but the offense is just window-dressing it with the fly motion. Whenever the Rams ran play action with the fly motion action, they usually ran the yankee concept. The thinking here is that that the defense will be forced to try to cover the deep crossing route after recognizing the play-action pass, which will open up space for the slip screen working in the other direction. Below is a video of this play:
The passing concept here influences five defenders out of position to make a play on the screen. It also helped to influence both the nickel defender and play side linebacker, which gave the running back and three lineman leverage on these defenders for the screen. This time, the center felt as if the 1-technique was rushing more aggressively up the field, so he shed him and released to block for the screen.
The Rams also ran this screen off of the fake reverse action. Here is a diagram of this:
The fake reverse adds more misdirection to pull defenders away from the screen. This has been a very effective concept for multiple NFL teams. Here is a video of the Rams running this play:
The fake reverse action removes defenders from the play and gives the offense the numbers advantage to the slip screen. When running towards a 3-technique, the play side guard is now the covered defender. If the 3-technique was not rushing aggressively up the field, the guard would stay on him rather than releasing down the field.
This play also shows how screens can be especially effective versus man coverage. The offense just has to block the one defender who is in man coverage on the receiver of the screen pass. Here, the play side linebacker (No. 95) is in man coverage on the running back, so the offense just has to block that one defender in order to have an effective play.
Although they only ran this play twice, the Rams could also throw slip screens to the back off of outside zone action. Here is a diagram of this:
The Rams frequently used naked boots off of outside zone, so this play works well off of that action. The offense will have the slot receiver set up to block for the quarterback rather than slipping to the flat so that the quarterback has time to set up before throwing the slip screen to the back. The play side tackle will still pass set on the end. Both guards and the center will release for the screen after taking their outside zone steps. This play works well of their naked boot action because often times, the running back and the lineman are forgotten on the backside of naked boots. Below is a video of this:
This is a great play to run if no one is following the back on the backside of naked boots. The offensive coaching staff should just watch the backside of their naked boots before dialing up this play if the space is there.
The Rams also ran a few backside tunnel screens off of outside run action. Below is a diagram of the Rams running a backside tunnel screen off of outside zone:
The frontside of the line, essentially, just has to execute their outside zone scheme. The backside tackle and backside guard will take their initial zone steps before releasing back outside to block for the tunnel screen. The flow of the outside zone action should pull a lot of defenders with it to create space for the backside tunnel screen. Here is a video of this:
The outside zone action leaves the defense with just the backside corner in position to defend the tunnel screen. The offense is able to release the backside tackle to block this defender leading to a 17-yard touchdown.
The Rams also ran this play off of toss sweep action. Here is a diagram of this:
This could be even a more effective play as the toss sweep hits the perimeter faster and could elicit more of a response from the defense. Here is a video of the Rams running this:
The Rams had a few other ways they ran these tunnel screens, but they were most effective when running them with just one receiver on the backside. This is because the play is best when the corner is playing off coverage, giving the backside tackle a good angle to make his block. When this defender comes up, this is not a good play as the backside tackle now has to work at a very flat angle to make his block. When running this concept with two or three receivers on the backside, the defense is more likely to have at least one defender up close to the line of scrimmage which will increase the difficulty of the backside tackle’s block.
Expect to see more of these concepts ran in the NFL next season as many teams likely studied the Ram’s success this off-season.
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