Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is all about mismatches – just ask Oakland Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie. Cooper Kupp’s ability to create separation consistently when faced with man coverage from Carrie was a clear imbalance that McVay repeatedly exploited in Week 2 of the preseason. The 31-year-old mainly schemed this through an angle route.
In this first example of Kupp winning on an angle route, the Raiders are in a Cover 1 press look with nickel personnel. The offense has 11 personnel on the field and is in the same shotgun formation as the previous play, on which Todd Gurley ran a pin-pull sweep for 8 yards. With the down and distance at 3rd and 2, it is understandable for the defense to expect another Gurley carry.
Oakland does indeed play a basic Cover 1, buzzing down and blitzing safety Reggie Nelson (#27). After their linebackers sugar the B gaps, they drop into man coverage. Los Angeles’s offensive line does a great job picking this up via 2 jet half slide protection, with right tackle Rob Havenstein (#79) getting outside to Nelson. This is a six-man protection. As the center is left unblocked and goes to the offense’s weakside, the protection is a “half slide”. It’s classed as the weakside from the offense’s perspective despite there being one less man. This is because the tight end is in-line. Todd Gurley (#30) is the sixth pass protector and, because he checks to the weakside, it is 2 jet. He then releases to the strong side.
The offense has Kupp (#18) in a stack, with Sammy Watkins (#2) in front of him. Oakland cornerback Carrie’s assignment is to cover the second man to release; Kupp. However, Watkins’s deep out route and the switch concept clears out space underneath for Kupp. Carrie (#38) ends up on his heels, off balance, and in a bigger cushion from his press alignment with no chance to jam. Kupp fakes outside, resulting in Carrie overstepping in that direction. Kupp is then able to make first contact, as he sharply cuts and subtly brushes the cornerback away; winning inside.
The combination of routes to the left (a deep out, a shallow under route, and a check and release) leaves the intermediate middle of the field wide open. Following his three-step drop, Goff (#16) utilizes a hit and throw technique, bulleting the ball toward Kupp. The ex-Eastern Washington receiver, in plenty of space, catches the 9-yard pass away from his frame for the first down. He does well to hold on, as he initially bobbles the catch and takes a hit from deep safety Karl Joseph (#42). Los Angeles would go on to score a touchdown on this drive.
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Kupp in Motion
The second instance of Kupp running an angle route came on another third down. With 6:49 left in the third quarter, the offense has 5 yards until the first down marker instead of two. They also use pre-snap motion, with Kupp (#18) running from the left slot to a wide receiver trips bunch on the right hash. This time, 10 personnel is in use from the shotgun.
Carrie follows Kupp across the formation, telling Goff that the pass defense is man coverage, likely Cover 1. In this 3rd and medium situation, the defense is clearly expecting a pass by being in nickel formation with a split defensive front designed to rush the passer.
Post-snap, the Raiders do play a Cover 1 defense, with Joseph (#42) acting as the robber designed to take away any crossing routes. He was in position to jump Robert Woods’ (#17) shallow crosser which initially appeared to be open after corner David Amerson (#29) got help up in the traffic of the bunch.
Oakland has middle linebacker Cory James (#57) as a green dog; a player who will cover the running back or blitz if he stays at home. Los Angeles’ 2 jet protection is once more executed well. It is another six-man protection with Gurley checking the weakside defensive end and then releasing into the weakside flat.
Again though, Kupp on Carrie proves to be a mismatch for man coverage. The receiver drops his left shoulder and head feints to the right, faking out the corner, and Carrie repeats his previous error by committing outside. Kupp therefore has room inside, with the robber focused on the shallower route in this switch concept. Goff’s quick three-step drop, plus the hit and throw technique, sees him hit Kupp right in the numbers. It is an excellent throw, leaving him with run-after-catch room. The Rams easily pick up the first down on the 17-yard reception.
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The final time that Kupp ran an angle route was in another 3rd and 5 situation. On this occasion, Woods (#17) is the man motioned from the slot, and bunch, to the other side of the formation outside of the numbers. This puts Los Angeles’s 11 personnel in the same formation featured in the first video.
Woods’ motion is followed by Amerson (#29), indicating to Goff that the defense is going to play man defense. The nickel defense is also showing a six-man blitz, with both linebackers sugaring the A gaps.
To combat this, the Rams’ offense places running back Malcolm Brown (#34) closer to the A gaps to be better placed for the blitz pick up. They run a 3 jet half-slide protection, blocking six with the unblocked center going to the weakside and Brown taking a step to the strong side of the in-line tight end. Again, they keep Goff clean, expertly picking up the blitz. Brown deserves credit, as he uses leverage to deal with linebacker Jelani Jenkins (#53).
The Raiders do play an uncomplicated Cover 1 man coverage while sending six. Watkins (#2), as the man on the line of scrimmage, runs a 5-yard dig route that was wide open as well, but Kupp (#18) gives Carrie another beating in this follow concept. In this case, Carrie actually has excellent inside leverage, but Kupp still manages to sell the route outside and generate an opening inside.
Goff remains calm in the face of the rush following his three-step drop and hit, however, he throws this one low and away; down near the dirt of the Coliseum’s infield. Fortunately for the quarterback, Kupp lays out for a fantastic 7-yard grab.
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Kupp finished with six receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown, checking out of the game at the end of the half. On each angle route, all three of which came in important situations, he was Goff’s main read. The third-round pick looks to be an excellent, reliable option working the slot and moving the chains as a possession-style receiver. Yet he also demonstrated, even when the ball was not thrown his way, an ability to get open in deeper parts of the field.
Sure, this was just one preseason game against a poor secondary and little game-planning – you can bet a linebacker would not be lined up over Sammy Watkins when the games matter. Yet Kupp also impressed in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. He ran routes crisply, gained sufficient depth behind linebackers on a bootleg 19-yard catch, and demonstrated awareness recovering a fumble for a touchdown. Most importantly, Kupp again showed that he can get open at the NFL level – a large knock on his talents in the pre-draft process.
So Far, So Good…
For McVay, this is all part of the rescue mission for Jared Goff. Though criticized for bringing in another expensive wide receiver – one-year rental Sammy Watkins – the Rams have left Goff with no excuses if he fails to improve on his dismal rookie year spent in an archaic offense.
In contrast, McVay’s preseason play-calling has been as well designed as ever. It is even more effective facing the bland schemes of August football. Bootlegs, divides, levels, meshes, screens, and checkdowns have featured largely as simple low-to-high concepts that Goff can half-field read. The easy decisions do appear to be improving Goff’s play by combatting his lethargic processing speed. So far, so good…
With thanks to Coleman Crawford, who patiently talked me through pass protections in the West Coast offense.
Follow Matty on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matty’s other NFC West work here, such as why Seattle drafted three safeties, what Gerald Everett brings to the Rams and how the versatility of Haason Reddick and Budda Baker fits in Arizona.
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Editors Note: Cooper Kupp was misidentified as attending Washington State rather than Eastern Washington. A reader pointed out that Robert Woods was misidentified as Tavon Austin. The article has been updated with both changes.