In his end-of-season video conference on Jan. 17, Rams head coach Sean McVay emphasized the need to create more explosive plays on offense in 2021.
While an efficient approach yielded a 10-6 record and divisional round playoff appearance, also being explosive is important too. Both go "hand-in-hand," McVay said at the time, pointing to the Packers - the team responsible for ending their stay in the postseason - as an example of "why when we've been at the upper echelon of the league" when there's a combination of the two.
Speaking to reporters more than a month later during a video conference Thursday, McVay maintained it will be a priority.
"I think that's something that we've definitely got to do a better job of, starting with me this next season," McVay said.
The Rams' ability to creative explosives in previous years was due in part to having a speedy, deep-threat receiver like Brandin Cooks, whom they traded to the Texans last offseason. During his two seasons in Los Angeles, the Rams had 69 pass plays of 20 or more yards in 2018 (third-most in the NFL), followed by 72 in 2019 (second); Cooks accounted for 22 and nine of them respectively in each of those seasons.
Last year, the Rams generated 50 pass plays of 20 or more yards, tied with the Cowboys for 14th-most in the league, but just six of 40 of more yards, tied with the Jets and Washington Football team for ninth-fewest. However, McVay said on Jan. 17 that the lack of explosive plays wasn't exclusively based on personnel.
In the run game, the Rams averaged 4.3 yards per carry, tied with the Colts, 49ers, and Texans for 14th-most, but their nine runs of 20 or more yards tied with the Buccaneers, Giants, Raiders and Bengals for 17th-fewest in the league.
"I think it's guys that can make things happen with the ball in their hands," McVay said, when asked how he can add explosiveness outside of the quarterback position. "Certainly, I know we talked a lot about it throughout the season, plays down the field, I think there's different ways of creating explosives. It's a collaboration of, certainly I have to do a good job of giving us opportunities, and then the players are the ones that end up making it come to life. That's always going to be a big part of it. I think when you have to go 12-, 15-play drives consistently, your margin for error is so small."
The Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, whom the Rams defeated on Monday Night Football in Tampa in Week 11, served as a prominent example of this.
In the NFC championship game against the Packers, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady took a shot deep down the left sideline and connected with wide receiver Scotty Miller for a 39-yard touchdown pass with one second before halftime to give them an 11-point lead. A 30-yard completion to tight end Rob Gronkowski set up a 46-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop to give Tampa Bay a 31-23 lead with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter. Both plays helped Tampa Bay overcome three interceptions thrown by Brady.
Per analytics service Football Outsiders, the Bucs produced the ninth-most yards per drive (36.84) while averaging the fifth-fewest plays per drive (5.93, per Football Outsiders). Per NFL.com stats, they also manufactured 67 plays of 20 or more yards during the regular season, third-most in the NFL behind the Chiefs (69) and Texans (70).
"They found a way to stay together, really find their identity at the right moments and then they played their best when their best was required," McVay said, when asked what he learned from watching the Bucs' Super Bowl run after previously beating them. "You look at that sequence at the end of the half against Green Bay, just finding ways to win football games, making crunch-time plays. I thought really just from a coaching perspective, they did an outstanding job of being able to adapt and adjust their philosophy."
McVay will look to do the same as the Rams navigate the rest of the offseason and prepare for the 2021 season.
"The level of competition is just so great that you have to be able to find ways to continuously create explosives, give yourself a little bit of margin for error, that it's not always taking that many plays to produce points in this league," McVay said. "I think any good offense, anyone that's at the upper echelon of the league, that's usually something that you can probably check the box on."