Time of possession isn't the sexiest statistic to study, but it may be one of the most telling. When dissected, a team can take any game and find out where they succeed or fail. For instance, the San Francisco 49ers have to be shaking their heads at the 3rd quarter time of possession numbers against the Rams. With one of the best defenses in the NFL, they allowed the Rams to control the ball 84% of the time in the 3rd quarter.
Oddly enough, the 3rd quarter appears to be the Rams Achilles heel when it comes to scoring, or at least it has for the majority of the 2012 season. St. Louis ranks dead last in points scored in the 3rd quarter, but are 11th in time of possession during this time frame. Therein' lies the rub as to why the Rams struggle to close out a game.
The 3rd quarter is about half time adjustments. It's really the "coach's quarter", and it shows not only how well they react to what happened in the first half of play, but also gives fans a glimpse of what and how they think. In the NFL, coaches have mountains of data at their disposal at half time. Gathered by their staffs way up in the coaches booth in every stadium, they have video and still photos of every success and miscue. Eagle eye'd, these coaches can see both strengths and weaknesses of their own team, let alone their opponents. During the game, coaches on the sidelines listen to the booth crew as they search for avenues to exploit or fix. As the end of the second quarter of play draws to a close, they frantically parse all they've seen before scrambling to get the information down to the locker room. This is where coaches succeed or fail in there profession.
The St. Louis Rams have been dismal at scoring in the 3rd quarter, averaging only 1.8 points. To give you context, the New England Patriots average 8.0 point in the third period of play. The data I've seen says the Rams' defense has done a decent job, limiting opposing teams to 4.1 point in the 3rd and are ranked #13 in the NFL in this time frame. It's the offense that struggles most immediately after half time, ranking #32 in the NFL in scoring. This is where every Rams fan begin to shake our heads and wonder - Why?
When I look at the Rams coaching staff - and what they've been able to accomplish is so short a time - I'm impressed, but only to a point. My first hint something may be missing was after the Green Bay and New England games. In both those instances, Jeff Fisher and Co. were out coached in my opinion. The coaching staffs of these teams were better prepared to make adjustments at half time, and it showed in the final scores. During the Rams' bye week, I could tell the coaching staff worked on their ability to react and adjust for the 3rd quarter, and it showed against the 49ers. Maintaining control of the ball in the 3rd quarter against a great defensive team did two things: First, it kept the Rams defense off the field and fresh for the fourth quarter. Second, it denied the 49ers their game plan, forcing Jim Harbaugh to adjust even further after Alex Smith left the game due to injury.
Coaching an NFL team has more to do with pressuring an opposing coaching staff to adjust than many take the time to think about, and Jeff Fisher won the coaching battle last Sunday. The Rams need to follow through with what they accomplished in the 3rd quarter against the 49ers with the New York Jets this week, who average 4.6 points in the 3rd quarter. They're ranked 25th in time of possession in the 3rd quarter (44.22%).
If you're curious, the Rams best quarter for time of possession is the 3rd quarter with 52.71%. The Jets? The 2nd quarter with 50.05%. Best quarter for scoring by NFL rank? The Rams: 1st Q- 15th/ 2nd Q - 26th/3rd Q - 32nd/4th Q - 18th. The Jets scoring by NFL rank? 1st Q - 20th/2nd Q - 21st/3rd Q - 17th/ 4th Q - 26th. Stats courtesy of teamrankings.com