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Anatomy of a play: Breaking down the Rams use of fly motion

Anatomy of a play breaks down the Rams use of fly motion the run game and play action passing game.

New York Giants v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Since the 49ers lost and there wasn’t much to break down, that would’ve been interesting for this series, and since the Rams are in town for Sunday Night Football, this week’s Anatomy of a play will look at the Rams use of fly motions in the running and passing games and give a surface level introduction to the Rams base offense.

Before the season started, I wrote about where Rams head coach Sean McVay fits in with the west coast offense coaching lineage, and those can be read at length here and here. I also wrote an in-depth longer piece on the 2020 Rams offensive adjustments since their 2018 season that ended in a Super Bowl loss and left many wondering if the league had figured out the Shanahan/McVay scheme.

I covered several adjustments in that piece, but the Rams seem to add new wrinkles to old concepts every week since I hit publish, so there a couple more things to add to it.

What is the Rams offense?

Briefly, the Rams offense is the Shanahan offense but predominantly out of 11 personnel instead of 21 personnel. The Rams still run an outside zone-based running game and take shots off of play-action. But the outside zone is actually more of what’s referred to as a “mid-zone” run.

The run action is still the same as the offensive line moving laterally to reach defenders. The main difference is that the play side tackle kicks out the edge defender instead of reach blocking like they do with the Shanahan version of the outside zone.

This changes the running backs primary read to the B-gap/inside hip of the tackle versus the C-gap/outside hip of the tackle or tight end. The idea is to get the running back to the open space quicker than it does with the outside zone.

In the play above from the 2018 Rams at 49ers, you can see that running back, Todd Gurley hits the running lane between the edge defender and first defensive lineman inside that edge defender because that second defender is reached and pinned inside.

Occasionally, this is important for understanding McVay’s evolution; the Rams would add a fly motion element away from the run call.

Fly motion must be respected by the defense because it’s another potential ball carrier that can gash them if they respond to it’s movement.

Usually, the fly motion gets the defense to bump over one gap to account for the numbers advantage it gives the offense. This will be important below later.

But McVay’s running scheme is not without its limitations. Eventually, the teams adapt, and in the latter half of 2018, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gave the rest of the league the blueprint when he shifted his front into a 6-1 tilt front.

The 6-1 was further utilized by the Patriots in the Super Bowl where they completely shut down the Rams offense.

The 6-1 prevents zone run blockers up front from executing double teams and instead puts pressure on the lineman to hold and win 1-on-1 matchups with the defensive line. McVay’s 11 personnel was not conducive to blocking the 6-1.

They struggled with those same front in 2019, and combined with injuries; the Rams would finish 9-7 for third in the division. Still pretty good!

So what has McVay done in 2020 to adapt?

Fly motion in the running game: motion toward the mid zone

In one of the above examples, the fly motion away from the run call was an almost regular feature of the run game but not enough that it became a staple. It was a nice wrinkle. In 2020 however, the Rams fly motion is as much of a staple of the offense as anything else.

However, with one small tweak, the Rams have added yet another layer to their arsenal of potent offensive capabilities: fly motion toward the mid zone. It’s a very simple adjustment that has paid off tremendously for them through the first five games of 2020.

The fly motion creates favorable angles for the blockers up front. Since the Rams don’t use a fullback create favorable angles, the fly motion acts as the de facto fullback by moving defenders into gaps that are easier for the offensive line to reach, especially in the second level. Also notice the kick out block by the left tackle.

As Goff motions the fly receiver across, notice how the linebackers in the second level shift over one gap to account for the numbers the offense moves to that side. Goff snaps the ball as the linebackers are shifting, and the defenders don’t have time to execute a rocker step and fall back into the gaps they vacated to close off the cutback. (On the rocker step, the linebacker will take two steps toward the play side before folding back to play the cutback)

The result is defenders out of position and easy blocking angles for the linemen to execute their second-level blocks.

Fly motion in the passing game: bootleg rollout

The Rams also have several ways they’ll utilize fly motion in the passing, specifically on play-action passes.

In week one against the Cowboys, the Rams used fly motion to get a receiver out to the flat very quickly, giving Goff an easy read. If the defensive end pursues the quarterback out on the bootleg, Goff could just dump it off to the open flat receiver.

Here against the Cowboys, the fly motion gives the quarterback an easier, defined read and prevents the flat receiver from being eliminated by the flat defender because the flat defender has to make a choice between the quarterback or flat receiver. The read for Goff is easy; as soon as he identifies the defender vacating the flat, he dumps it off his receiver.

Fly motion in the passing game: dropback play action

The Rams will also fly motion as misdirection away from the run call, too, similar to how they did with fly away from the mid zone.

The sift windback is another way to get favorable blocking angles by washing down defenders and moving them away from the point of attack. The play looks like mid zone to the left with Goff opening to the left and running back Darrell Henderson taking a step in that direction but it’s actually a counter step before he takes the handoff going to the right.

The fly motion to the left moves the defenders over to the next gap, and the flow at the snap takes them right out of the play as they try to fall back into the backside run fits. That movement makes the blocking angle easier for the offensive line as they get blocks just long enough to get Henderson free on the edge with Kupp lead blocking on a sift to kick out the edge defender.

Later in that same game, the Rams ran the same run action but with play action with the receiver assignments flipped for a touchdown.

Tre’Davious White has a Kupp man to man on this play and remembering the action from the play above, comes up to play the run when he sees Kupp simulate a down block.

Kupp’s delayed release into his route gets him wide open as White watches for the sift block and replaces the safety who got taken inside by Kupp. Kupp gets wide open for a touchdown.

In week five, the Rams added another wrinkle to their play action drop back passing attack with the use of fly motion to a go route down the sideline and they ran it twice, one for a touchdown and one for a 29 yard gain.

The play is just a basic play action sail concept with the slot receiver running the “chase” route (sail route) and the fly motion to go route down the sideline.

In this first clip, the route combination puts the Washington safety in a bind as he bites on the vertical sail route from the slot and takes himself out of position to play the vertical down the sideline. Receiver Robert Woods is wide open and finishes with a touchdown.

In this second clip(diagrammed above), the Rams run the exact same play but the Football Team defense is ready for the vertical with the corner playing off coverage and blanketing it deep.

But this left the sail route open as the down safety came into the box with Woods’s motion. Josh Reynolds turns the safety with cut toward the post before he breaks it out toward the sideline, where Goff finds him for a nice gain.

Outlook

The Rams offense is fun to study and contrast with the 49ers offense (when it’s firing on all cylinders), but the two teams do nearly the same things with different personnel that fit the style of offense both run. It’s just unfortunate that right now, the Rams are a much more efficient team on offense than the 49ers currently are, and that’s not a good thing for the 49ers right now.