The 2010 St Louis Rams Offense: Passing Game

For part one of the series, click here.

There are no two ways about it: the Rams threw the ball quite a bit last year despite playing a rookie QB and having less than ideal receivers on the outside. Their passing game involved several different passing concepts and I am willing to bet that Pat Shurmur didn't install everything in year 1 with Sam Bradford.

Most of the Rams' pass plays utilized short to intermediate routes along with 3- and 5-step drops. You'll notice a lot of motion, "bunch" formations and formations with receivers tight to the formation. One reason that St. Louis utilized these formations often was because of their reliance on the shallow crossing route.

 

Shallow Cross

Despite displaying variety, one mainstay of the Ram's attack was a series of plays revolving around the shallow crossing route.  
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Drive

You might recognize the "drive" play because Brian Daboll and Eric Mangini used it quite often last year. It involves a shallow cross combined with an in route behind it:

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Here, the Rams run this concept against the Raiders:

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Note here the one receiver pushing (literally) vertical, one receiver widening to the flat, and one headed inside for the shallow:

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Unfortunately for the Rams, the pressure got to Bradford here and the pass was tipped. But you can see Amendola breaking in over top of the shallow cross:

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This is basically a "hi/low" or two-man vertical stretch off of one player. LB comes up to cover the shallow, throw it over him to the in. LB drops back to cover the in, hit the shallow. Many, many, many teams run this play.

The problem with the Drive concept is that it is extremely easy to pattern match if every time you send one receiver to the flat, one vertical, and one on a shallow cross you are running the same play. The defense can jump the routes and/or distribute zone defenders to take away all the options.


The key to Shurmur's system and the reason it was effective in 2010 was that he ran other plays off of the same route stems. For Shurmer, this can become any number of things:

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Mesh

Mesh is another play with these route stems that adds a second shallow cross. The shallow crosses create a great "rub" against man coverage, and depending on what you run with the vertical stem, you can create a horizontal stretch underneath against zone.

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Above, you can see Amendola motioning tighter to the formation to run his crossing route. Below, two WRs are headed on crossing routes while one pushes vertical and the back flares to the flat:

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This is why details win; Amendola and/or Brandon Gibson mess up and don't know which one is supposed to go underneath and which over the top. The vertical route to the bottom of the screen did it's job of occupying CB Deangelo Hall, and there is space for Gibson to catch, run, and get the first down.

Instead, the WRs run in to one another, Bradford has to double-clutch, and the pass is complete, but short:

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Jerk

Here, the concept is Mesh again, only with one receiver running a "jerk" route (named because it typically makes a defender look "like a jerk") which is essentially a shallow cross with a stutter step. The receiver will act like he is going to settle down or run a stick route, and then continue on the shallow cross.
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CB Marcus Trufant has a good angle to get to WR Mark Clayton on the shallow cross and stop him short of the first down. Clayton hesitates:

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Trufant loses his leverage:
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Trufant gets rubbed:

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Clayton makes the catch:

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And Trufant looks like a jerk:

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For a great example of the Jerk route, check out this video. You can also note the similarity between Mike Shannahan's version of the WCO and Shurmur's (bunch formations, crossing routes, etc.).


Stick

To further problematize coverage against the shallow cross route stem, the Rams often had a WR run a "stick" route as a part of the Snag concept. To run a stick route, the receiver would head in, then either sit in the hole in zone, or break down and pivot away in man:

 

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Vs Zone

 

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Vs Man


(note: WR Greg Little got a first down with this route in our preseason game vs the Packers)

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On the offense's left, there is one receiver vertical, one to the flat, one on the shallow cross:

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Amendola pulls up:

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Illustrating that he isn't afraid to "throw open" a WR, Amendola looks covered but Bradford throws the ball where he knows Amendola will be, away from the leverage of the defender:

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The ball is incomplete, but draws a defensive pass interference flag:

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Scat

The Rams would also run two stick routes out of the same look as "Mesh" in a concept known as "Scat":
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Note how this play develops the same as Mesh, with two shallow cross stems:

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Complete, first down, and an offsides call to boot:

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Slightly OT:
QB Phillip Rivers () may have invented this play at NC State:

"We ran it to open a game (vs UNC), to shut him up, and show him his play doesn't work.... We ran it, ran it again, then kept running it to show him it wasn't a good idea.... same formation, same play.....9 times in a row...9/9 and on the 9th throw it was a TD."

 

Constraint Plays

With those five versions of the cross (shallow, mesh, stick, scat, and jerk) run out of the shallow cross stem, Shurmur can keep defenses on their heels. And just when the defense thinks they have answers for everything, Shurmur uses this same look to develop a constraint play.

Above, you'll notice Bradford converting a 3rd down with the Jerk route in the Mesh concept. That conversion was the 11th play of the game for the Rams, and undoubtedly a part of Shurmur's script. Earlier, I wrote about how Bill Walsh began this practice in order to control what he shows the defense and set them up for big plays later.

(Can you see where this is going?)

Later in the game vs. the Detroit Lions, the Rams faced another 3rd and long. They motioned a receiver closer to the formation and sent two on shallow cross stems. To the right, you will again see one on the shallow stem, one vertical, and one into the flat. This is the same look as Mesh, the play that burned Detroit for a key first down earlier in the game.
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You can clearly see LB Lofa Tatupu (#51) bracing for contact as he attempts to reroute the shallow cross:

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Only this time, It isn't Mesh. TE Daniel Fells bails out of his shallow cross and continues up the field, leaving Tatupu off balance and sucking him away from the play.

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...SCREEN!

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I'll switch angles here to point out how much space 3rd down back Kenneth Darby has in front of him:

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That's a lot of space.

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Touchdown.

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