What a treat we have tonight. It couldn’t be any better. We have a monster matchup on Monday Night Football in Los Angeles between the 9-1 Rams and the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs. Both high powered offenses colliding in the Coliseum. Is this a preview of the Super Bowl? And who has the edge and where?
What to expect from the Rams offense
Both of these offenses are about as explosive as it gets in the NFL. The best part of this offensive matchup is both teams go about their production in vastly different ways. The Rams are in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) more than 95 percent of the time.
Staying with that grouping for most of a game is fascinating to me. You’d think, “hey, no tight ends or fullbacks, so the Rams can’t run the ball.” You’d be wrong, and I’ll tell you why.
The NFL is moving into an era where running the football is less about “screw the defense, we are going to run it anyway” to “let’s only run the ball with a good box advantage.” In layman’s terms, teams want to run the ball only when we have enough blockers and the best leverage. In 11 personnel, the defense must spread out from sideline to sideline to cover the weapons on the edge. It softens up the defense in the middle and there are less box players to account for. It sets up the opportunity for more efficient runs where you get a lineman on a defender.
Sean McVay then uses fly/jet sweep motion to pull the backside defender away, so that defensive end can’t run down the backside of a zone when he’s unblocked. The fly sweep motion can pull a man defender away from the hole. It also gives a split second eye violation for a defender who has to honor the ability for that fly sweep player to get the ball. When you’re a split second late to the party on a Todd Gurley run, he will make you pay.
The Rams also rely heavily on play action passing. Jared Goff has 332 pass attempts this season and almost half of them, 127, have been play action passes. He’s got 1,348 yards on play action with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Why so much play action? First, they run the ball so well it makes it easy to get the defenders to play the run when the Rams pass. Second, the throwing windows tend to be huge and the run after the catch is money!
What to expect from the Chiefs offense
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs use multiple personnel groupings and formations to confuse and frustrate the defense while finding open windows all over the field. It’s so beautiful to watch all the motions, shifts and the unique ways Andy Reid can get the matchups he wants.
You can take two offensive plays with vastly different formations and personnel, pause the film when Patrick Mahomes is about to throw, and the image is the exact same route concept as earlier in the game or season with different personnel. To hammer that point home, Mahomes has thrown touchdown passes to 10 different players, and six of those players have multiple touchdowns.
Like the Rams, the Chiefs also run a heavy amount of play action passes, including RPOs, to get Mahomes simple throws. Mahomes has 99 play action attempts out of 345 total pass attempts. He’s not quite as good as Goff, with three interceptions (seven total on the season) and three touchdowns. The Chiefs are a quick throwing offense that mixes in these play action passes, bootlegs, screens and some RPOs.
Mahomes has far exceeded my expectations for his presnap processing. When you watch him play, he knows exactly where he’s going with the ball before the snap. Notice tonight when he looks off a safety, then turns his head to fire a pass to the vacated area of the field. It’s beautiful to watch.
Two great offensive lines
We often overlook the offensive lines when we discuss outstanding offenses, but not when I write an article. The Rams built their offensive line with home run draft picks and smart veteran signings.
They have a unit that excels at what the Rams major in, zone blocking. They move well and can block at the second level. Their one weakness could be in pass protection at tackle, but with play action passing, it’s tough for defenses to straight rush the passer on Goff.
The Chiefs offensive line is a bit of a patchwork unit right now. They are anchored by future Pro Bowler (go vote for Mitch!), Mitch Schwartz at right tackle. Eric Fisher struggled against Chandler Jones last weekend, but generally, he’s been excellent in pass protection. Inside, they’ve had injury issues. They are down a center and a right guard, and relying on a starting left guard who wasn’t expected to start this season, Cam Erving. Tough matchup against the interior of the Rams defense.
What about those defenses?
These defenses are vastly different also. The Rams have the Defensive Player of the Year on the inside of their defensive line. Aaron Donald has 12.5 sacks, 12 of those solo sacks. He’s got 41 additional hurries and 33 hits/knockdowns. Add in five tackles for loss in the run game, and he’s a player that can’t be stopped.
The Chiefs will try to find ways to double Donald, but the Rams, like they should, find ways to move the linebackers on passing downs to get Donald one-on-one matchups.
Next to Donald is Ndamukong Suh, who can still be a force, even if he hasn’t lived up to the expectations the Rams had when he signed. Los Angeles traded for Dante Fowler Jr. to try bringing some outside edge pressure because they have none on the roster. A balanced pass rush is the best pass rush, and the Rams have issues with that. They are in the 18th in adjusted sack rate.
The Chiefs are a defense that brings their pressure from everywhere on the field. Outside linebacker Dee Ford has nine sacks to go with three from Justin Houston who’s battled injuries this season. Chris Jones and Allen Bailey have 12 combined sacks. That’s 24 out of 31 sacks from their defensive front.
I’d write about both their run defenses, but there’s not much good to say. They’re brutal. The Rams are 29th in rushing DVOA and allow 5.2 yards a carry, good for next to last in the league. The Chiefs are 32nd in rush defense and allow 5.1 yards a carry, which puts them just ahead of the Rams, 30th in the NFL. Fortunately for both teams, it’s a passing league, and these defenses are built to get after quarterbacks.
So which team is going to win this game?
I think the Rams defense is going to be the deciding factor in the Chiefs’ favor. Since Aqib Talib got hurt in Week 3, the Rams have allowed 27 points a game. It could have been worse if the Packers had gotten the ball to end the game. They can’t stop the run or the pass.
Kansas City’s offense, with a few extra days to prepare, will be able to score at will. Of course, turnovers could play a role in this game, but it’s hard to predict those.
There are also subtle areas where the Chiefs are better than the Rams. On offense the Chiefs are sixth in red zone percentage while the Rams are 18th. The Chiefs are better on third down and much better on 4th down. On defense, the Chiefs are fifth on third downs while the Rams are 22nd.
If you’re looking to back the Rams, here’s your argument. They are going to attack the Chiefs run defense all night. Kansas City hasn’t been able to defend the run against 11 personnel very well, ever. If the Rams run the ball often, it eats up the clock and doesn’t allow Mahomes as many opportunities to score points.
And while the Rams defense has struggled lately, the Chiefs defense has played well, only allowing 17 points a game over their last four. That’s a bit misleading since they’ve played awful teams, but you’re supposed to play well against awful teams.
Finally, the Chiefs have the No. 1 special teams unit in the league. They are fourth in punt return average and fifth in kick return average. On the flip side, they are first in punt defense and eighth in kick return defense. All four of those are better than anything the Rams do.
Give me the Chiefs to win a high scoring contest, 38-34