“We were really just mixing it up a little bit,” McVay told reporters after the game. “[Tight end] Gerald Everett did a nice job stepping up, but it was just kind of predicated on the game plan we had this week. You never know what’s coming next.”
In the blowout win, the Rams leaned on their running game, despite the fact that Todd Gurley sat out with a knee injury. In his place, C.J. Anderson rolled through the Arizona defense for 167 rushing yards and one touchdown just five days after signing with the Rams.
The key to that turnaround was a personnel grouping Los Angeles rarely used prior to Sunday. On 26 of the Rams’ 41 rushing attempts against the Cardinals, the team had two tight ends on the field. In the 14 games prior to Week 16, the Rams had exactly one running back and one tight end on the field for all but six of Jared Goff’s offensive plays.
And while McVay said said “you never know what’s coming next,” Jared Goff wasn’t quite as ambiguous when asked if the Rams plan on using more two-tight end sets moving forward.
“It was more us trying to try some different stuff,” Goff said. “It definitely had something to do with what they were doing defensively, but for the most part — like I said Gerald Everett is a great player for us — and it was us getting him on the field a bit more.”
Is “12 personnel” the package that will save the Rams’ season?
What are the advantages of 12 personnel?
The term “12 personnel” is a fancy football way of saying a team has one running back and two tight ends on the field. For most of the year, the Rams stuck with “11 personnel,” which you can probably guess means one running back and one tight end.
In the latter, the Rams had three wide receivers on the field. With Cooper Kupp lost for the year due to a torn ACL, the trio of receivers for Los Angeles has been Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Josh Reynolds — each of whom rarely come off the field.
But against the Cardinals, Reynolds played in 35 of the Rams’ 68 snaps — clearing the way for Everett to play a career-high 51 snaps.
The difference between Reynolds, who weighs in at 196 pounds, and Everett, who’s 240 pounds, showed up in the running game. After only a few offensive snaps, it was obvious the Rams’ goal was to bludgeon the Cardinals.
Here’s the Rams’ third play from scrimmage in Week 16 with Tyler Higbee lined up next to the right tackle and Everett lined up off the left tackle.
Everett finds and mauls Cardinals safety Budda Baker, helping pave the way for a 6-yard gain for Anderson. It’s the type of block the Rams couldn’t expect the smaller Reynolds to make.
The drive ended a few plays later when the Cardinals’ Benson Mayowa forced Goff to fumble, setting up an Arizona field goal. But LA’s game plan of bulldozing the Cardinals ultimately produced touchdown drive after touchdown drive.
It also helped Goff have his most efficient performance in months.
The Rams didn’t ask Goff to do too much
Maybe the most surprising part of the Rams’ slump in December was how poorly Goff was playing. At the Rams’ Week 12 bye, he had 26 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 113.5 passer rating.
In his next three games, he had one touchdown and six interceptions.
That was a trend that — if it continued into January — would’ve quickly bounced the Rams from the playoffs.
If the top priority was getting Goff back to his efficient self in Week 16, then mission accomplished. The Rams quarterback completed 79.1 percent of his passes against the Cardinals — his highest completion percentage since September — with 216 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
The bounce-back performance for Goff was certainly helped by a rushing attack that forced the Cardinals to commit players to stopping Anderson. On Goff’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Woods, the Cardinals had 10 players within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped.
A powerful running game is a quarterback’s best friend, and Goff benefitted from that commitment Sunday.
Now’s the time to establish a powerful rushing attack
The offensive success for the Rams in Week 16 was helped by the fact that the Cardinals are a disaster of a football team right now. No team scores fewer points, and if Arizona loses next week it’ll own the first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
However, the Cardinals didn’t do too poorly against the Rams’ rushing attack in Week 2.
Gurley scored three touchdowns, but managed just 42 yards on 19 carries. Backup running back Malcolm Brown — who is now out for the year with a broke collarbone — had 12 carries for 46 yards against the Cardinals.
A week ago, Falcons running back Tevin Coleman had 145 yards on only 11 attempts against the Cardinals. But he got 110 of those yards on a pair of rushes for 65 and 45 yards. Getting steamrolled by the Rams was something different, and it happened despite the fact that the Cardinals loaded players near the line of scrimmage.
In his @RamsNFL debut, C.J. Anderson ran for 167 yards on 20 carries (8.4 YPC) despite facing a stacked box (8+ defenders) 60% of the time.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 24, 2018
Entering Week 16, the Rams faced stacked boxes on only 12% of their runs, the 2nd-lowest rate in the NFL.#LARvsAZ #LARams pic.twitter.com/8Rce2lJw1u
The Rams’ Week 17 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers — who are No. 9 in rushing yards allowed per attempt — will answer a couple questions:
- Do the Rams plan to continue their shift to 12 personnel?
- Will it be as effective as it was against the Cardinals?
If both answers are yes, it would set up the Rams as a team ready to do damage in January.
“One thing that hasn’t changed in the 13 years that I’ve been in the league is that the month of December is about physicality and defense,” Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said in the locker room after the win Sunday. “It’s really about the team that can try to break the other team’s will. You just can’t forget that when you’re playing these games in this month. It’s about not losing the game and unnecessarily being in situations where you’re trying to take chances.”
Maybe it was the month of December that prompted the Rams to shift to an offensive game plan that relied on power. Or maybe it was the play of Everett and Reynolds. Or maybe it was back-to-back losses to the Bears and Eagles that forced a re-evaluation.
Whatever it was, the Rams — even without Gurley — looked like a team ready for playoff football.