The St. Louis Rams' Return Game Is Insane!

Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012 St. Louis Rams don’t have the firepower that they did at the turn of the century. For a team that often times struggles to put together time-consuming, point-ending drives, field position is key. The issue, however, is that the Rams aren’t putting themselves in a position to succeed.

There are two stats , according to Football Outsiders, that shine light on the Rams offensive struggles: starting field position, and length of drive. The Rams - who are the 25th ranked offense in the NFL, and 28th in scoring - would do themselves a huge service by improving in at least one of these categories.

For starters, you may have noticed the return game for the Rams has lacked explosion since the onset of the season. Rarely does it seem that you’re leaping from your couch in celebration for a kickoff or punt return that’s already put them in a position to score. In fact, FO indicates that the Rams are ranked 30th in the starting field position category, starting at their own 24 yard line.

RETURNING
KICKOFFS PUNTS
NAME ATT YDS AVG LONG TD RET RETY AVG LONG TD FC
Chris Givens 13 332 25.5 48 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Isaiah Pead 10 212 21.2 32 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Danny Amendola 2 16 8.0 12 0 12 101 8.4 22 0 7
Brit Miller 1 13 13.0 13 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Austin Pettis 1 13 13.0 13 0 9 54 6.0 15 0 7
Craig Dahl 1 6 6.0 6 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Janoris Jenkins 0 0 0.0 0 0 9 43 4.8 14 0 1
Totals 28 592 21.1 48 0 30 198 6.6 22 0 15
Opponents 23 565 24.6 69 0 31 314 10.1 26 0 7


As you can see in the chart above, there’s really nothing exceptional about the return game. The workload on kick returns - for the most part - is a split between a pair of rookies, with neither having a large amount of success in getting the offense beyond the aforementioned starting drive stat (24 yd line). Not once in 2012 have the Rams began on the opponent’s half of the field due to kick or punt return.

The longest return of the season for the Rams was, not surprisingly, a 48-yard return by standout Chris Givens. That return occurred in Week 11 against the Jets; a game in which the Rams lost. The return was fielded at the -4 and returned to the Rams 44 yard line. That drive resulted in touchdown. The short field certainly didn’t hurt their chances.

In a game that many thought would be chalked up as a Rams win, field position put the Rams at a serious disadvantage. Both teams had 13 drives. The Jets had only three drives that began inside their 20, and their average starting field position was the 29.9 yard line. In contrast, the Rams [again w/ 13 drives] began only four of them beyond the 20 yard line, and their drives started [avg.] on the 23.07 yard line.

You may be thinking to yourself "It’s six yards, so what?" Well, that’s where the the Rams deficiencies in cultivating time and field-consuming drives becomes a factor/concern. The other Football Outsider stat to take note of is average length of drive. The Rams are the 23rd ranked team in the NFL, averaging 29.62 yards per drive. You put the two stats together - starting at the 24 and gaining an average of 29.62 [I’ll round to 30] yards, and the drive comes to a halt at the opponent’s 46 yard line.

The good news for the Rams is that they’ve got a young kicker - Greg Zuerlein - who can probably make that kick. If you’re going to ask him to do it consistently, though, they may run into issues with putting points on the board. Zuerlein has proved that he can kick from 50+, as he’s one more 50-yard kick away from putting his name in the history books. If they want him to become a Hall of Fame kicker by his sophomore year in the league, they’ll continue to put him in a position to kick 63 yard field goals each drive.

The alternative is to find a way to get the ball deeper into the field of play - certainly beyond the 20 - when the Rams offense takes the field. And they must do so consistently. So what’s the answer? Well, with 75% of the season gone, it appears that the question still remains unanswered. Isaiah Pead has almost all but been relegated to kick return duties, but his statistics indicate that he might as well save himself the energy and kneel it. There are those who would probably prefer to see more of Chris Givens or Janoris Jenkins fielding the return(s). But does putting the two young contributing starters on the field for an extra down increase their chances of being injured? With that being said, would the potential reward outweigh the risk? The Rams also cut Saalim Hakim from the practice squad yesterday. It appears that his services on special teams weren’t needed....even with his 4.31 forty speed.

It appears, at this point in the season, John Fassel is set on utilizing Givens and Pead in the kick return game, and rely on Austin Pettis on punt returns. If what I’m surmising comes to fruition, I suppose that the fans - and the team - should expect similar results; a long field for the Rams offense. What was that Albert Einstein quote? MC squared? MC Hammer? Oh, "Insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

I’m not sure what the answer for the Rams is. The Rams rank 30th in the NFL for starting field position, and something needs to be done to address that. It’s a glaring opportunity, and if the team doesn’t improve in one of the two aforementioned categories, you and I are destined to go insane watching games that should be won slip away.

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