Lone Wolf: How the Rams Can Win With Wolford

Los Angeles Rams quarterback John Wolford (9) prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

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After injuring his thumb against Seattle and having surgery on Monday, Rams QB Jared Goff has been officially ruled out for Sunday’s key matchup vs the Arizona Cardinals. While they have had many recent struggles, the Rams still control their own destiny. It’s win-and-you’re-in for this team, but with no Goff. The former Cal Golden Bear hasn’t missed a game due to injury since he was drafted back in 2016, so Rams fans will see a new face under center for the first time in nearly 5 seasons. How can the Rams win in Wolford’s first career start? First, let’s look at his past.

Who is John Wolford?

John Wolford was a 4-year starter at Wake Forest. He was an admirable passer, throwing for 8,794 yards, 59 TDs and 41 INTs while completing 59.7% of his passes. Where he really shined was as a runner. In his first 2 seasons, Wolford had -84 yards and 3 TDs on 177 carries. When you consider that sacks are included in rushing yardage, this isn’t terrible, but it definitely isn’t desirable. However, something changed after that. In his junior and senior seasons, the former Demon Deacon carried the ball 270 times for 1,204 yards and 16 TDs. When you factor out sacks and yards lost on them, he ran it 223 times for 1,493 yards. These are far more impressive marks, and he clearly put in work after his sophomore year. He also improved as a passer, leading the ACC in passing efficiency, passing TDs and passing yards per attempt in his senior season. Wolford ended up as one of the best QBs in school history. He ended up going undrafted in 2018 and signed with the Jets. After being released by them, he played for the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots. Wolford was pretty good for the Hotshots before the AAF folded. The Rams then signed him to the practice squad in 2019, and he’s been with LA ever since.

Aside from a few preseason games in 2019, we haven’t seen Wolford in a Rams uniform. He did well back then, but this isn’t preseason anymore. This is the biggest moment of his football career. What can the Rams do to help the first-time starter? It may not be as hard as you think. After all, McVay has been scheming around a not-so-talented QB for the past 4 years and he continues to post winning seasons. Let’s dive into the numbers.

How will the offense look under Wolford?

Jared Goff has the 2nd lowest ADOT (average depth of target) in the league with a 6.4 mark. He trails only Alex Smith in that category. He benefits from Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods being tremendous YAC (yards after catch) receivers, ranking 2nd and 6th in the NFL, respectively. McVay does a great job scheming plays for the QB to make a quick pass and let the WR do the rest. McVay also designs lots of bootlegs and rollouts to escape pressure and create mismatches in coverage. These might work even better now that Wolford is a legit threat to run every play, as opposed to Goff. Defenses can’t just abandon Wolford and focus on the receivers. All of this isn’t a knock on Goff, necessarily, but rather a compliment to McVay. As a first-time starting QB, you couldn’t ask for a better scheme. So, from a passing standpoint the Rams should run plenty of play action, bootlegs and short passes. With Cooper Kupp just being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the WR corps will be a bit depleted. Still, the game plan should stay the same. With these talented pass catchers, the offense can still click with Wolford under center.

Wolford obviously brings a lot to the table as a runner. McVay has yet to coach a mobile QB, so it remains to be seen how exactly he might utilize Wolford in this facet of the game. However, I have no doubt he’ll scheme up a healthy amount of designed QB runs, RPO’s, and read options to get the most out of Wolford’s skill set. With Darrell Henderson placed on IR, and Cam Akers still dealing with an ankle injury, veteran Malcolm Brown might be the only Rams RB in this game who’s touched the ball all season. If this is the case, I’d expect him and Wolford to account for 90+% of the Rams’ rushing attempts.

The Cardinals also primarily play man coverage. This benefits mobile QBs more than defenses that play zone, because if a defender is focused on his man and turned around, the QB can just take off with no worry of being stopped instantly. Here are some rushing stat lines the Cardinals have allowed this season to opposing QBs:

• Bridgewater: 5-32-1
• Flacco (!!!): 4-20
• Wilson: 6-84
• Tagovailoa: 7-35
• Allen: 7-38
• Wilson: 10-42
• Newton: 9-46
• Hurts: 11-63-1

Clearly, Arizona struggles against mobile QBs. Wolford should be able to get free on at least a few runs and threaten the Cardinals’ defense with his legs.

Final Thoughts

While this game will be far from easy, I think the Rams have a great shot at pulling out a win and securing their playoff spot. LA is 7-0 vs Arizona under McVay, and this team should be motivated. I believe the defense is good enough to win this game as long as Wolford doesn’t commit too many mistakes. If he can rack up around 275 total yards and a couple of TDs, the Rams should be able to get in the playoffs for the 3rd time in 4 years. If you want to hear more about Wolford, be sure to check out Jake Ellenbogen’s video on the Rams’ new QB!




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