For the longest time, the red zone was effectively the same thing as the Gobi Desert for the St. Louis Rams, exotic, desolate and rarely seen by outsiders. The offense is still trying to find its way among the dunes, but there are at least signs of life inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
The Rams have a 48.48 percent success rate in the red zone. The league average is 53.53 percent, so let's not confuse this Rams offense for the Patriots, who have a 69 percent rate inside the red zone. Still, there is some improvement.
Last year, the Rams converted a stunning 38 percent of trips to the red zone, one of only two teams finding pay dirt less than 40 percent of the time. In 2010, the Rams were at 36 percent inside the red zone, so the arrow has definitely moved up for this team's trips into the great beyond.
Quarterback Sam Bradford had a solid day's work in the red zone last week against the Vikings. He finished the game 7-for-9 on passes in the red zone with three touchdowns. The problem is the frequency with which the Rams get to the red zone and when they get there.
The Rams made four trips inside the Vikings 20-yard line last week. That represents the second-most red zone attempts the team has had all season. St. Louis converted two of six red zone attempts against the Redskins. The Rams have made a total of 33 trips into the red zone this year. St. Louis has had at least three red zone attempts in just six games this season.
Those 33 trips to the red zone this year tops just 31 last season, but will fall well short of the 56 red zone attempts the Rams had in 2010.
Bradford's fourth quarter performances this season have been well-documented. Of the 258 points the Rams have scored so far, 100 of them have come in the final frame. That works well against other teams that are offensively challenged, like the Bills the week before last. Against Adrian Peterson and the likes, it means climbing out of a deep hole.
There's no simple answer or one player to blame for the slow starts. It's a cascade of factors.
"Convert third downs," Jeff Fisher said on Monday when asked about how the team could open better. "Avoid a holding penalty in the first drive. Hard to convert a third-and-20 in the first drive of the game. We get a sack or we come out with a first down, things are going good and we get a sack. It's just those kinds of things that we have to avoid. We've got another challenge again this week. We're playing the team that's top, I think top in the league, in rushing defense. So, we're going to have to, obviously, find a way to run the football and then make some plays down the field."
All those things are stopping the Rams from getting into the red zone in the first half.
Starting better would make life easier on Sam Bradford, putting more emphasis on the run game with the Rams holding a lead. It would also help the defense, a unit that could be very effective in playing with a lead.
Hopefully, it's something that gets better with experience, though we haven't seen any improvement on that front from the Rams this season.
If the offense could make how it starts games look more like how it finishes game, the Rams would see notable improvements in the standings.