The offseason is typically a time of speculation and constant discussion. Over the course of this Los Angeles Rams offseason, I will take one of those topics and discuss both sides and whether that idea should be bought (meaning you agree with it) or sold (disagree with it).
There will be a huge range of topics and I encourage anybody to let us know what other topics hyou would like us to discuss. Today we will discuss whether or not Rams head coach Sean McVay will make 12 personnel his most used in 2020.
The Rams Topic: Rams Will Use 12 Personnel 50% of the Time in 2020
11 personnel (1 tight end, 1 running back, three receivers) has become a staple of the Los Angeles Rams offense under head coach Sean McVay. The Rams ran this personnel 88% of the time in 2018 and 79% in 2017. This was by far the most in the NFL.
The Rams looked to be on this trend once again in 2019 as they lead the NFL in 11 personnel looks at 80%. Because of this, the offense seemed stagnant. Teams had a full two years to get a handle on Sean McVay and by using the 6-1 front were able to shut down his 11 personnel looks.
While running just formation the majority of one formation can be seen as a good thing. Doing it too much and you become the one thing you were striving not to be; predictable.
From weeks 11-17 last season, the Rams went from running 11 personnel almost 80% of the time to 58%. This is a 22% decrease basically overnight.
Last season, the team’s that ran the highest percentage of plays in 12 personnel, each made the playoffs. Will the Rams follow the rest of the league and run 12 personnel, or will Sean McVay get stuck in his ways?
There are a few reasons to buy this idea, but let’s start with the roster transactions.
For starters the Rams traded Brandin Cooks the Houston Texans. This leaves the Rams with essentially two starting-caliber wide receivers in Robert Woods and Copper Kupp. Over the past three seasons, the Rams wide receivers have included a combination of Woods and Kupp plus Cooks or Sammy Watkins.
To have their best players all on the field at the same time rather than pick and choose two of the three, it made sense to play 11 personnel. Playing 12 personnel would have meant having presumably Kupp on the bench. With Cooks gone, that is no longer an issue.
The second roster transaction that makes 12 personnel more viable is the drafting of Brycen Hopkins. While that most likely spells the end for Gerald Everett in Los Angeles, it also opens things up for more tight end heavy packages. With three starting-caliber tight ends, the Rams will be able to rotate all three and if they can get two on the field at the same time, it’s even better.
Lastly, towards the end of last season, the Rams seemed to make a conscious switch. After playing in 11 personnel almost 80% of the time in the first 10 weeks of the season, from Weeks 11 to 17, that number dropped to 58% which is over a 20% drop. That’s significant.
There’s the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Rams offense ranked 10th in the NFL in 2017, second in the league in 2018, and seventh in 2019. Despite allegedly becoming ‘stagnant’, the Rams offense still ranked inside the top-10, and statistically, it was McVay’s second best offense with the Rams.
Coaches run a system and they trust their systems especially if they’ve had success with it. Last season, the Rams still managed a respecable 51% success rate in 11 personnel which was down from 56% in 2018. However, that 51% success rate still ranked top-10 in the NFL.
Compare that to the team’s 12 personnel success and it makes more sense to play in 11. The Rams had a 47% success rate on plays in 12 personnel during the Weeks 11-17 stretch when they made the switch. That percentage would have ranked 16 in the NFL if applied for the entire season. The Chiefs played in 12 personnel on just 29% of plays last season, but still managed a 49% success rate.
On top of that, Sean McVay has proven that receivers in his system are interchnageable. If 2018 when the team lost Cooper Kupp to a torn ACL, the team didn’t switch up what it was doing. Josh Reynolds stepped right in and played well in Kupp’s absense. Just because the Rams got rid of Cooks, does not mean that a change in philosophy is on the horizon.
The team has also had two very capable tight ends in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett over the last three years and for the most part have not played them together when it would have been very easy to do so.
I believe the Rams do run more 12 personnel this season. Whether it becomes their most used personnel grouping is yet to be determined. The encouraging part of this is that McVay seemed to make a conscious decision to play more 12 personnel at the end of last season and it worked. A team doesn’t just coincidentally use a personnel formation 20% less over five weeks by accident.
With the Rams’ receiving group, it also makes sense to play more 12 personnel. There’s not a need to have three receivers on the field at the same time on every play and adding another big tight end like Hopkins should incentivise 12 personnel even more.
Lastly, the top five teams using 12 personnel last season made the playoffs. That is the direction that NFL offenses are heading at the moment. In nature and the NFL, you either adapt or die. The NFL adapted to Sean McVay last season, now it’s time for him to do the same.