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Film room: What Zac Taylor’s offense in Cincinnati could look like in 2019

Looking at the Rams offense to see what we should expect for the Bengals.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most interesting factoids about the Rams’ offense is how much of their playbook is ran out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers). In fact, the Rams used 11 personnel on 96% of their plays from this past season!

In this single personnel grouping, they use a variety of formations; frequently bunching receivers, making the other side of the field accessible to them. They also utilize a lot of motion; bringing tight ends and wide receivers across the formation and running backs in and out of the backfield.

Head coach Sean McVay is the play caller for the Rams, but he doesn’t just call the plays and sit back and watch. He talks to his quarterback Jared Goff until the radio cuts out with 15 seconds left on the play clock.

This single personnel grouping, “check with me” system can get teams in trouble. An offense must pressure the defense with their formations or their speed. Both create a need for the defense to be able to communicate effectively.

If it is done with formations, the defense must be able to make adjustments to their defense based on various factors. The most extreme include:

  • Having multiple in-line tight ends that creates an extra gap to be accounted for.
  • Aligning no running backs in the backfield, which assures a situation where the defense needs to be able to cover five receivers on a ball thrown immediately while still accounting for the quarterback run game.

Adjustments and communication must take place in certain defenses base on the number of extended receivers or a motion as well. Responsibilities and alignments change in these situations and if a defense is caught off guard, they’ll usually end up being screwed.

An offense that utilizes speed (like Chip Kelly) forces the defense to communicate and line up quickly and limits their ability to call vary their defensive looks. This means the offense knows what defense they are in most of the time, because they cannot change,

What the Rams do is kind of the opposite. It is something that many college teams have done, but many of them did it out of 10 personnel (one running back, no tight ends, and four wide receivers) limiting their ability to vary formations. The Rams use of a tight end allows them to vary their formations more and put pressure on the defense.

The Rams get lined up and McVay has the ability to see the defense and make audibles. They got a lot of attention for their “Halle Berry” call recently. That is the key to this system. Short terms that communicate a lot of information and allow them to change the play quickly.

Run-pass-options, or “RPOs”, are a hot concept in the NFL right now. These concepts have been around for quite some time, and illustrate the Rams offensive system perfectly. In the clip below the Rams have a run play called to one side of the formation, but because the defense has loaded the box, they throw the slant to the backside.

Play action is a huge part of what the Rams do, and the majority of play action plays are not RPOs. Goff and Todd Gurley don’t work too hard to sell the run action. The offensive line and occasional swiping action of tight ends does that.

The Bengals will have to make decisions this offseason on what tight ends they want to bring back. Losing Tyler Eifert this season hurt, but in the Rams system tight ends, are used more for their versatility than simply as receivers. Tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah would make an effective pair who could be used in the pass game and as run and pass blockers.

The Rams like to take deep shots in their play action game. The clip below is just one example. With A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross the Bengals have an excellent trip of wide receivers who could thrive in this system.

The Rams like to get Goff on the move by running bootlegs. In the clip below the run action goes to the right and Goff boots back around to the left looking to throw the ball. Andy Dalton is an athletic player who does well on boot plays. This type of play also takes pressure off of the offensive line because they are not required to pass block.

The Bengals need to make better use of their running backs in the pass game. It is not just Giovani Bernard who is effective out of the backfield, Joe Mixon is an excellent pass catcher. The Rams’ running backs (mostly Gurley) have nearly 150 receiving yards more than the Bengals this season.

Gurley lines up at receiver or motions out of the backfield. Although he does catch some check downs, the Rams design plays to use his athletic ability in the pass game. In the clip below, they run play action to Gurley, but then set up a screen. This is getting the ball in the hands of their play maker in a different way. The Bengals made Mixon their primary rusher this season, but they need to find different ways to get him the ball in a position to make a play.

Mixon isn’t the only young player the Bengals failed to get the most out of; John Ross has been severely underutilized. Quick screens like this one to Brandin Cooks could be a very effective way of getting Ross in a position to make an impact.

The clip below is a great example of a condensed formation that allows receivers to have an impact on either side of the formation. On this play, the Rams have wide receiver Cooper Kupp matched up with a linebacker. He drags across the formation and takes it up field. Goff is aware of the favorable matchup and hits him for a long touchdown.

The Rams are excellent in winning in man coverage, but they are also effective against zone. On this play, wide receiver Josh Reynolds finds an open area in the zone and sits his route down.

Just about every team in the NFL utilizes the jet weep. It would be a great way for the Bengals to get the ball in Ross’ hands, but they used it surprisingly little. All Bengals receivers totaled 9 carries for the season, whereas Rams receivers had 35 carries in the regular season. That means the Rams handed the ball off to a receiver on a jet sweep or reverse about twice per game while the Bengals did it roughly once every two games. It is not just about the play itself — jet motion and jet sweep action holds the backside which opens up running lanes for Gurley.

In this clip the Rams hand the ball to wide receiver Robert Woods on the jet sweep, and he takes it for a big gain.

The Rams run game is built primarily around inside and outside zone. The Bengals need to improve their offensive line, but they are a zone heavy team. They finally gave Christian Westerman a shot at right guard at the end of the season, and he could very well be given a chance to start under a new regime. He is well suited for a zone system so this would be a very good fit for him. Tight ends Kroft and Uzomah would also be very successful in this system.

The clip below shows a zone play with the tight end swiping across the formation to block the backside. This allows Gurley to cut back for a big gain.

Zac Taylor’s previous experience as an NFL play caller came in the last 5 weeks of 2015 when he served as the Dolphins' interim offensive coordinator after Bill Lazor was fired.

The offense looked pretty similar to the Rams’ system. Unlike the Rams, they did not spend most of their time in one personnel group. They still ran a lot of zone and play action pass off of it. They also ran some sweep and one-back power. Overall they were pretty heavy run.

Below is a clip that shows them using a wide receiver motion and the threat of reverse to hold the backside and open up the run.

It is hard to say what Taylor’s plans may be for the Bengals offense. Looking back at his time with the Dolphins, it appears he shared some things with McVay philosophically before joining the Rams. The Bengals will likely have similarities to the Rams offensivey, but Taylor has some experience outside of Los Angeles and is likely to put his own spin on things.