The only thing more notorious than the Rams offense's red zone performance was their performance on third down. Just how bad was it?
Let me throw out a number for you: 32%. The Rams converted 69 of 216 3rd downs. That was the fourth worst 3rd down percentage in the league, behind such luminaries as Detroit, Seattle and Oakland. In terms of DVOA the Rams fared better, slightly, putting up a -18.4% mark on 3rd down, 26th in the league (they were actually the worst on in the league on 1st downs, per DVOA).
|3rd downs||attempts||avg yards||Success rate|
That tells part of the story. Of those 216 attempts on 3rd downs, the Rams had more than 5 yards to go on 131 of them, converting 28 of those. They had more than 10 yards to go 51 times, converting 8 of them.
The success rate on running plays is a little deceiving. On 3rd downs with between 3 and 5 yards to go, the Rams ran the ball 6 times, converting 4, and passed 39 times, converting 16. Without McMichael and the screen pass not really working until late in the season, I'm stupefied as to why the Rams elected to pass 87% of the time with 3-5 yards to go on third down. Wanna know something even crazier? With 2 yards or less the Rams ran it 23 times, converting 14 (61%), and passed the ball 17 times, converting just 7. Why? That explains the Rams -21.9% DVOA on 3rd and short (ranked 28th) and -26.6% DVOA on 3rd and mid, 4-6 yards (ranked 27th).
Obviously, the play calling takes some of the blame. I understand the need to switch things up and confuse a defense that's planning for the run on 3rd down and less than 5 yards, but passing two-thirds of the time with offense struggling with its passing game - for various reasons - just doesn't make sense. The pass play with 3-5 yards to go are more understandable than the almost 50/50 split with 2 or less yards to go.
It also points out some of the more obvious holes in the Rams offense. Though there's nothing here indicating the number of times the QB was sacked or hurried on those plays, it's not a leap to point out what a problem that was after watching the games this season. And then there's the personnel. Yes, the rushing numbers on third down look OK, but when you consider the many of the league's best teams converted rushing 3rd downs between 1-2 yards with a 70%+ conversion rate, you can see the problems the Rams had with blocking. The Rams, remember, converted 61% of those plays, certainly nothing special.
Personnel issues, obviously, played a role here. Steven Jackson missed time, and the Rams never had much in the way of a blocking fullback. Dan Kreider seemed like a good move, but he just wasn't over his knee issues. Missing a FB contributed to the poor results on the screen pass too, a play that would have helped tremendously in so many of those 3rd down situations.
Addressing the O-line, having McMichael back, and finding a FB (Brian Leonard doesn't fit the bill) would go a long way toward fixing the Rams 3rd down issues, a must if the team expects to compete .