Football Concepts

Bears Rams Preview Pt 1: Can the Bears take a page from Sean McVay’s tight formations?

“Get to know the newer NFL trend of tightening formations. Backed up by evidence of course!”

There are two immoveable objects heading way for Monday night. The Rams strong return to the heights they achieved from 2018, versus the Bears stout red zone proficient defense. Both of these teams will be competing for seeding in the NFC, and it’s really a meeting of the minds. We all know Sean McVay as the boy wonder that took the NFL by storm. He is known for orchestrating a powerful Rams offense that took them to a Super Bowl 2 years ago. Are the Rams still good? Where did he learn his magic? Let’s find out!

“Tiiiiiime is a flat circle”

Hey! Did you know that McVay was on Mike Shanahan’s staff at the turn of the decade with the Redskins? The team wasn’t wondrously successful except for that magical RG3 year, but there another guy was on that staff, too. I think it was Mike’s kid…..Kyle, maybe? I dunno. Anyway, old Shanahan during the late 90’s Broncos heyday ran the shit of both inside and outside zone runs with Terrell Davis and some old fossil named John Elway, who grabbed some rings before he retired. The best part about inside zone is that it can make you famous if you aren’t a high draft pick (Mike Anderson and TD in Denver, or Raheem Mostert in San Fran. The list goes on and on) Now, the two teams that run lots of outside zone and play action the bejesus out of people are the Rams, and the 49ers….

Kyle Shanahan utilizes heavier personnel to accomplish this feat, and definitely uses his share of formations, but the big concepts for both teams is that you will see are big old fashioned play action bootlegs from the QB’s, and while the offense is going one way, routes and the QB’s are going the other way, resulting in some big downfield gains to receivers who have had plenty of time to cook up some kind of fancy comeback, post or deep cross. Either way for both, the thinking process is that McVay especially, wants runs and passes to look the same for as long as possible, until they don’t. This puts box linebackers in massive conflict on whether to press their gap and fall back the other way in coverage. As well, it prevents DB’s from being late to the party in run support. (or if they are anticipating pass, it will delay their trigger to run downhill against the run.)

6 feet one way, or a 1/2 dozen the other

The other adage for McVay, and where his offensive branch goes slightly askew in a good way, is that Sean McVay is noted for minimal formations and personnel groupings. His most common is 11 personnel, or basically three receivers. Usually you will see them stacked in a triangle bunched close to the O line. More so, he will use that SAME personnel WAY more than anyone in the league does. It’s harder to scout because so many possibilities can happen out of a play.

This is tough for DB’s to cover as the receivers can “set picks” for one
another out of their route stems.
Here is that trips bunch up top. Look at all the hell the Chiefs can raise on the defense. You got two guys crossing over the middle, another back out of the backfield pulling outside defenders another direction. Does the safety press down and help on mesh, or stay for the vertical shots? Who knows!? That’s why it’s fun!

The opposite idea, which again it’s six one way and half dozen the other, is our guy Matt Nagy seemingly likes to drop 197 formations and personnel packages. The theory behind this, and to each their own, is that it is a bitch to defensively scout on film and it forces defenses to prepare for too much during the week. However, this doesn’t seem to have its effect during game day. Maybe for a fella that runs a very meticulous offense, maybe…. Less formations and plays, are…better? Here’s the deal….I can IDENTIFY the Rams and 49ers offensive personalities. Still can’t for the Bears.

There are two things that I like to be efficient: My furnace, and my Offense.

**Side Note: Much like how cogent baseball nerds know that .OPS tells a more concise story than just average or Homers, the NFL has better ways to measure offense besides “total yards” and “total points”. Remember, every three yards gained isn’t the same. (When was it in the game, did it get a first down, who was it against, etc.) DVOA helps measure efficiency. Here is the link if ya want to know the definition, ya nerds:

I know the team isn’t next to their ranking, but these are the most efficient offenses by DVOA. Seattle and KC are the top two, and course the Titans and other familiar names. But then everyone else I just mentioned shows up when it comes to efficiency.  And ranking at number 5 highlighted in blue, the RAMS.

So WHAT’S the DEAL with the 2020 Rams, and do the Bears have to be worried?

The key again is that even though the Rams aren’t blowing the doors off people, they are very efficient. The Rams are the top team in the picture. Like in basketball, if a guy drops 30 points but jacks up 23 shots to do it, that doesn’t help the whole team offense, ya know? I will use it below as a reference. My thesis supported by some offensive stats now that we are a few games into the season, is that teams that are moving more to bunch formations, tend to have a better offensive output. It’s not the end all be all, but check out the following chart.

“Average distance between the two widest players in the formation” Going by the old school “just points per game” metric, you might notice some pretty potent offenses up there, like the Titans, Packers, (Raiders?) etc. However, you DO see Chiefs in the middle of the pack, and Dak led Cowboys at the very bottom. It isn’t the end all be all, but you see “poorer” offenses commonly at the bottom, and “better” ones up top.

Okay, so skill guys are closer together. Again, it depends on players, but going tight but more often than not it isn’t a bad thing, if you run the right plays at the right time. These tight splits create extra gaps for DB’s to cover in the run game, and if there are tight ends mixed in to those tight formations, they can get some good blocks on smaller DB’s by the line of scrimmage. As for pass routes, check out the options going tight allows, and see if you can put together why it’s become a bigger trend. Below is the Seahawks, and again it doesn’t to be receivers, you can squeeze two tight ends in, or however you want your personnel.

11 personnel with three receivers, especially if they are bunched, allows receivers a two way go too widen their routes. Even if you see just a solo receiver…..and he’s tighter, expect outside movement.

Stay tuned for tomorrows release with play breakdowns of the the Rams running fun plays out of these formations…and what the Bears can do to slow it down. Ok, bye!

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