One of the more telling postgame quotes came from Rodney McLeod on Sunday, when he explained that the Rams didn’t do anything that was unexpected or un-scouted. They were anticipating pre-snap motion, moving pockets, misdirection, and all of the assorted noise that comes with those offensive concepts.
That statement was inadvertently damning, because it suggested that they knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop it.
So the real question on a Tuesday afternoon is ‘why?’ What was the real issue if the team felt like they were prepared?
Said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz:
“What happened on the field was I had a poor game plan. We had a very simple game plan. You guys know that the Rams use a lot of tempos out of their huddle, a lot of different motions and things like that.
The whole sort of theme was to try to make it as simple as we could. We’ve had success with that in the past. But in an effort to do that, also created a lot of conflict with what the guys were doing. It gave them a lot of stuff to look at.
What I thought would make it easier didn’t make it easier, it made it harder. Looking back at it, I came right in after the game and watched the tape. I really should have had a more complex game plan. It sounds funny to talk about, but a more complex game plan would have narrowed the focus of each individual player. Would have made it more difficult to execute, but it would have narrowed the focus. I think we could have done that.”
Schwartz was asked point blank if he could point to a series or a specific play to illustrate the difference between simplicity vs. complexity, which he politely refused to do. He’s never the one to go into micro-level detail, or name players individually, which means we have to look through the film and try to figure it out ourselves.
When I see the phrases like “narrowed the focus” and “a lot of stuff to look at” it seems on the surface like he’s just talking about playing less zone and more man. As an adjustment, it looks like they moved the corners closer to the line and went to some single-high safety in the late second and early third quarters.
It also seems like they adjusted the gaps for the defensive line, splitting them out a bit wider to help contain Jared Goff and keep him in the pocket.
Here’s a look at how they were typically deployed in the first quarter:
It’s a little soft, and you’ve got Fletcher Cox sitting over the A gap while the opposite DT is over the guard.
In the third quarter, there was more of this:
It’s not the wide-9 of years past, but there seemed to be a concerted effort to space the tackles over the guards (A gap to B gap) and then stay tighter on the receivers in an effort to limit Goff’s movement and not give up anything easy. He did struggle with accuracy a bit when made uncomfortable in the pocket.
More from the initial Schwartz quote, continued:
“We went to that after about three series. We made a little rally, but it was too late. I take that on myself. It’s my job to put the players in good positions. Particularly in the first three series, I didn’t do a good enough job of doing that.
It looked like we were having miscommunications or different things like that and that wasn’t the case at all. It was just guys having too big a scope of what they had to do in a particular play and their attentions were divided. Playing a lot of that stuff the Rams do is a little bit like playing triple-option football. You need a person on the dive, a person on the quarterback, a person on the pitch, all those different things. And that’s sort of what you had to do to them. That’s where we got derailed. I take 100% responsibility for that.”
It’s a good quote. Wouldn’t mind an actual football expert diving into the defensive film and providing more detail. And it’s interesting to think that complexity is sometimes better than simplicity when you’re facing an offense with a lot of moving parts, which means more opportunities for guys to get lost in coverage, or with their assignments.