Football Outsiders has tabulated and released their DVOA data for the first two weeks of the NFL season. As for what the numbers say about the St. Louis Rams, well, it confirms what we've seen the last two weeks: poor offense, solid defense. Let's take a look.
Overall DVOA: -12.8 percent, 23rd
Offensive DVOA: -23.7 percent, 23rd
Defensive DVOA: -12.7 percent, 14th
Special teams DVOA: -1.8 percent, 18th
To me, the beauty of football is the balance. There's an ugly truth revealed in these numbers. If the Rams offense doesn't improve, they'll drag the rest of the team down with them. (DVOA explained here).
Using FO's premium stats I dug a little deeper into a couple problem areas for the Rams right now.
It all starts on first downs, where the Rams have a league-worst -30 percent DVOA. Throughout the data, the numbers consistently point to problems in the passing game, and though it doesn't explicitly indict the receivers, observation tells us that's a big part of it. When passing on first downs, the Rams have a -49.1 percent DVOA, meaning that defenses are preventing the Rams from getting 45 percent of the yardage needed on half of their first down pass attempts. That's pretty amazing considering opponents greet the Rams offense with loaded fronts designed to stop Steven Jackson.
First down runs had a -12.8 percent DVOA, which, to me, is an unacceptable number for a team with Steven Jackson. More on the running game in a minute.
The Rams' DVOA numbers for runs and passes on second down are flipped: -14.4 percent when passing; -35.4 percent when running with an overall DVOA of -26.1 percent on all second downs.
Third and fourth downs are much better for the Rams with an overall DVOA of -10.4 percent; -2.8 percent passing and 21.7 percent when running. However, third and fourth down success isn't enough to overcome the team's failure to pick up yards on first and second downs since that's going to put the offense in more and more third and long or even medium situations where their DVOA is -46.5 percent (3rd-and-mid) and -38.7 percent (3rd-and-long).
On all downs, the Rams have a -21.3 percent DVOA when passing and a -14.9 percent when running.
Problems in the passing game are pretty well documented so far. The failure of receivers to shed coverage and make catches has been the most noticeable part of that, though with such a small sample size in just two games, issues in pass protection and some QB mistakes (like taking the sack rather than throwing the ball away last week) have an impact as well. Losing Michael Hoomanawanui in week 1 and being without Fells and Bajema for most of the game last week really hurt those totals as well.
The running game is what concerns me most. There are parts of the running game where the Rams have fared well so far, but not in some of the most important areas, e.g. first and second down rushes mentioned above.
Take a look at the Rams at the Rams third and fourth down rushing DVOA. Not great, but one of the more positive areas of performance. On third-and-short, the Rams have a 28.6 percent DVOA, but that number is a piss poor -49.7 percent on second-and-short. Why such a difference? Explain this, I challenge you.
The Rams offensive line does a much better job in short yardage, power situations than overall. That's good and bad news, but mostly bad since the running game hasn't been effective at moving the chains on first and second downs. The Rams OL has an adjusted line yards number of 3.38, ranked 25th. The Rams have been 100 percent successful in power situations, the 3rd and 4th downs with 2 yards or less to go for a first down or a TD. Running backs have been stuffed, tackled at or behind the line, on just 20 percent of all carries.
Running the ball hasn't been as successful for getting 5 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage as it has in years past. Why?
- It could be poorer showing by the Rams periphery blockers, especially since the tight ends missed so much time last week. Could that be why the Rams haven't had any running plays over the left end and just 9 percent of their runs have come over the LT spot.
- Blocking at the second level hasn't looked good either, which allows more safeties and middle linebackers to get to Steven Jackson before he can get yards. Just look at some of the game photos featuring three and four defenders trying to drag him down. Jackson's a great player, but not good enough to get yards with that many people trying to bring him down.
- Runs up the middle, where the Rams have been doing 54 percent of their running, have not been very successful, just 2.80 adjusted line yards in that direction. Last year, even with all the injuries, the Rams had 3.70 adjusted line yards in the middle. Hmmm, problems with the center and guards? That's part of it, but it also seems to indict FB Mike Karney who hasn't looked good as a blocker at all this year, a sentiment echoed by Will over at Rams Herd.
- Part of me wondered if maybe Jackson himself weren't off to a slow start, but re-watching the first half of last week's game, he sure looked fine to me. Still, it's hard not to wonder if maybe that's something of an issue given that he did have offseason back surgery that limited his work in the months leading up to the season.
Problems in the passing game reflect the team's lack of talent at wide receiver. News that Laurent Robinson's dealing with a foot injury sheds a little light on why he has struggled to get open this season. Throw into that the fact that the Rams have suffered disproportionately with injuries at the TE position, and it's not hard to understand why the team is limited in their passing offense.
That's not an excuse on the ground. The offensive line should be a much better unit, playing at a higher level than they have so far, at least with their run blocking. Blockers in the backfield and on the outside haven't played up to snuff either.
There's good news here in that some of these issues can be fixed without having to wait for free agency and the draft. A better run game would help with the passing. And vice versa, more quick play actions and slants would pull defenders back out of the box.
Two games, two less than perfect games, represent a small sample size. Hopefully, the numbers start to look better after this week.