Rams head coach Sean McVay is looking to get an advantage anywhere he can against this stout 49ers defense led by DeMeco Ryans. McVay utilizes jet motion to make all his plays look the same. The defense must be sound against this play-calling wizard. Let’s look at four things San Francisco’s defense needs to look out for below.
Split Gun formation
The Split Gun formation puts stress on the defense in numerous ways. Ryans’ unit must key the run, watch out for the run-pass option, and mirror outside receivers without penalty. McVay heavily featured Cooper Kupp in the backfield against the Cardinals last week. Kupp drew extra attention as the jet-motion player in Split Gun.
McVay’s RPO gives Stafford an easy read for cheap yards. He reads to see if the end will scrape or come up the field. He also pairs jet motion with quick game to make the plays look the same. Similar to his predecessor (Shanahan), who also uses motion to make things look the same.
Sean McVay’s new secret weapon Ben Skowronek
McVay has found a new playmaker in Ben Skowronek, who is looking to replace Odell Beckham Jr.’s production. Skowronek, a second-year wide receiver out of Notre Dame and Northwestern, has nearly matched his rookie year’s production. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound mystery man has adopted a surprising new role, fullback.
On the Wednesday of Week 2 against the Falcons, McVay called wide receiver Skowronek into his office. McVay laid the offer of playing fullback to Skowronek, and he happily accepted.
Skowronek on the new role:
We kind of went over everything, and I was excited. Went out to practice that day, went smooth, and then it was something that we built on throughout that week. And then obviously in the Falcons game, we had some success with it, so this past week, getting more reps at it, more reps in practice, more reps in games. Just keep getting better and better at it each day.
Skowronek plays with a ton of grit. He’s nearly Derrick Henry’s size and is more than willing to put his face in the fire. First, he manhandled Zaven Collins, the 16th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, as the lead blocker on Cam Aker’s 14-yard touchdown in Week 3. Then you see Skowronek pancake JJ Watt on a chip. Skowronek had to lay his whole body out to complete the block, but he didn’t stop there. He got back up and proceeded to catch a pass and turn upfield.
I don’t want to say he’s Hall of Fame caliber, but Skowronek has that dog in him. He has high potential as a thorn in the 49ers’ defense. McVay gives Skowronek big play ability by allowing him to run deep routes from the fullback position. He can easily seep out and create an explosive play. In the series of catches, he won against man coverage and took it 32 yards.
Be ready to come downhill on the screenplays
McVay uses screens as another way to get cheap yards, especially when his run game cannot get going. San Francisco’s defensive line must take advantage of the mismatch in the trenches. Left guard David Edwards was one of the weak links on the offensive line, and he is out of Monday’s matchup with a concussion. A backup on a poor run-blocking offensive line is more reasoning for Ryans’s defensive line to feast.
Kupp and Tyler Higbee are the main threats on screens. Higbee’s underrated “Yac” ability will force players in the secondary to wrap up. McVay tends tight end run screens to the boundary, which usually gives Higbee a one-on-one matchup. He also uses screens to set up the big play over the top.
Watch out for Allen Robinson to break out of his slump
Allen Robinson’s career was promising before the tremendous drop in production. The nine-year vet is known for his savvy route running. However, the Niners’ secondary can impede that by pressing and redirecting. McVay uses Robinson as a clear-out receiver to open up other routes. McVay has constantly tried to make him a red zone target but has struggled to get separation when pressed.
Robinson’s traits never left. He may be the lone vertical threat on Los Angeles’ roster. Tutu Atwell is a speedster but lacks a connection with Stafford, and his drops only add salt to the wound. This gives more reason to zero in on Robinson as the vertical threat. His release off the line of scrimmage remains flawless, and his explosive play ability remains.