Sharing isn’t just polite; it’s effective. That’s a lesson from the Rams this season.
The Rams have the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, and its fifth-most prolific, because new coach Sean McVay’s pass attack has been unpredictable. The Rams are spreading the ball around and utilizing non-receivers at a higher rate, and quarterback Jared Goff has been making smart decisions.
It adds up to 35.5 points and 383.3 yards per game and a surprising 3-1 record going into Sunday’s game against Seattle, and it seems to be a product of a locker room that doesn’t care who receives the glory.
“The first four weeks of the season represent the confidence we have in a variety of skill players, to be able to distribute the ball and get a lot of people involved,” McVay said after Wednesday’s practice at Cal Lutheran.
Four weeks into this season, Goff has completed passes to 11 teammates, and five players have been targeted on at least 13 pass plays. The most-utilized Ram is not a receiver or tight end but running back Todd Gurley, who has been the target of 25 of Goff’s 118 passes.
Already this season, four Rams have caught touchdown passes, compared to five, total, last season. The Rams have managed to consistently move the ball while using a different set of targets in each game.
Two weeks ago against San Francisco, the Rams’ receivers dominated. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Pharoh Cooper combined for 15 catches, 235 yards and two touchdowns.
Last Sunday at Dallas, the receivers combined for just nine catches and 92 yards. Meanwhile, the Rams’ running backs and tight ends combined for 12 catches and 163 yards.
Through four games this season, the Rams have targeted non-receivers on 43.2 percent of pass attempts, compared to 36.9 percent last season.
“When you do have the variety of skill players that we have, you don’t want to just force-feed a guy,” McVay said. “So I think that enables us to be able to spread the field and use everybody. “
All of this is by design. The Rams upgraded their offense during the offseason with the additions of Watkins, Woods, Kupp, Gerald Everett, Derek Carrier and Josh Reynolds. They also upgraded it with McVay, who in particular has increased the role of running backs in the pass game.
The Rams are far less predictable this season, largely because they’re throwing the ball more to Gurley (their leading receiver) and using Tavon Austin as an effective decoy and as a handoff threat. And even if the Rams’ receivers aren’t getting the ball as much, they’ve remained effective.
The best example is Watkins. When the Rams traded for Watkins close to the end of training camp, it seemed natural to assume that Watkins would be a high-volume, high-yardage, No. 1 receiver.
Thus far, Watkins largely has been a decoy. He’s been targeted on only 16 of Goff’s 118 passes. That’s 13.6 percent, down significantly from the 20.4 percent when Watkins was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015.
Watkins has been efficient, though. He has caught 14 of those 16 targeted passes and he leads Rams receivers with 211 yards and two touchdowns. Watkins has been targeted less than Woods and Kupp, but Watkins is averaging 13.2 yards per target, by far the best among the Rams’ top targets.
Goff said he doesn’t know, during a game, how often he is targeting certain teammates.
“Not really,” Goff said. “Sometimes you notice if you’re throwing to one guy a lot. Maybe you realize he’s been open a lot, but I can’t track how many catches a guy has during a game. I can’t really tell.”