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Missed tackles and missed opportunities put the final nails in the Rams' coffin


If you can stand to look at it, you need to head over to Advanced NFL Stats and take a look at the interactive win probability chart for the St. Louis Rams 18-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It breaks down the game by crucial plays, assigning them a leverage index that rates how important each play is to the outcome of the game. The site does these graphs live during the games too, which is something I recommend you check out; we'll have a link up this week. 

The image above is a snapshot of the chart for the Rams' week 7 game, and I want to deal specifically with a few plays in the area circled and where the line swings from overwhelmingly in the Rams favor to eventual outcome of a Tampa Bay win. Observers keep pointing out plays and mistakes here and there that could have shifted the game's outcome, natural with a 1-point win. However, the plays getting the treatment here proved to be the straw that broke the Rams back. Do make sure to check out the graph on the Advanced NFL Stats site

Dive in after the jump.

It's the Rams second possession of the 4th quarter, the defense has just forced a Tampa Bay three-and-out. They find themselves at third-and-7...

3-7-SL 35 (7:53) S.Bradford pass short right to L.Robinson to SL 42 for 7 yards (A.Talib). 

That play has a leverage index (LI) of 2.2, a pretty high number for that measure (read more about LI here). Then the Rams make this play...

1-10-SL 42 (7:11) S.Bradford pass short left to M.Hoomanawanui pushed ob at TB 48 for 10 yards (R.Barber).

Another huge one, with an LI of 2.5. These two plays stand out because the Rams passing game has been coming in fits and starts all afternoon. Bradford was 3 for 9 on attempts prior to the completion to Robinson, 2 of those completions coming on his 3 attempts prior to that catch. With those two catches to Robinson and Hoomanawanui, he's now on a 4 for 5 "hot streak."  

The Rams' win probability is now at .89, the second highest point it's been all afternoon. If this drive pays off, even with a field goal, it would put the game away, barring some unforeseen disaster. What happens next...

1-10-TB 48 (6:49) S.Jackson right end pushed ob at TB 47 for 1 yard (B.Ruud).
LI: 2.4
WP: .86

2-9-TB 47 (6:21) S.Jackson up the middle to TB 44 for 3 yards (R.Barber).
LI: 1.9
WP: .76

I can't argue with the decision to run on first down, especially without seeing how the Tampa Bay defense was lined up while I write this. Jackson ran well all day, though less so in the second half. The blocking on the outside fell apart

As for calling the run on second down, up the middle hadn't been a productive spot for running all day. Gains through that part of the line were small, save for one 9-yard run, even in the first half. Jackson's best runs came on the outside, where the Rams had been using misdirection to get the defense to bite all day. That said, the blocking was decent on that play, but had Jackson gone to his left he had wide open field and an easy first down.

It set up a third-and-medium. And this happened...

3-6-TB 44 (5:38) (Shotgun) PENALTY on SL-J.Brown, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at TB 44 - No Play.
LI: .6
WP: .72

The call to work out of the gun seemed like the right one to me. TB showed blitz, though they didn't send everyone on the line, and it looked like Bradford would have had ample time in the pocket had the whistle not blown. 

3-11-TB 49 (5:35) S.Jackson up the middle to TB 42 for 7 yards (T.Crowder).
LI: .4
WP: .63

Jackson had a pretty good hole to run through, and made a nice move to break one tackle. Crowder gets off a Daniel Fells and makes the tackle from behind, getting Jackson by the ankles. 

They punt on 4th-and-4. They probably should have gone for it. If they get the first down and scratch out a few more yards, they'd have been in field goal range. Bradford and Jackson and the rest of the offense had actually done a pretty good job of moving the ball on that drive, even with the penalty. 

Instead, Spagnuolo sent in the punt team, putting the onus on a Rams defense that had spent entirely too much time on the field during the half. Following the punt, the Buccaneers were back to the same spot where the Rams ended their drive after just 4 plays. Here's what happened next, following an TB unnecessary roughness penalty that put them at 2nd-and-22.

2-22-SL 49 (1:52) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short middle to C.Williams to SL 41 for 8 yards (B.Kehl, J.Murphy).
LI: 1.2
WP: .83

Normally, an 8-yard gain on 2nd-and-22 isn't a backbreaker. Laurinaitis missed a tackle on that play that would have limited the damage to about 2 yards gained. 

3-14-SL 41 (1:27) (No Huddle) J.Freeman pass short right to S.Stroughter to SL 30 for 11 yards (K.Dockery, J.Murphy). Timeout #2 by TB at 01:12.
LI: 1.4
WP: .95

Even so, the Rams seemed well positioned to make the stop with third-and-long. Looking at the video, however, you can see that the defense is gassed, particularly the linebackers. In fact, the expression on Kehl's face is one of real exhaustion. You'll also notice which two players are in there at CB for the Rams. Fletcher came out before the 2nd-and-22. Bartell was in on the right side, Murphy was a nickel.

They sent the front four on the pass rush, but they didn't collapse the pocket in time. 

Stroughter was not covered, and didn't even merit a bump coming out of the slot. He gained a yard or two after the catch, but having been left wide open in the first place, the damage was done. Murphy was playing back, probably part of his assignment, but he didn't come up at all with Stroughter moving into a wide swath of uncovered field. Still,  

4-3-SL 30 (1:12) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short right to K.Winslow to SL 21 for 9 yards (O.Atogwe).
LI: .4
WP: .53

It happens fast. The Rams send their linebackers along with the front four. Dahl is deep, and Winslow is left alone to make an easy catch as Atogwe, playing up from Dahl, makes the tackle. Opposing receivers, tight ends and slot receivers, have had all kinds of success against the Rams in that area of the field. 

3-10-SL 21 (:30) (Shotgun) J.Freeman pass short left to M.Williams to SL 1 for 20 yards (J.Laurinaitis).
LI: 1.9
WP: .25

Freeman throws two incomplete passes to start the next set of downs, and it looks as though the Rams might have a shot...then he finds an uncovered Mike Williams on the left side of the field. It looked like the Rams were playing some kind of zone coverage, there was defensive back between Williams and the first down marker, Jerome Murphy, and Kevin Dockery was in the area too. After Williams caught the ball, both of those guys and a third player missed tackles that would have made it 4th-and-short, maybe. 

Of course, the odds favored the Bucs on a 4th down conversion at that point. But still...

You can see the procession of events that really put the game away: a failed offensive drive, unwillingness to go for it on 4th down, the typical problems covering slot receivers and tight ends and broken tackles.