Scheme Of McVay Hasn’t Changed And That’s A Problem

Rams Head Coach Sean McVay After Joint Practice With The Chargers. Photo Credit: Ryan Dyrud | The LAFB Network

Going into 2020, the Rams could not roll out the same scheme as in the previous seasons since Head Coach Sean McVay was hired. Defenses have caught up and the ability to overcome newly onset schematic antiquity through sheer firepower was not feasible due to roster regression. Put simply, McVay’s scheme hasn’t been changed enough to fool opposing defenses. This could put the Rams’ offense in deep water as the season wears on. 

Scheme Of McVay Hasn’t Changed And That’s A Problem

Scheme Vs Playcalling

In order to understand what’s currently happening with the scheme, the difference between play-calling and scheming needs to be explained because while play-calling has changed, the scheme has not. 

Play-calling is something decided in the moment. It takes into account in-game factors such as score, time left on the clock, weather, and other variables unique to the current situation. With play-calling, 99 percent of the time, the plays have already been designed, practiced, and have a roster of players that have been chosen as the best fit for these plays. Therefore, while the plays can be called differently, there is a limit to just how effective the changes can be in the vast majority of situations. 

On the other hand, offensive schemes are the overarching offensive plans for how teams expect to score points. Schemes are designed to confuse defenses and/or exploit weaknesses. Schemes are backed up by roster optimization and practiced plays. Due to this, schemes cannot be changed on a whim and while changing play-calls can be altered quite a bit, the effectiveness of the changes is often compromised. For example, a team optimized for running the ball cannot become a gunslinger offense overnight and vice versa.

To use the Rams as an example, in 2018, McVay’s scheme was to run the ball to set up play-action which would confuse defenses because they would not know if the offense was executing a run or a play-action pass which slowed down their reaction time and opened holes throughout the field. However, his specific play-calling would be that one play is an outside zone run to the right and the second play is a play-action bootleg.

That being said, it is possible to call something outside of a core scheme but to still be playing inside the scheme as a whole. An example of this is when, after a run and then a play-action play fails, the down-and-distance is set at a 3rd and long. If the coach were to call a deep throw, it would go against his overarching plan to score points (his scheme) at the moment but it would also be the best way to score points in the long-run because it has a better chance of working in this specific set of downs. This is a microcosm of what happened in 2019.


In other words, McVay planned on keeping the scheme and play-calling intact in 2019 but when the scheme wasn’t working, play-calling was changed but the scheme was the same. The 2019 Rams were a running team that tried to turn into a passing one without the necessary preparations. In 2018, there were 561 pass attempts. In 2019, there were 626 pass attempts.

The reason for the Rams’ change was because the scheme was now figured out and predictable due to the games against the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots in 2018. In those games, the Rams scored a combined nine points. After those games, the scheme was never as effective and the total number of points scored the following season showed: in 2018, the Rams scored 527 points and in 2019, the number was 394 according to Pro Football Reference.

If the defenses of the league were catching up to the scheme, the smartest thing would be to change it, right? However, it was impossible to change the scheme in the middle of a season due to the time and resources it takes (usually one-to-two seasons). If the scheme cannot be changed, then the play-calling is all that can be. Play-calling is what Sean McVay changed, not the overall scheme. That being said, the offseason gives plenty of time and resources to substantially add to or change a scheme.


With an offseason to update the scheme and also make the necessary preparations to roll it out, the Rams had a real chance to return to a schematically refreshed offense in 2020. During the offseason, McVay could have added new aspects and brand-new looks to confuse coordinators, making them ask, “what is this offense doing?” This would give new life to the older concepts by allowing McVay to cycle new with old, making defenses think more and slowing them down. This season, McVay needed to refresh the scheme to overcome the predictability factor and cover for the diminished roster power on both sides of the ball. 

However, based on what was seen in Week One, there’s not really been a strong enough change in the appearance or functionality of the scheme to confuse defenders. The most concerning sight was that the scheme stayed the same even when the Rams had their backs up against the wall in a three-point game in which they had not scored in the 4th quarter. If the Rams were going to show something new and confusing, this was the time.

Basically, the overall scheme in 2020 is the same as in 2019. This means that defenses will seldomly be confused going into a game as to what the Rams plan is to do on offense. Defenses will know to box up the run and make McVay and quarterback Jared Goff throw often. 

This puts the Rams’ offense in a tough position right off the rip. If the other team knows what their opponent is going to do, they’re already halfway to locking them down. In other words, if the opponent’s defense knows what an offense’s plan of attack is, the game becomes rock-paper-scissors in which one knows the other has a strong preference to use rock.

Without an augmented scheme or even the appearance of one, the Rams offense is likely to fall into trouble as the season wears on which could keep them from reaching the playoffs in a difficult division.