You don't need statistics to tell you that the 2009 St. Louis Rams had problems. Despite Steven Jackson's impressive season rushing for more than 1,400 yards behind an offensive line that was rarely comprised of the same five players, the Rams offense whirred and sputtered like a rusty jalopy stuck in quicksand. Let's begin the TST review of the season that was with a look at some numbers that have much to say about the Rams offensive performance in 2009.
The numbers appear with their rank, where applicable.
279.4 YPG, 29th
111.5 rushing YPG, 20th
167.9 passing YPG, 28th
It was the year of the quarterback in the NFL, quarterback and receivers, as the passing game took on more and more significance throughout the league. Only three of the twelve playoff teams ranked in the bottom half of the league for passing yards per game. For the Rams 8 and 9 fronts greeted their offense down after down this season. With opposing defenses looking to keep SJ39 in check, that should have made it easy to create some space with passes behind the tightly grouped defense. Whether you blame the conservative play calling, the QB situation or the lack of wide receiving talent, that never happened, and the Rams offense averaged an impressively bad 10.9 points per game.
100 penalties, 10th
834 penalty yards, 11th
Few numbers on this list are as infuriating as these. Only 11 teams reached triple digits in penalties. Unlike many of those teams, the Rams offense was not good enough to overcome even the occasional 5-yard penalty. The youthful, inexperienced roster and new systems on both sides of the ball certainly get some credit for the high number of infractions. However, a quick review of the roster reveals some of the same old culprits. Alex Barron had 11 penalties, his most since picking up 13 in 2007. The Rams starting LT had 5 holding, a career high, and 5 false starts, a career low. Richie Incognito had 6 before his untimely release for maleficence. Rookie OT Jason Smith had just one penalty in 8 games and 5 starts.
-13 turnover ratio, 31st
Ouch. This one hurts too since an offense that can't overcome penalties surely cannot overcome turnovers. Rams passers threw 21 INTs, 6 each for Bulger and Boller and 9 for rookie Keith Null. Painful.
44 sacks, 6th (tied)
On the surface, this looks like the same old shoddy Rams pass protection we'd grown accustomed to, but it belies a much improved offensive line performance. Take away the 12 sacks allowed through the last two games - 8 yesterday, EIGHT! - and the Rams would be among the 15th most sacks rather than the 6th most. Remember that was a makeshift offensive line for the Rams starting those two games. For most of the season, Rams QBs had time in the pocket.
5.5 average yards per pass, 31st
Short passes riled fans all season, so this comes as no surprise. Again, you can argue the role of scheme and talent as the cause for this number. One thing it does say is what a poor job Rams receivers did getting yards after the catch, something that has to do with the trouble they had getting open all season as well as the fact that most of them were members of a practice squad as recently as this season.
32 percent third down conversion rate, 27th
Again, nothing you didn't already know here and no surprise since it seemed like the Rams were consistently facing third-and-long with that passing game.
Those numbers could only belong to a historically bad offense. The reasons for that are numerous, and they lead a list of things the Rams have to address before the 2010 season. To me, you can't underestimate the lack of talent the team had at WR this year. In fact, we finished the season with two starting receivers that had been on practice squads at the beginning of the year. Our guys had trouble getting open and too often had trouble hanging onto the ball. The inexperienced youth can't share all the blame for that either as veteran TE Randy McMichael dropped key passes time and time again. Yes, the play calling left us all scratching our heads every Sunday, but it's important to remember that this is an offensive system predicated on receivers being able to yards after the catch. That just wasn't happening for the Rams this year. Early on, the lack of three and even four wide receiver sets frustrated those of us who can remember the Greatest Show days. As the season progressed, those packages became more common to no end.