FanPost

Why the 2014 Rams could be a Special Team.

Judging by the results of last week’s draft, Fisher and Snead have gone all in on the Rams’ identity as a smash mouth football team. With the early round additions of Greg Robinson, Aaron Donald, and Tre Mason, there is little doubt that the brain trust has abandoned any fantasies of GSOT Part II, and has instead settled firmly on playing to the team's evident strengths. The 2014 Rams offense will grind out rushing yards behind wrecking balls Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham, while peppering in play-action passes on the arm of veteran QB, Sam Bradford. Similar to last year, our 2014 defense is well equipped to continue battering opposing QBs, but with the added benefit of legitimate secondary depth, as well as exotic scheming by defensive guru Gregg Williams.

Gregg-williams_medium

via brooklynfans.com

Yet how can a team that rushed for a respectable 1,750 yards in 2013, and was amongst the league leaders with 53 sacks improve on a 7-9 record by simply doubling down on its strengths? Considering the Rams’ draft choices, it seems the strategy is to eclipse the 40 year old NFL team rushing record of 3,200 yards, while our defense simultaneously impersonates the ’84 Bears with 70+ sacks in order to breach the .500 barrier.

85-bears_medium

via mybearsandblackhawksblog.files.wordpress.com

Or is there another, more subtle route to more wins? While grounding and pounding, and punishing QBs has undoubtable merits, this style of football needs support. It is not enough to continually pressure the quarterback, or bombard rival linebackers with an endless ground assault. Smash mouth football requires an additive that will antagonize opponents’ tactical plan on offense and defense, every series, for four quarters. In order to be truly effective in thrusting the 2014 Rams beyond mediocre football, this bullying, and bruising style of play must be supplemented by extremely optimal field position on every drive. In the absence of a high-flying passing attack that can strike from anywhere, it is imperative that the 2014 Rams situate themselves amongst league leaders in winning the field position battle. The really good playoff teams already do.

Last year, KC led the NFL with average starting field position per drive on offense and defense. On average KC started its drives at about their 33 yard line and forced their opponents to start their drives at their own 23. Unsurprisingly Seattle and San Francisco are in the top 10 in both categories, while Washington is dead last.

The table below shows the best and worst team in each category (offensive and defensive starting position), as well as the four teams in the NFC West. From the tables the Rams defense typically lines up at the opposing team’s 26 yard line, which was good for 9th overall, while our offense typically started drives at our own 26 yard line, which ranked 29th overall. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

2013 Average Starting Field Position per Drive (Defense)
Team Rank Position (Yardline)
KC 1 KC 23.13
SF 5 SF 25.25
SEA 6 SEA 25.85
Rams 9 Rams 26.44
ARI 19 ARI 28.25
WAS 32 WAS 31.72
2013 Average Starting Field Position per Drive (Offense)
Team Rank Position (Yardline)
KC 1 KC 32.74
SF 2 SF 31.56
SEA 3 SEA 31.28
ARI 10 ARI 28.27
Rams 29 Rams 26.12
WAS 32 WAS 25.35

So have the Rams done anything to improve football’s third dimension, special teams? Last year, we relied on the Pro Bowl contributions of Johnny Hekker, the booming leg of Greg Zuerlein, and the dazzling return potential of Tavon Austin to carry our special teams unit. Aside from these special teams glory positions only Ray Ray Armstrong made stat-worthy contributions with 9 solo special teams tackles. By contrast the 49ers had 4 players with 10 or more special teams tackles. Kansas City had 3. Without the benefit of regression analysis, it’s hard to say if there is a strong correlation between special teams tackles and field position, but it certainly appears that way. Especially since the 49er and Chiefs players with the most special teams tackles are also those teams’ gunners. Gunners are the first players down the field, with the first crack at making a tackle deep in their opponents’ territory. San Francisco’s and Kansas City’s gunners are getting the job done.

So back to the question, have the Rams done anything to improve their special teams units, especially kickoff coverage/return and punt coverage/return (leaving aside FGs)? Judging on the style of players drafted last week, I would argue that we should see at least some improvement in our average starting field position, and here’s why…

Special teams players must be good athletes, must be fearless, and more than likely will be comprised of second and third string players. Snead and Fisher have made it their business to draft explosive players, and based on game film and anecdotal evidence, it seems as though the Rams have collected a stable of fearless players as well. Finally, through a series of trades that have netted several additional draft picks, the Rams have finally accumulated talented depth at key positions, such as DB that will be extremely beneficial to special teams. The players selected and signed by the Rams that fit the bill include Lamarcus Joyner, Mo Alexander, Greg Reid, and EJ Gaines. These players have the athleticism and fearlessness required to shoot down the field with a thumper like Ray Ray Armstrong, shed blocks, and make a play. Obviously, IF the Rams can limit the penalties on special teams, this core of players are poised to be difference makers on special teams and improve the team’s starting field position.

Let’s assume for a moment that they do in fact make the required difference, and have a material impact on the Rams’ average starting field position. How will improved field position ripple through offensive production and defensive stands?

Let’s take a look at last year’s offensive production based on starting field position.

