Could Packers borrow some of Rams’ creative scheme to improve ‘terrible’ offense?

October 3, 2018

GREEN BAY — When Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers came to work last Friday morning, the Green Bay Packers coach and quarterback found they’d both spent part of their Thursday night doing the same thing: watching the Los Angeles Rams light up the vaunted Minnesota Vikings defense on television.

In addition to scoring 38 points, the Rams offense rolled up 556 yards while quarterback Jared Goff completed 26 of 33 passes for 465 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a highly entertaining 38-31 win.

It was a breathtaking offensive performance, one orchestrated by Sean McVay, the Rams’ 32-year-old wunderkind who was the NFL’s coach of the year last season, when he took the Rams from 4-12 in 2016 under Jeff Fisher to 11-5 and the NFC West title. So far this season, the Rams are 4-0 — one of only two remaining undefeated teams — and ranked No. 1 in total offense (468.5 yards per game), No. 2 in scoring offense (35.0 points per game) and No. 1 in yards per play (7.4).

“Aaron and I talked about the game Friday morning in our meeting,” McCarthy said. “You’re always looking around the league. I think it’s important.”

It would be unfair to assume there was any cause-and-effect from Rodgers watching the Rams’ offense to his comments about the Packers’ offense being “terrible” after Sunday’s 22-0 win over Buffalo. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence Rodgers had watched the Rams-Vikings game and then expressed his frustration at what happened three days later with his own offense.

But there certainly are new ideas — or, as McCarthy explained, new variations on preexisting ideas — out there, whether it’s McVay in L.A., Matt Nagy in Chicago, Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, Doug Pederson in Philadelphia or old-dog-who-learned-new-offensive-tricks Andy Reid in Kansas City. Reid might be the best example, as an old-school West Coast offense aficionado who worked under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay who now has the Chiefs offense humming yet again after his past two offensive coordinators (Pederson and Nagy) got head-coaching gigs elsewhere.

So, could incorporating some of those ideas into the Packers’ scheme help Rodgers and McCarthy get to a better place after Rodgers’ not-so-thinly veiled criticism on Sunday?

Maybe, maybe not.

To his credit, McCarthy did a terrific job of answering questions Monday in a way that ensured there’d be no public escalation of whatever rift had developed between him and his quarterback. He chalked Rodgers’ remarks up to his quarterback being “very passionate, very competitive” and pointed out how the two “have gone through a lot” in their nearly 13 years together.

He also pointed out what his offensive philosophy is and always has been predicated on.

“Our philosophy will never change as long as I’m standing up here,” McCarthy said. “On offense, it’s about making the quarterback successful.”

As it turns out, so is McVay’s.

Speaking at the NFL scouting combine in March, he explained Goff’s success and obvious comfort in the scheme: “What’s unique is, talking to some people about it, is it’s really the Rams’ system. And our system is highly predicated on what (Goff) felt comfortable with. And that kind of evolved as we got a comfort level with what he felt comfortable with. I thought his ability to be able to communicate that to us was paramount for us to be able to adjust, alter the game plans. But he’s one of those guys, he doesn’t really have many limitations. So it’s about finding what he consistently does well, putting our players in good positions. And that’s what we strive to do.”

During that same scouting combine, McCarthy met with a handful of beat writers at a local eatery and was asked about McVay’s scheme. While he said he doesn’t just take what he sees other teams do and incorporate it into this offense lickety-split — “I’ve never just saw a play and put it in,” he said — McCarthy did allow he often takes notes on what other teams do in order to potentially use it down the road.

“I have the yellow legal pads. Whether it’s a play or whether it’s a training technique or (something else), I’ll say, ‘Hey,’ and I write that down,” McCarthy said. “I have in-season notes. What happens if you’re so busy that time of year and that car ride home or whatever, there’s a lot of good ideas that come off that time. I keep it on the right side of my desk. I’ve done it since I started coordinating.”

Nevertheless, it’s hard to say what the turnaround time would be on incorporating into the Packers offense some of the new things other teams are doing. According to former University of Wisconsin and Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who had Shahanan as one of his offensive coordinators with the Browns, it might be hard for the Packers to do in-season.

“A lot of the stuff we’re seeing now that is ‘revolutionary’ — with the RPOs and wide zones and the run-action pass — that all came from Kyle Shanahan and his offense when he had Robert Griffin III in Washington,” explained Thomas, now an NFL analyst for ESPN Wisconsin and the NFL Network. “And then a lot of that stuff, actually, was from Kyle’s dad, Mike Shanahan, in Denver … and a lot of their passing concepts came from Bill Walsh with the 49ers, when Mike Shanahan was the offensive coordinator there.

“The way that that offense works is, every play has a complementary play and every run has a complementary play-action. So a lot of times, when you watch the Rams, (the plays) all fit together perfectly, like a puzzle. So to be able to just steal one or two plays from an offense like that wouldn’t work, because you don’t have the complementary plays in your offense. To steal those concepts, you’d have to steal, like, half the playbook and be able to install that. And the problem with that is, if you don’t run the wide-zone scheme consistently, like we see some of these teams, it’s not an easy thing where you just throw one play in.

“You’ve got to commit to it — from the spring all the way through the season. It’s just not easy to steal like that.“

On the other hand, McCarthy explained, much of what those teams are doing can be related back to concepts already embedded in the Packers’ scheme. So, if McCarthy, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and passing-game coordinator Jim Hostler decide it’d be beneficial, they could perhaps do some in-season revising.

“Just conceptually, some of the things (the Rams) ran in the game were some of the things that we put in throughout the spring. So that’s an ongoing process,” McCarthy said. “I think our current staff is more football junkie-ish. So we’re always looking at the trends of the league, and there’s a lot of cut-ups that are made (for studying purposes).

“There’s always variations of a concept. We’ve put in a number of new ones this year that we ran in the game (against the Bills). … Particularly the Rams, in their Thursday night game, they did multiple concepts out of their primary run formation. Things like that. Hey, that’s all part of it.”

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