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Is "50" The Rams' Magic Number?

Reaching "50" may be the key to the Rams playoff aspirations for 2013.

Sam Greenwood

*Editor's note: I would like to welcome Ramfan1313 to the Turf Show Times staff. He's been a long time fanposter here, and is a great addition. - Brandon Birkhead*

The number "50" has been significant in my life on only two occasions: the day I turned 50 years old (no jumping for joy there), and the first time I was introduced to the elixir of the gods; more commonly known as beer (Labatt 50 Ale, a fond memory of my childhood). In the 45 plus years I have been an NFL football fan, I can't for the life of me associate a player, event or occurrence with the number 50. Until now.

During the off season, the Rams committed a considerable amount of resources to improving an offense that, in 2012, ranked 25th in points scored (18.7) and 23'rd overall (yards gained). Although the Rams lost Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson to other teams, they added Jared Cook and Jake Long as free agents, and drafted Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Barrett Jones and Zac Stacy. The Rams now have the pieces in place to potentially become a top 15 offense and playoff contender in the coming season. Many an opposing defensive coordinator will have sleepless nights, with visions of the following diagram dancing in their heads:



The significance of the number "50"? From an article written by Joe Fortenbaugh on June 18, 2013 for the National Football Post: "The magic number is 50"

"Average a combined total of 50 rushing attempts and completions per game and a winning season will likely follow."

Mike Lombardi is the current General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. He founded the National Football Post, and has written for and S.I., as well as having held various executive positions in the NFL for over twenty years. It is Lombardi who has touted the importance of pass completions - plus rushing attempts - per game. His belief is that a good, winning football team will average in the high forties or better in rushing attempts and completions over a season. The accompanying chart (from the article) presents both the highest and lowest ranked NFL teams in terms of average rushes - plus completions - per game for the 2012 season:

odds chart

Observations and Analysis

  1. 7 of the 12 playoff teams ranked in the top ten on this list. The other five playoff teams (Cincinnati, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Baltimore) all ranked in the top half of the league. None of the bottom 10 ranked teams made the playoffs.
  2. The Rams ranked 25th on this list, which coincides with their league ranking in points scored.
  3. Three teams (Dallas, Detroit and New Orleans) made the top ten; yet had records of .500 or worse. This aberration can be explained, at least partially, by how poor their defenses were; ranking 24'th, 27'th and 31'st, respectively, in points allowed. These three teams confirm that a won/loss record is determined by many factors, not solely an average completions - plus rushing attempts - benchmark.
  4. The blue highlighted areas represent two totals: the average completions/rushing attempts for the top ten/bottom ten teams combined, and the cumulative won/loss % for the top ten/bottom ten teams.
  5. In 512 games played last year, there were 228 instances when a team produced the magic number of "50" or better. The combined record for those teams in those games was 153-73-2 (67.1%). In addition, when a team produced the magic number of "50", and held their opposition to less than "50", the teams combined record was 113-29-1 (79.0%).
  6. The data shows what appears to be a co-relation between rushes/completions per game and won/loss record.

To further support Lombardi's theory, the article expands the sample size by analyzing the last five years of related data:

"1. 30 of the 50 teams (60%) that ranked in the top-10 in rushing attempts + completions qualified for the playoffs.

2. Only five of the 50 teams (10%) that ranked in the top-10 in rushing attempts + completions produced a losing record.

3. The 50 teams that ranked in the top-10 over the last five years combined to post a regular season record of 491-308-1 (.614). That average winning percentage falls just short of a 10-6 campaign (.625).

4. The 50 teams that ranked in the top-10 combined to average a total of 51.176 rushing attempts + completions per game.

5. If you take only the teams that averaged 50.0 or more rushing attempts + completions per game over the last five years, you get a combined regular season record of 339-189 (.642), with 22 of 33 (66%) teams qualifying for the postseason. That winning percentage puts a team in between 10 and 11 wins per season."

What must a team do to achieve the magic number of 50 in completions plus rushing attempts?? A pair of statistics lend insight into how a team can reach the magic number.

From the article:

"So how does a team achieve an average of 50.0 rushing attempts + completions per game? Here are two statistics that appear to play an integral role:

Convert on third down: Of the 33 teams that posted an average of 50.0 rushing attempts + completions per game over the last five years, 22 (69.6%) ranked in the top-10 in the NFL in third down conversions. Move the sticks at a high rate and you’ll have more opportunities to both complete passes and run the ball.

Quarterback rating: If you take a look at the top-10 teams in rushing attempts + completions in the above chart, you’ll notice that nine of those organizations have a quarterback who ranked in the top-10 in passer rating in 2012 (only Detroit’s Matthew Stafford failed to crack the mark). The QB rating criteria appears obvious: Elite quarterbacks produce elite numbers, which leads to a high rushing attempts + completions average."

The numbers behind the numbers

Lombardi's theory certainly holds validity when looked at using his methodology. Does it hold up under closer scrutiny and from different angles? What can we learn about the Rams offense from looking more deeply into his theory?

