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Phantom penalties and missed opportunities

At least one of the Rams' seven penalties was on the refs. But the stats still show that this loss was on the Rams, not the refs.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Penalty problems started early for the St. Louis Rams in Sunday's loss to the Falcons. An offsides call against Chris Long on Atlanta's first drive proved to be the most costly of the seven flags the Rams drew. It also happened to be the wrong call.

"There were seven and in my opinion, five of them were incorrect calls," Jeff Fisher said Monday. "That would include the first defensive offsides - that was a false start. It was not a defensive offsides, it's like ‘false start 101.' You've got a third-and-12 and we're called for offsides, so we now have a third-and-7 and they convert."

The Rams had the play stopped, and should have gotten the ball back. Instead, it kept the drive alive for the Falcons, and they eventually scored after chewing up six and a half minutes of clock time.

False start? Yep. Fisher had seen the tape by the time he took the podium on Monday afternoon. Here's another look at it, where you can clearly see the Falcons offensive tackle move, drawing Long offsides.


(GIF via @squick3n)

Fisher's frustration with the flags was less visible on Monday than it was immediately following the game. He's been an NFL head coach for almost two decades; this isn't his first go around with a bad call.

"It's the human element in the game," Fisher said. "There are calls that are going to be missed every week, that's part of it. Our department's doing the best job they can ... but there's a mistake every once in a while."

That doesn't change the outcome, and an apology from the league isn't going to allow the Rams to replay that third down.

"If it's called correctly, you have a third-and-17," Fisher said. "Third-and-17s are hard to convert. We would most likely have a three-and-out and get the ball back."

Third-and-seven isn't exactly a favorable down for a defense either. In this situation, a third down with seven yards to go at Atlanta's 23-yard line, the Falcons have roughly a 43 percent chance of converting it to a new set of downs. That's way off from the 15 percent conversion rate third-and-17 brings, but the odds still favor the Rams defense there.

"But, again we had chances, we need to make plays," Fisher said. "By no means am I placing blame."

The win probability chart for that game agrees. That lone busted third down only swung the win probably ratio from 0.51 to 0.46. The Rams were still in the game ... they just needed to make the plays to stay there.


Atlanta ran eight more plays, including the touchdown, after the penalty and third-down conversion on that drive. On three of those plays, the Rams allowed the Falcons gains of 14 yards or more, including a 20-yard gain by Harry Douglas.

St. Louis' win probability nose dives after the Falcons score their second touchdown. It never recovers. The win probability gets back to 0.15 on the Austin Pettis touchdown, but all the yards and the touchdowns the Rams put up in the second half were mostly meaningless. Practice reps against a Falcons team known for going into prevent defense as soon as it can. That's come back to bite Mike Smith more than a few times, but with the Rams intent on self-inflicted wounds, that threat was never there.

"You can look at every single play in the game and say, ‘What if?' But, the bottom line is that we fell behind," Fisher said. "We've had two interceptions in two weeks returned for touchdowns and regardless of the situational circumstance, certainly can't blame it on the quarterback, but it happened. It's hard to win games when you give up defensive scores."