Fun with numbers: Spagnuolo and the big lead

One of the things that will always mystify me about the St. Louis Rams 2010 season was head coach Steve Spagnuolo's tendency to take a lead, clinch up the offense and hand the game over to his defense. Sometimes that approach worked, e.g. San Diego; sometimes it broke hearts, e.g. Tampa Bay. (There were also those weeks where the Rams were just plain overmatched too, e.g. Atlanta, New Orleans).

Of the two units, the defense was definitely the stronger one. Players like Chris Long, Fred Robbins, James Laurinaitis and Ron Bartell gave that side of the ball much more experience than their teammates on offense. And the aggressive plays that the Rams ran on defense could make it difficult for opponents to put themselves back in the game. 

Perusing Football Outsiders' premium database this evening (looking at football stats on a Saturday night? Why yes, I am married, how did you know?) I came across some numbers that offered a reminder of those heart stopping second halves. Breaking down the offensive DVOA by score gap, it all comes rushing back. Check out the numbers below (remember with offensive DVOA the higher the positive number the better):

Winning small (7-point lead or less): -6.8 percent

Tie/Losing small: -7.0 percent

Late and close (second half & OT, score within 8 points): -3.5 percent

Winning big (more than 8 points): -36.2 percent

Holy mackerel! Look at how bad that number is when the Rams had an 8-point lead or better. It's basically a numerical reminder that they did nothing but run the ball behind an offensive line that didn't block well, oh, and who can forget some of the glorified hand offs that were technically passes.

You can see the Denver game writ large there, no? That game stands out in our collective memory mostly because they did, somehow, manage to get their first win, but the Broncos scored 20 fourth quarter points to the Rams' 3.

On the flip side, you see that late and close number and recall just how much more effective the offense was when Sam Bradford ran the no-huddle offense, improvising his way down the field. 

It's nothing personal against Pat Shurmur; Spagnuolo went on the record claiming that game plan as his own. Hopefully, hiring Josh McDaniels means that the head coach is willing to rethink that strategy, letting his OC and QB carry as much responsibility for the winning the game as the defense. 

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