Rams 16 game statistics

The article looks at the season as a whole and averages out the completions plus rushing attempts. The accompanying chart breaks down this statistic for each game of the 2012 season: the Rams total for each game, their opponents total, the differential between the two teams, and who won the game:

Opponent Rushing Attempts Completions Total Opponent Total Differential Win/Loss
Detroit 26 17 43 50 -7 L
Washington 27 26 53 49 4 W
Chicago 17 18 35 51 -16 L
Seattle 27 17 44 51 -7 W
Arizona 32 7 39 45 -6 W
Miami 27 26 53 38 15 L
Green Bay 22 21 43 56 -13 L
New England 23 23 46 52 -6 L
San Francisco 37 28 65 52 13 T
N.Y. Jets 20 23 43 57 -14 L
Arizona 34 8 42 54 -12 W
San Francisco 27 26 53 57 -4 W
Buffalo 27 19 46 45 1 W
Minnesota 18 35 53 50 3 L
Tampa Bay 27 13 40 52 -12 W
Seattle 19 25 44 45 -1 L

  1. The Rams achieved the the magic number "50" five times during the 2012 season. Their record in those five games was 2-2-1.
  2. In games where the Rams held their opponent to under 50 in completions - plus rush attempts, their record was 3-2 (4-6-1 when the opponent achieved the magic number "50").
  3. When the Rams had a positive differential ( more completions - plus rush attempts than their opponent) their record was 2-2-1. In games with a negative differential (fewer completions - plus rush attempts than their opponent), the Rams record was 5-6.
  4. Looking at the games on an individual basis, the results lean towards supporting the theory; however, not in a conclusive manner. The most compelling statistics derived from the chart are: the Rams record when holding opponents to under 50; and how few times they actually achieved the number 50 (5), and held opponents to under 50 (5).
  5. A productive offense will allow more rest for their own defense. The more the Rams offense is on the field, the less opportunity the opposing offense has to run plays. Also, a strong defense keeps an opposing offense from running plays and allows for more plays to be run by their own offense.

QBR and third down conversion rankings

It was suggested in the article that Quarterback Rating and 3'rd down conversions play an integral role in achieving the magic number "50". The following chart looks at the top three teams on the completions/rushing attempts list, the bottom two teams on that list, and the St. Louis Rams. For each category, the statistic is accompanied by the league ranking. The teams overall league ranking for offense is also included.

Team 3'rd Down % Rank QBR Rank Offense Rank
New England 48.7 1 98.7 6 1
Denver 45.1 3 105.8 2 4
Houston 37.6 17 90.7 9 7
St. Louis 32.1 29 82.6 18 23
Arizona 25.2 32 62.7 32 32
Jacksonville 29.6 31 72.2 30 29

  1. The statistics in this chart are quite compelling, and leave little doubt; third down conversions and QBR do in fact play integral roles in achieving the magic number "50".
  2. The Rams poor third down conversion percentage (29'th in the league) played an important role in limiting their completions - plus rushing attempts - ranking, and by extension, limiting the performance of their offense as a whole. Improvement in Sam Bradford's QBR is also paramount to the future success of the Rams offense.

Passing attempts vs. rushing attempts

When looking at the magic number "50", it's meaningful to look at the number (and percentage) of rushing and passing plays a team ran during the course of the 2012 season. How influential is a balanced offense on the completions and rushing attempts statistic, and again - by extension - a teams overall offensive performance? The accompanying chart lists the number (and percentage) of passing and rushing plays for the same teams over the entire 2012 season.

Team Pass Attempts Pass Attempt % Rush Attempts Rush Attempt % Completions + Rush Attempts/Game
New England 642 55 523 45 57.8
Denver 589 55 481 45 55.2
Houston 554 52 508 48 53.9
St. Louis 557 57 410 43 46.4
Arizona 608 63 352 37 43.1
Jacksonville 586 62 358 38 42.9

  1. The more balanced an offense was in terms of rushing and passing attempts, the higher the average number of completions - plus rushing attempts - per game.
  2. Quarterbacks Tom Brady (63.0), Peyton Manning (68.6), and Matt Schaub (64.3) had far better completion percentages for New England, Denver, and Houston, respectively, than quarterbacks for teams at the bottom of the rankings. Sam Bradford's completion percentage (59.5) was significantly lower than the above-mentioned quarterbacks.
  3. Due to the efficiency and abilities of their offenses, the top three teams simply had more overall attempts than teams lower in the rankings. Overall attempts: New England-1165, Denver-1070, Houston-1062, St, Louis-967, Arizona-960, Jacksonville-944.

From Matt Stein, Bleacher Report:

Area to Improve: Accuracy

Few quarterbacks have lacked having weapons like Sam Bradford has over the past two seasons.

Not having quality receivers has certainly hurt Bradford's accuracy, but it isn't the only reason why he's completed less than 60 percent of his passes in each of the past two seasons. Bradford needs to become better with his decisions and overall reads in order to improve his accuracy like he needs to.

The most important numbers

Outscoring your opponent is the simple recipe for success in the NFL, with "50" being one of the main ingredients.

Indianapolis qualified for the 2012 playoffs, as a wild card entry, despite a minus-30 point differential, scoring 357 points and surrendering 387. But as history has demonstrated, reaching the playoffs with a negative point differential is a difficult task. Since the current eight-division/12-playoff team alignment was enacted in 2002, only seven of 132 playoff clubs made it to the postseason while allowing more points than they scored.

Given all of the changes in the off season, the Rams will have a much different look to their offense going into the 2013 season. Does the Rams offense now have the potential to reach the magic number "50", as theorized by Lombardi? From the analysis in this article, what will be the most important factor(s) in the Rams improving their offense this season? In 2012, the Rams ranked 25'th in rushing attempts - plus completions. How high will they rank in the 2013 season? A winning record and playoff contention may very well depend on how close they can get to the number "50".