When Sean McVay took over as head coach in 2017, the Rams figured they would be able to improve offensively and further the development of quarterback Jared Goff.
Both of those things have certainly happened in the last two seasons. But one perhaps underrated element of Los Angeles' offense has been the run game.
While the Rams have ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in points in the two years under McVay, they've also ranked No. 8 and No. 3, respectively, in yards rushing. That shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise, given running back Todd Gurley's status as a MVP candidate over the last two years. But generally, the Rams seem to get more credit for their prowess through the air than on the ground.
With the offseason program set to begin a week from Monday, the Rams can get going on expanding and improving their run game for the 2019 season. But it wasn't always clear exactly how the Rams would get after teams on the ground.
In a recent interview with therams.com for Season 2 of Behind the Grind, run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer explained the evolution of Los Angeles' ground attack like this:
"You know, what's funny is you have run game from team-to-team and from player-to-player that are successful. And coming here, there's a lot of ideas and different backgrounds that people came from to get this run game started two years ago in a new program. And we did a lot of meeting, we had a lot of plans, and when it was all and said and done, and when we figured out our personnel was 11 personnel — which is three wide receivers, a running back, and one tight end — it changes a lot of the running game and how you go about attacking defenses. So that takes a little bit of time."
"The first year, just establishing what we wanted to do and how we were going to get it done because on first and second down, there are a lot of defenses that want to try to stop any chance you have of running the ball and gaining yards," Kromer continued. "And I thought we've done a great job over the last two years of using our best players most of the game and using the things that they do well to create our running game. That's the most important thing. A run can be great, there's a lot of different styles out there, a lot of different schemes. But you really want to marry them to the talent that you have on the team."
Clearly that's what the Rams have done over the last two years, rushing for a combined 4,184 yards in the regular season. And those results have also given L.A. a pretty clear identity — both for itself and for opponents to study around the league.
Kromer described Los Angeles as a "physical, downhill" running team.
"You don't see as many under center quarterbacks around the league on first and second down as our reps that we put on tape," Kromer said. "So Jared's going to be under center, our run game and our play action passes — and our drop-back passes on first and second down sometimes — starts under center, taking the snap from center. It's not shotgun snap. So we're able to have a power/zone running game. So we have a combination.
"We're a heavy wide-zone running team, which has been very physical. We've all seen Todd Gurley run for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns in two years. So it's a physical-natured — even though we're in three wide receivers where someone might want to say it's a finesse offense — when you watch the tape, you really realize how physical up front, how physical our receivers, and 11 guys as a whole [are]."
But as the Rams head into 2019, the offense and run game will have to keep evolving — especially because the unit will be integrating (at least) two new starters on the line with the departures of center John Sullivan and left guard Rodger Saffold.
"Yeah, to continue our success that we've had, we have to continue to grow. And what does that mean? Well, we're changing a couple linemen up front. And so what do they do maybe a little bit better or maybe not as well as the people that we've lost. And we're talking about Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen," Kromer said. "That's two physical young players who have had the ability to sit and learn from great players like John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold — just absorbing the veteran knowledge that those two have and how they play, and how they prepare — I think it's gotten these two young guys ready to go because they saw such a good example. But physically, they may do some things better than the two that played. Or we have to adapt to what they do.
"So it's always a work in progress. We always want to make sure that we're advancing our offense. And what does that mean? Maybe we do a little bit more of certain plays because of the talent that we have on the field."