Was mustering offense in the red zone really a problem? Throughout the offseason, Rams watchers and pundits alike have pointed to improved red zone performance as the reason behind a number of the Rams roster moves, from acquiring McMichael and Bennett to drafting Brian Leonard. However, the Rams were among the best in the league when it came to red zone performance, statistically speaking. Using Football Outsiders' DVOA statistic, let's look at how the Rams fared in the red zone last year.
[Recall that DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, and is measured via percentage, with 0% being league average and, in this case, a positive DVOA indicates how much more likely a team is to score when compared to league average. For a more comprehensive review, visit this page.]
Overall in the red zone the Rams have a 26.1% DVOA, sixth best in the league in 2006. Breaking it down further to the passing and running game, the Rams DVOA looks like this:
Red zone - passing: 39.7% DVOA, ranked 8th in the league
Red zone - rushing: 12.3% DVOA, ranked 14th in the league
Clearly, the field goal boosts the Rams overall red zone performance, and when you get into the passing and rushing game there's obvious room for improvement. As far as the ground game goes, a couple factors immediately come to mind. An upgrade at TE, to the more experienced Randy McMichael, gives the Rams some solid blocking on running plays. Opposing defenses will have to play him more carefully as he's also a threat to catch a short pass as much as he is to block for a run or even a pass to the running backs. Similar deal with Leonard and Bennett in the mix now, teams will have to play the Rams offense more conservatively with a variety of options available to Linehan and Olsen. Think about offensive schemes in red zone situations with Jackson, Leonard, McMichael, Bennett and Holt on the field, how would an opposing defense play that lineup? I think Leonard's presence, rather than taking something away from Steven Jackson, makes SJ more of a threat and improves the team's offensive capacity when he's on the field in those situations. Teams might likely play him as though he'll be blocking, leaving him open in midfield to catch a pass. I also think that a young and supremely talented line, with some NFL seasoning under their belts for 2007, will improve both games inside the red zone.
Red zone foibles hardly ended the Rams season, and their offense as a whole still ranked 6th in the league per the Outsiders' DVOA rankings (12.3% DVOA). Still, we can recall a couple close game losses (the infamous Josh Brown kick in Seattle springs to mind) where the blame fell mostly on the defense - rightfully so to an extent - but in those same games a successful trip to the red zone or even a TD instead of field goal could have easily meant the difference between 8-8 and a 9-7 playoff berth.
The method in Linehan's method gets clearer and clearer as time goes by. Sexy it ain't, but the more I see the more I like it.