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Receiver shortage limits Rams' options on special teams

With Mark Clayton out, the Rams best kick returner man, Danny Amendola, will be seeing more time with the offense than special teams.
With Mark Clayton out, the Rams best kick returner man, Danny Amendola, will be seeing more time with the offense than special teams.

Football Outsiders released their DVOA stats through week 5. As you might expect when you lose 44-6 to the Lions, the numbers put the St. Louis Rams in all too familiar territory. We'll dig into the numbers a bit more later today. Right now, let's take a look at one number that is particularly alarming for the Rams and far off the mark of even last season: special teams. 

The Rams special teams DVOA is -6.0 percent, 29th worst and still south of respectable even for a season that's rich with special teams struggles. Stefan Logan's 105-yard TD return last week and a spate of missed and blocked kicks has much to do with the unit's low rating, but it's not entirely at fault. Where the problems lie might surprise you. Let's dig in after the jump.

As you might expect, punts and punt returns are on the positive side of the ledger for the Rams. Kickoffs and kick returns are responsible for the trouble. 

On kickoffs, opponents have returned 17 Rams kicks for an average of 30 yards per return. That's the third worst in the league. FO uses a statistical method that translates each aspect of ST into a number of points. By their measure, the Rams kicking has cost the team 6.2 points.

Without a doubt, injuries to the top special teams players are having an impact. LB Chris Chamberlain and Dominique Curry were lost early on in the season. Curry went to IR, but Chamberlain, by all accounts the Rams' best special teams player, is likely to be back this week. The Rams also promoted Britt Miller to the active roster, mostly to help on special teams. I'm sure the failed onside kick last week didn't help matters.

With two blocked field goals, most in the league and double last year's total, the Rams FG/XP point numbers have suffered as well, responsible for -5.6 points. 

Finally, there's the Rams kick returns, which have a value of -4.3 points. Overall, the Rams are averaging just 20.7 yards per return, fifth worst in the league. Their longest return was for 34 yards. Clearly, some of the same personnel issues have an impact here. Also factoring into the equation are the players returning kicks for the Rams. 

Mardy Gilyard has been the main KR man, returning 13 kicks for an average of 22.2 yards. Keith Toston has returned 4 for an average of 18.8 yards. Danny Amendola has returned just one kick this season, for 22.0 yards. Mike Karney and Larry Grant each have one return, for 17 and 8 yards respectively. Gilyard and Toston each returned 4 kicks last week in Detroit. 

One problem going forward is a familiar one for the Rams: finding a kick returner. Danny Amendola is the best option; he averaged 24.5 yards per return last year. Mardy Gilyard may be a solid option as well. However, both players are now needed more as receivers, which will take away some, if not all, of their availability as returners. That's particularly true for Amendola who still serves as the Rams' lone punt returner. 

So who does that leave? Keith Toston wasn't impressive last week. Recent addition Chauncey Washington has some experience returning kicks. It's a concern going forward, and a reminder that the impact of Mark Clayton's absence won't be limited to the receiving corps.