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Numbers game: A look at statistical projections for the Rams offense, defense and special teams

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Football Outsiders released their updated DVOA projections for the 2010 NFL season yesterday. Their predictions are a mixed bag for the Rams, with the biggest improvement happening on the offensive side of the ball. Let's take a look and discuss. 

FO projected the Rams to have a total DVOA of -22.5 percent, ranked 30th among all teams. That's an improvement over reality from last year when the Rams posted an overall DVOA of -45.1 percent, second only to the Lions for the league's worst. 

A pleasant surprise on offense, questions about the defense and something strange about special teams below the fold.

The offense accounts for most of the upswing in fortunes. Pat Shurmur's unit is projected to have a DVOA of -1.3 percent, ranked 23rd in the league. Comparethat to the -26.4 percent DVOA the offense posted last year. I think that's a pretty reasonable level for the Rams offense, with a rookie QB and some unknowns at WR and TE. The really exciting thing about is that the offense has the potential to be exceed that if they can find an effective balance with Steven Jackson carrying the ball and coax better than expected performances out of Bradford and his receivers. Staying healthy has as much to do with it as anything, though. An injury here or there could be the difference between an early realization of the potential the Rams's offense has versus a near repeat of last year's inability to score. 

FO's numbers are not as optimistic about the Rams' defense, projecting a 18 percent DVOA to give the Rams the 31st ranked defense. Last season, the Rams defense ranked 31st per DVOA with a 20.3 percent. The fact that there's no real change in that number is what stands out most to me.

In our conversation with FO's Doug Farrar, who wrote the chapter on the Rams in their 2010 annual, he pointed to the team's defensive line as the biggest concern. Most loyal TSTers point to the same DL as their biggest concern for the Rams. It's hard not to. DE Chris Long looks primed to build on his strong play last season, but the team will have to get a pass rush from the other side and pressure from the middle. Sticking with the pass rush, the Rams might have a pleasant surprise in rookie DE George Selvie, but it's still way to early to expect him to do much against NFL-caliber talent. James Hall is getting up there in years. 

What we saw from the middle of the DL during the preseason was encouraging. Fred Robbins looked rejuvenated. If he can get pressure like he did during the preseason and back in his and Spagnuolo's old days with the Giants, the Rams DL could surprise some people. Except for Clifton Ryan, who has never been great at collapsing a pocket, contributions from the other defensive tackles are still an unknown. 

Early returns on the unit's run defense looks promising, and that could help the pass rush by forcing opponents into more 3rd-and-long situations. If the defensive line exceeds expectations, the Rams can surprise plenty of opponents, pundits and fans. 

My biggest quibble with FO's DVOA projections comes on special teams where they project the Rams to have the league's worst unit with a -2.8 percent DVOA. That marks an alarming drop from last year's 11th ranked special teams unit that had a 1.6 percent DVOA. There hasn't been much personnel change in that group, and the most important players on those units are still with the team, particularly Josh Brown, Donnie Jones and Danny Amendola. Mark Clayton's arrival probably means Amendola will not see as much work with the offense as it seemed he would when Donnie Avery was lost for the season, which means he'll still be the top return man. The Rams also have Mardy Gilyard who looks like he could be a solid presence on returns too. 

I don't buy the special teams projection at all. 

The thing to remember with all of these projections is that they can and likely will change significantly. Fortunately, the Rams are now in place where they could change for the better.