A quarter of the way through the season, the St. Louis Rams boast one of the league's most effective defenses and an offensive that gets better every week as rookie QB Sam Bradford continues to impress.
Statistics porn time. Football Outsiders have released their DVOA ratings for NFL teams through the first four weeksof the season. This time, opponent adjustments are figured into the final numbers. The full explanation is available on the link to FO listed above. And what do the numbers say about the St. Louis Rams?
The Rams impressive defensive performances this season stand out, as you would expect. Expectations or not, after watching the Rams defense over these last few seasons, it's still stunning to see such progress. On the other side of the ball, the offense experienced a slight decline. What's behind the dip for the offense and the solid work of the Rams defense? Follow us down the rabbit hole to find out.
Here are the DVOA numbers and rank through week 4.
Overall DVOA: -11.7 percent, 23rd
Offensive DVOA: -17.4 percent, 26th
Defensive DVOA: -8.1 percent, 7th
Special teams DVOA: -2.4 percent, 23rd
Compare those to last week's numbers.
Offense: -15.2 percent, 23rd
Defense: -5.3 percent, 14th
Special teams: -2.9 percent, 23rd
Let's start with the defense, since the on-field results require little interpretation. Keeping teams to 17 points or less is good, no matter who the opponent is. Looking at the offensive numbers for the Rams opponents thus far, Washington is 8th best offensive team according to FO's stats. Holding them to just 16 points, their second lowest total of the season so far, speaks highly of the Rams defense. As for the Rams other opponents, Arizona and Oakland have offensive DVOA numbers toward the bottom of the league, 31st and 27th respectively. Seattle's offensive is ranked 24th.
Opponent adjustments surely represent some of the slide in the Rams offensive DVOA. Three of the four opposing defenses they've faced rank pretty low, ARI, 26th; OAK, 29th; WAS, 24th. Except for the Washington game, the Rams offense struggled in the first two, not scoring enough points to win despite limiting opponents to less than 20 points. Seattle's defense is the toughest the Rams have faced, ranked 11th in DVOA. Detroit's defense is ranked 22nd, so Sam Bradford and the offense will need a more airtight performance to jump up much after week 5.
The good news here is that the Rams offense has improved as the week's have gone by so far this season. FO doesn't have the numbers for week 4 in their premium database yet, but check out the Rams' offensive DVOA through the first three games:
Week 1, ARI: -30.4 percent
Week 2, OAK: -10.5 percent
Week 3, WAS: -2.0 percent
I can't say for sure, but I suspect that number will jump again for last week's game. That's a good sign, which shows first and foremost that Bradford is coming into his own, learning the playbook and ironing out the wrinkles in his game. He's still a rookie, and will struggle at times. The game against San Diego will be a big test, as their defense has the league's best DVOA mark through four games, being only slightly more susceptible to the rush than the pass.
One more note on the Rams schedule so far, per DVOA of their opponents, a combined -21.3 percent, it's been the easiest schedule in the league so far. Things get a little tough through the last three-quarters of the season, with an average opponent DVOA of -7.8 percent, the 29th easiest schedule. Per DVOA, San Diego, Atlanta and Kansas City look to be the Rams' toughest opponents remaining. The Rams get all three of those teams at home. The toughest road game is against New Orleans in week 14.
Of course, in the NFL lots of things can change in the span of a week.
The bottom line is that the already surprising Rams are getting better.