Three points in the Super Bowl. Three. Points. That’s what NFL wunderkind Sean McVay coached his team to Sunday. The NFL’s best offense took on the NFL’s savviest coach, and Bill Belichick annihilated them. The Rams didn’t have a single play in the red zone in the Super Bowl and looked like a JV offense scrimmaging the varsity after they got a little cocky and needed to be tamed. For Packer fans this beatdown had to hit a little differently than it did for the other 30 teams that spent Sunday watching the festivities. Why? Because we just hired an offensive coach who appears cut from the same cloth. To some degree it felt like sitting at a dinner when the person next to you doesn’t like their dish. “Oh my god, this is disgusting, it’s terrible. Here, you try it.” Try it we will, there’s no turning back now.

Rams’ coach Sean McVay during Super Bowl 53.
Before I tear down the Rams and Sean McVay too much, remember that this is the same team that was second in total yards (fifth in passing and third in rushing) and second in scoring, finishing as the runner up to the red-hot Chiefs in both categories. This offense was incredible in the regular season, it was electric, but apparently the battery died in the leadup to the Super Bowl. What happened and what does it mean for Green Bay? Well it’s important to know what the offense is built on.
Sean McVay loves to say his offense is built around an “illusion of complexity,” but what does that mean? To say it simply, it means that it looks a lot more complex than it really is. Like a kid watching a magic trick. To the magician it is simple, to the child it’s as if the impossible was made real. In truth it’s a common coaching style, though not everyone uses the same terminology for it. Even high school football teams will use similar methods, albeit heavily watered down.
In the not so distant past it was common for an offense to resemble this: team huddles, quarterback calls a play, team runs to the line, runs the play. Lets say, for the sake of this example, the play is a run to the left. The team would line up, the lineman would figure out who to block, and the team would move in unison to the left as a running back charges toward the hole in the line. That’s not very complex, and defenses are adept at stopping a play such as that. There’s no misdirection, no illusion whatsoever, as shown below.

So how do you make it more complex? Let’s take the same play concept, a run to the left. Now maybe a team spreads receivers out so the defense has to move people further from the ball. Then give the quarterback the option to throw a screen pass, keep the ball and run to the right, hand the ball off for a carry to the left, which the line is blocking for, or throw to the receive to the left depending on the coverage there. This is exemplified in this image.

Now the defense has to account for multiple possibilities, and the offense can attack whichever alternative the defense is least prepared for. For the defense there is a lot going on and it’s complex, but the offense is split into several simple tasks. The line blocks for a run to the left, the receivers plan on a screen, the running back runs like he’s getting the ball, and the quarterback picks the best option. For 10 players it’s really simple. For the quarterback? Not so much.
Now, of course, the example I just gave is mundane and basic and more similar to an option style offense than what the Rams do, but it represents the overall point. The offense can be doing a lot of different things that are simple on an individual basis but confusing when added up. As the Rams did often, a single formation or a single play could result in the ball going in five different directions. So even when the defense figured out the play, or knew what to expect, they couldn’t figure out exactly where the ball was going to end up, an advantage their offense used to great effect all season. So what happened on the game’s biggest stage? Put simply, Jared Goff was exposed.
As I said, complexity of an offense can often fall on the quarterback. He has to know where everybody is, where everybody is going, where the defenders are, and where the defenders are going. If a team can run the ball effectively this is made easier. Simply set up the run, then fake a handoff so that the defense has to pause momentarily, and take advantage of the brief pause. The Patriots decided to combat this offense by obliterating the run (which was admittedly made easier by the Rams completely giving up on the run early on) and effectively saying, “if you’re going to beat us your going to do it with Jared Goff.” They mixed up blitz packages and refused to let Goff get into a groove. He looked confused, frankly. He didn’t know where the pressure was coming from or where the holes in coverage would be, so he couldn’t exploit them, though he had his chances.
Aaron Rodgers at the line of scrimmage vs. the Patriots.
For the Packers, it’s encouraging seeing the Rams regular season results and knowing that we have a quarterback who, even in a season where he struggled, is superior to that of Jared Goff. Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like the god amongst men that we are used to seeing, but make no mistake, he’s still got it in him to be great. In his introductory press conference, new head coach Matt LeFleur said, “We want to create what we call an ‘illusion of complexity,’ meaning we’re going to run the same concepts, but how many different ways can we run them?” AKA, the same philosophy employed by Sean McVay. So yes, there’s some concern that the Rams’ offense did so poorly against the Patriots, but that doesn’t mean the system is ineffective or that Bill Belichick has it all figured out. When push comes to shove, the Packers can’t mail it in on running the football as they were so keen to do under Mike McCarthy and the Rams’ did Sunday, and they can’t be predictable as they were in years past. In the event they can’t make headway running in the playoffs, however, I’ll trust Rodgers with the keys to the car over Jared Goff. Here’s hoping nobody holds the magician’s code when the Packers unleash their illusion of complexity, and that if they do then Rodgers and LeFleur are up to the task of facing it.

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I'm a Senior at St. Norbert College, currently studying political science. Born and raised just outside of Green Bay, WI, I'm a lifelong Packers, Bucks, Badgers, and Brewers fan. You can follow me on Twitter @VanAsten77


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