Avg. Starting Field Position On:
Overall Avg. Starting Field Position 26.10
Scoring Drives 33.88
Non-Scoring Drives 22.42
Touchdowns 30.33
Field Goals 38.38

On average, the Rams started on their own 26. On scoring drives, they started on their own 34 on average, on non-scoring drives they started on their own 22 on average. Strangely, their average starting position on FG drives was better than their average starting position on TD drives. There is no ready explanation for this. I reviewed all 59 scoring drives and didn’t notice any patterns in the play calling that would explain why better field position ultimately resulted in FG ending drives. Perhaps it’s more conservative play calling, or more aggressive defense, or a combination of the two. At any rate, below is a closer look at the Rams offensive production based on different starting positions.

Offense
Starting Field Position on Scoring Drives Score TD FG No Score Total Drives Scoring % TD % FG %
Rams 1-10 5 4 1 22 27 18.5% 14.8% 3.7%
Rams 11-20 23 16 7 59 82 28.0% 19.5% 8.5%
Rams 21-30 8 5 3 18 26 30.8% 19.2% 11.5%
Rams 31-40 4 2 2 13 17 23.5% 11.8% 11.8%
Rams 41-50 5 0 5 6 11 45.5% 0.0% 45.5%
Opp 49-40 6 1 5 4 10 60.0% 10.0% 50.0%
Opp 39-30 2 1 1 1 3 66.7% 33.3% 33.3%
Opp 29-20 3 2 1 2 5 60.0% 40.0% 20.0%
Opp 19-10 1 1 0 0 1 100.0% 100.0% 0.0%
Opp 9-GL 2 1 1 0 2 100.0% 50.0% 50.0%

Clearly, accept for when we start between our own 31 and 40 yard line, our scoring % generally increases with better field position. Fewer penalties, coupled with better blocking results in better field position. Let’s assume with better blocking and fewer penalties the Rams are able to convert all of the drives that started inside the 10, to drives that start between the 11 and 20 yard lines. That would give the team (27 +82) 109 drives that start between the 11 and 20 instead of 82, which based on a scoring percentage of 28.0% should result in 31 scoring drives as opposed to 28. A marginal 3 scoring drives doesn’t sound like much, but considering that three of last year’s losses were by 7 points or less, 3 more scoring drives could have netted at least one or two more wins.

Let’s take a look at defensive stands based on the Rams’ average starting field position.

Avg. Starting Field Position On:
Overall Avg. Starting Field Position 27.05
Scoring Drives 32.05
Non-Scoring Drives 24.91
Touchdowns 33.13
Field Goals 29.78

On average the Rams’ opponents started on their own 27. When their opponents scored they started on their own 32 on average, and when they didn’t score, they started on their own 25 on average. Considering the Rams were 9th in starting defensive field position, this could be considered a strength. Yet, as can be seen in the tables above the Seahawks and 49er’s are better than us in this category. However, even a marginal improvement on the Rams’ part can boost the team over its fiercest NFC West rivals.

Let’s take a quick look:

Defense
Starting Field Position on Scoring Drives Score TD FG No Score Total Drives Scoring % TD % FG %
Opp 1-10 2 1 1 16 18 11.1% 5.6% 5.6%
Opp 11-20 23 19 4 57 80 28.8% 23.8% 5.0%
Opp 21-30 9 5 4 24 33 27.3% 15.2% 12.1%
Opp 31-40 11 5 6 19 30 36.7% 16.7% 20.0%
Opp 41-50 3 0 3 7 10 30.0% 0.0% 30.0%
Rams 49-40 3 3 0 4 7 42.9% 42.9% 0.0%
Rams 39-30 0 0 0 2 2 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Rams 29-20 2 2 0 2 4 50.0% 50.0% 0.0%
Rams 19-10 2 2 0 0 2 100.0% 100.0% 0.0%
Rams 9-GL 1 1 0 0 1 100.0% 100.0% 0.0%

Our defense is at its best when opponents are forced to start inside their own 10, which makes sense. The easiest area for improvement would be to snuff out the drives that start on our side of the 50 before they even begin. Let’s assume this year’s special teams can eliminate drives that start on our side of the 50. For assumption’s sake let’s assume the 7 drives, with a 43% scoring percentage instead started between our opponents 41 and 50 with only a 30% scoring percentage. Based on this assumption, if our special teams can prevent drives from starting on our side of the 50, our defense can eliminate one additional scoring drive on average (17 x 30% = 5.1). 5 scoring drives is one less than the 6 observed above.

Between offensive starting position and defensive starting position, by marginally improving our field position on special teams, the 2014 Rams can net 4 scoring drives (3 gained, one prevented), which may seem like splitting hairs. But with a strategy based on grinding out wins on the ground, and stifling opponents with a fierce defense I expect 2014 to be characterized by plenty of low scoring games. Even a marginal net improvement in scoring drives can make the difference between a 10 win season and yet another 7 win season. It seems that heading into 2014 our best chance at a winning record is not breaking sacks or rushing records, but grinding out wins inside victory’s very thin margins.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Turf Show Times

You must be a member of Turf Show Times to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Turf Show Times. You should read them.

Join Turf Show Times

You must be a member of Turf Show Times to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Turf Show Times. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker