Rams Continuing to Evaluate Target Distribution

Through five games, the Rams have four players with at least 200 yards receiving, and three players with either 29 or 30 targets.

As a playcaller, Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay has a reputation for designing offenses that spread the ball around. With multiple weapons, opposing defenses cannot just key in on one or two players and shut the unit down.

Last year's Washington offense, for instance, had four players with at least 89 targets. Pierre Garçon led the team with 114, DeSean Jackson had 100, Jamison Crowder had 99, and Jordan Reed finished with 89. Garçon and Jackson each had over 1,000 yards receiving.

McVay appears to be constructing a similar structure with L.A. — albeit with significantly different personnel. So far in 2017, wide receiver Robert Woods leads the team with 252 yards receiving, while running back Todd Gurley's 22 receptions leads the club. Woods, Gurley, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins are all above 200 yards receiving, though Woods has 252.

Check out some of the best photos from the Week 5 contest against the Seattle Seahawks.

But any time there are a number of talented pass catchers on a team, there are going to be personalities manage in order to keep everyone on the unit happy. That's something McVay had to deal with as a coordinator in Washington, and it's a challenge he embraces as a head coach, too.

"[T]hese are positive problems when you've got a lot of playmakers," McVay said Monday when asked about distributing touches between Gurley, Watkins and Tavon Austin. "And every decision that we try to make, while we know that being able to win and be efficient on offense is going to be to get those guys involved and get them touches. It's important for them to understand how they fit and as long as we clearly communicate the why — as to why we're doing different things, what we're trying to get done — I feel like it helps create a better understanding."

To that end, there were a few posts on social media from Watkins that surfaced following Sunday's game against the Seahawks. Watkins did not have a reception in Sunday's game on four targets, and was targeted only twice in the Week 4 victory over Dallas. McVay said he was aware of the posts and addressed them with the wide receiver.

"I think looking at some of those social media exchanges, I think he was more just responding to those things and he knows that he'll do the right things moving forward," McVay said. "But, I really respect the way Sammy handled our conversation today in terms of taking the accountability to know that it's about snap-in and snap-out and really the tape is what tells the story. Sometimes, when you don't get your number targeted, it can be a little bit misleading and that's what I appreciate about Sammy is I think he took it the right way and expect him to respond the right way moving forward."

How does the tape tell the story? Well, McVay pointed to one play midway through the third quarter where Watkins may not have finished the top of his route in an ideal fashion.

"I think it was really one play in particular, and we had run a similar play earlier [where] he kind of almost served as a pick on Earl Thomas before we had a chance to hit Cooper Kupp on a crossing route," McVay said. "In that instance right there, the pocket allowed where [Thomas] was kind of coming down on an intermediate [route] and it opened up down the field. And that's where it's a great learning experience and opportunity, not just for Sammy, but for all of our receivers that you never know how each play is going to play out.

"We always talk to our players about playing each play as its own individual entity and based on the way that some of the plays had played out, we felt like that was a chance and we wanted to be able to make them count and capitalize on that," McVay continued. "Because we weren't all on the same page, it didn't work out that way for us. But I think that's a learning opportunity for everybody on our offense, including Sammy, so that if it doesn't come up again we're not sitting here in that same situation."

As for the way targets are distributed, quarterback Jared Goff was asked after Sunday's game about getting the ball to players like Gulrey and Watkins regardless of what the defense initially presents.

"I think guys that get the ball are most of the time, some of your best players and those two definitely are," Goff said. "I would say for the most part, they're guys I'm thinking the back of my head I want to get the ball to a lot. But, by no means do I want to force them the ball, just continue to let them get open in the framework of the play and work the ball to them."

That falls in line with what McVay said Monday, which was that targets and ball distribution are more the responsibility of the play caller than the quarterback.

"[W]hat we tell the quarterback to do is to just make sure you do a good job of just progressing through whatever the concept is called and reading it out as such," McVay said. "We've got a lot of players that we have confidence in. There are certain opportunities where maybe we could have gotten Sammy involved, but ultimately, I think people have a tendency to blame the quarterback on getting guys involved. That to me, is on me as a play caller because we try to call plays to get players involved, to attack certain coverages — certainly it's an inexact deal in terms of getting the looks that you want. But, what you never want to do with the quarterback is make him feel like he's got to force throws to guys when the coverage doesn't dictate that's where the ball should go.

"Every play that we run, we try to have all-purpose plays," McVay added. "It's not perfect, but your progression is dictated based on whatever the defense presents. Certain calls, you try to get guys involved and certainly there were a couple [Sunday] we did with Sammy that didn't work out for a couple different reasons."

And so as 2017 continues, McVay said he expects Watkins' numbers will increase.

"We'll continue to try to find ways to get the ball in Sammy's hands," McVay said. "He's a good player for us, he will be a good player and these last couple weeks, I don't believe, are indicative of his production for the rest of the season."

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