Trading for Brandon Lloyd has shown immediate dividends, but he is doing more for the Rams than just catch passes. After two years in Denver, he shows up in St Louis as the man who knows Josh McDaniels’ playbook better than anyone. That knowledge and a dose of veteran savvy both showed on coach Spagnuolo’s biggest gamble of the game: a must-have 4th and 2 from the New Orleans 40 yard line.
Some plays are won from their design, some are won on blocking, others on a perfect throw, but this one is won in the first two steps after the snap. Lloyd’s first two steps, to be precise.
Here’s how the play lined up: Feeley sets up in the shotgun, but Jackson is right next to him as an obvious running threat, especially with Hoomanawanui lined up immediately in front of him. Saffold’s pad level is low, which could mean run play as well. New Orleans responds by cheating two linebackers and a DB in the box to Jackson’s side of the ball.
With a single-high safety, this means man coverage on the three receivers to the left side of the formation … not that Rams receivers ever get doubled up much. But the trips formation — Gibson wide left and offset, Lloyd on the line in the slot, and Salas offset on the inner slot — offers any number of possibilities, especially only two yards from a new set of sticks. Naturally, the Saints press their coverage.
What Lloyd does next is laugh-out-loud funny on replay. You can see his head turned toward the center, because his timing off the snap is essential. As soon as the ball moves, he plows forward into his man and bowls him directly into the man covering Salas.
If you were wondering how Salas got so free on this must-make play, that’s all there was to it. Two steps and a bunch of calculated mayhem, with Lloyd playing roller derby and Gibson selling a go route to clear out the third defender. It’s the easiest pass Feeley gets to throw all day. Salas picks up 17 yards before he’s touched, then gets up and runs for 16 more, but those extra are called back on replay.
Four plays later the Rams drive stalls, but Josh Brown connects to give the Rams their first lead in weeks, a lead they would never surrender. More importantly, the Rams never surrendered their aggressive attitude that fed this play call and its success.
And while we praise Josh McDaniels for his play design and his kinship with Lloyd, who knew exactly how to run it to spring his counterpart, let’s not forget the stones it took for Steve Spagnuolo to call that play in the first place. There was no timeout. No discussion. 4th and 2 on their 40, a no-punt-zone, no question.
The decision to call the play itself was a marked difference from Spags’ “play-it-safe” mentality when faced with this exact down and distance against the Washington Redskins in 2009.