Continuity. That was the offseason buzzword for the St. Louis Rams. Players would finally reap the benefits of being in the same stable system for a second consecutive season, particularly the offense. Five games into the season, are the Rams seeing the benefits of continuity?
Let's take a look.
We'll start with the defense, because the continuity is a little different there. The Rams made one big change from 2012 to 2013, hiring Tim Walton to be the team's full-time defensive coordinator. No more committee approach, despite a surprising level of effectiveness last season. The players, with the exception of the safeties and outside linebackers (until Week 5 when Jo-Lonn Dunbar returned) and the assistant coaches are the same.
Using Football Outsiders DVOA, here's a look at how the Rams defense stacks up so far this season with the first five games of 2012. Remember, DVOA is an efficiency metric measuring the success of each play weighted for opponents. That means a negative number is better for a defense, vice versa for an offense.
2012, Weeks 1-5
Defensive DVOA: -14.5 percent
Football Outsiders doesn't separate out the pass/run defense DVOA number for a certain point in the season, so here are the run/pass defensive DVOA numbers for the entire 2012 season.
Run defense DVOA (2012): -12.6 percent
Pass defense DVOA (2012): -6.2 percent
2013, Weeks 1-5
Defensive DVOA: 12.7 percent
Run defense DVOA: -9.5 percent
Pass defense DVOA: 31.7 percent
The decline in the pass defense is significant. That's a massive swing from what it was last season. But the secondary is where the continuity is different. The Rams have new starting safeties, and changes at linebacker.
Here's where the continuity was really supposed to make a difference. So is it?
(Again, using DVOA, positive numbers for the offense are what you want to see).
2012, Weeks 1-5
Offensive DVOA: -19.6 percent
And here are the run/pass offensive DVOA numbers for the entire 2012 season:
Pass offense DVOA: 7.4 percent
Run offense DVOA: -4.5 percent
Overall offensive DVOA for 2012: -4.2 percent
2013 Weeks 1-5
Offensive DVOA: -15.1 percent
Pass offense DVOA: -5.4 percent
Run offense DVOA: -29.4 percent
Overall, the offense is playing a little better than it did through five weeks last season. A modest improvement in the running game would help, especially now that the Rams have recommitted to running the football.
The passing game is essentially flat compared to last season, down slightly from its DVOA for all 16 games last year. It's not regression, but it's not exactly a leap forward, especially when you consider the investments made in the offense, bringing in free agents Jake Long, Jared Cook and trading up to get Tavon Austin.
Week to week
Here are the weekly DVOA numbers for all facets of the Rams game for the first five weeks of this season and last.
What stands out the most is that this season, the offense has really been hurt by two rock bottom games, against Dallas and San Francisco. Also worth noting is that the running game wasn't much better through five weeks last season than it is this year.
Continuity and the quarterback
"Just being in the same offense for the second year," Sam Bradford said Wednesday after practice. "I think that helps, knowing that going into the week, on a day like today, Wednesday, when the game plan gets put in for the most part I've seen all the plays or repped all the plays that were running, as opposed to last year where there were times where a good majority of what we were putting in was new.
"I think that helps, then obviously the guys around me. I think those guys are playing really well up front giving me time to make the decisions that I need to get the ball to the open receiver."
Here are Bradford's numbers through the first five games in 2012:
And here they are for 2013:
Ignore the win/loss record. It's a team game, and the quarterback can only do so much. I left in there just so we could have a reference point for the team's record.
Bradford has more touchdowns, passing yards and fewer interceptions. His completion percentage is up, but it's still not above 60 percent. He finished last season with a 59.5 percent completion rate. His yards per attempt number is down almost a full yard. That means he's throwing shorter passes, which makes the completion percentage a problem. Bradford's critics held their noses up at his Rookie of the Year campaign because his 60 percent completion rate then was so closely linked with his 6.0 yards per attempt in Pat Shurmur's offense.
And with that, I realize I've set off a series of irrational comments. But hold on before you let your rage take over.
There are still 11 games left in the season. The offense can get better. It did last season. Now's the time to see this continuity start coming to fruition.