Rams 2011 draft picks: Did the Rams improve their red zone offense?

One priority for the St. Louis Rams' 2011 draft class was to address an anemic offense, one that had a very difficult time finding the end zone last year. All truth is relative, and having watch the Rams offense of 2010 move with all the effectiveness of a body rolled in wet carpet, you can be forgiven for confusing last year's bunch with the 2007 New England Patriots. But the fact of the matter is, the Rams too often had to settle for three points, or none at all, last year and it was one of those little things that proved to be the difference between 7-9 and 9-7.

One area that was of particular trouble for the Rams was the red zone. Even with a budding superstar QB like Sam Bradford and a bona fide superstar like Steven Jackson the Rams had a league-worst -63.0 percent DVOA inside the red zone. Goal-to-go was even worse with a -74.4 percent DVOA, according to Football Outsiders' premium database, the Colbert Platinum of football stats. Both the passing game and rushing struggled inside the 20-yard line.

There were a few reasons for the team's constipated scoring touch. 

  • The lack of run blocking from the interior offensive line effectively took away their ability to open holes and push the ball in at will. Running up the middle 60 percent of the time despite this fact didn't help either.
  • Pat Shurmur's short-field offense was terribly easy to defend, especially when...
  • The lack of reliable playmakers and red zone threats hamstrung the offense at all areas of the field, but especially in the red zone.

In the end, the most important factor is personnel. Outside of TE Michael Hoomanawanui, the Rams just didn't have anyone reliable enough to be a threat in the red zone. Defenses had an easy time with the Rams on a short field. All they had to do was close up the field, and spread their guys out enough to take advantage of the Rams vanilla game plan and lack of reliable weapons. 

The additions of Austin Pettis and Greg Salas are notable when you consider just how ineffective the Rams red zone offense was last year. Both are known for good hands and the ability to play in traffic. That both have a good medical history is worth noting too. Kendricks' hands get high marks as well. All three have the ability to pluck the ball with their hands. Salas' long arms make him a bigger target than his measurements would exist. The biggest of the bunch, Pettis, also runs a sweet fade route, any team's money maker in the end zone. Good routes, good hands...if either one can show some consistency, it should be a big improvement over the dropped passes and inability to separate from defenders that marked the Rams tight ends and receivers last year. 

The combination of the offensive options, between the rookies, whichever ones stick, and the current group of players such as Hoomanawanui, Amendola and Steven Jackson should give the Rams plenty of options when they need to send out the PAT unit rather than the FG unit. 

Of course, the same logic applies to why they didn't find some sort of second running back, preferably a power guy who works well in short yardage with tight traffic...or some other option. A better group of receivers - and remember, Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton and Danario Alexander should still be there as speedier options, with an outside chance Mardy Gilyard gets his game back - should make life easier for Jackson too, even if it does reduce the number of carries he gets each week. 

The jury will be out on these picks for a while. 

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