Prior to the Minnesota game, we delved into the stats to confirm what we already kind of knew: the St. Louis Rams had not been very good on first down. However, in last week's game against the Vikings the Rams made significant improvement on first downs.
Take a look back at that post linked above. The Rams, through week 4, had a -21.6% DVOA on first downs, -22.7% when they ran on first downs and -21.6% when they passed. What a difference a game makes. Through five weeks, the Rams now have a 0.3% DVOA when they pass on first down. On the run they got worse, now having a 28.7% DVOA on first downs when they run, more on that in bit.
In 33 first downs last week (I'm not counting first downs resulting in a no-play because of penalties), the Rams made gains of 5 yards or more 16 times, exactly half of those 16 successful first downs were running plays. Their first down numbers on the run are hurt by Steven Jackson's fumble on the third possession, and several first down rushes that resulted in negative yardage. They ran on 19 of those 33 first downs. Eight of those runs were successful, four for negative yards or no gain (including the SJ's fumble) and five for just one yard.
The opening of the passing game really helped on those first downs. The Rams threw the ball deep and receivers got those precious yards after catch on some of the short throws.
On the two drives led by Marc Bulger, all seven of the first downs resulted in gains of five yards or more, including a deep pass to Avery for a TD. One first down resulted in no-play because of a Jason Brown false start. Of course, that did come against Vikings' second team defense, but it did confirm that Pat Shurmur had indeed opened the playbook.
On the first down at the Minnesota 1-yard line that Jackson fumbled on, LG Jacob Bell drew a flag for holding Pat Williams. Williams had pushed Bell into the backfield and with his arms still loose, he knocked the ball out of Jackson's hand.
If the Rams can continue their progress on first and second downs, they should start scoring.