In a Week 12 game that was painful to watch at times, the Rams were beaten decisively by the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-7. Compiling and analysing the statistics for this stinker of a game turned out to be equally as painful, mostly when they were related to the offense. Notwithstanding all of that, I'm still pretty hopeful and optimistic about the future of this team. It wouldn't surprise me if the Rams turned it around and finished .500 or better on the season.
Throughout the 2015 season, I'll be tracking five key team statistical measures, and their affect on the outcome of every Rams game: Turnover Differential, Big Play Differential, Points Per Drive Differential, Team Penalty Yards Differential, and the score of the game at half-time. When combined, Turnover Differential and Big Play Differential creates a statistic commonly referred to as "Toxic Differential".
Why were these five particular metrics selected for tracking throughout the 2015 season? Turnovers and Big Plays have proven to be influential in determining the outcome of a game. There's a historically strong correlation between Points Per Drive Differential and a teams regular season record. The score at half-time and Team Penalty Yards Differential were selected specifically with the Rams in mind. There appears to be a strong correlation between the score at half-time and the Rams' win/loss record. The Rams - under Jeff Fisher - have been among the league leaders in penalties, to their detriment.
St. Louis Rams 2014 Statistical Records
Points per Drive Differential: 6 games positive - Record 5-1. 10 games negative - Record 1-9.
Turnover Differential: 3 games positive - Record 3-0. 6 games negative - Record 0-6. 7 games even - Record 3-4. 4 games without a turnover - Record 4-0.
Big Play Differential: 6 games positive - Record 3-3. 10 games negative - Record 3-7.
Penalty Yards Differential: 4 games positive - Record 3-1. 12 games negative - Record 3-9.
Score At Half-Time - The Rams were leading or tied at the half in 11 games last season. The Rams' record was 6-5 in those games. The Rams lost all 5 games where they were behind at the half. In fact, the Rams haven't won a game in the past two plus seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time.
It's a widely held belief that winning the turnover battle is important to a teams success on the field. The Rams finished with 6 wins in 2014. The team had a positive turnover differential in 3 of those wins, and a zero differential in the other 3 victories. Overall, the Rams finished 19'th in Turnover Differential (minus -2) last season.
The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots finished 3rd in Turnover Differential (plus +12) while the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks finished 4th (plus +10). Over the course of the 2014 NFL season, the average Turnover Differential among NFL teams was zero (0). The top 5 NFL teams averaged a Turnover Differential of 11.2, while the bottom 5 teams averaged a Turnover Differential of minus -12.2.
Turnovers played a key role in the Rams' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, with Nick Foles throwing throwing three interceptions. The first interception, with under a minute to go in the first half and the Rams threatening to score, quelled a drive that could have narrowed the 17-7 deficit before half-time. A pick-six at 5:29 of the 3rd quarter put the game completely of reach (31-7). For the game, the Rams had a minus -2 Turnover Differential.
After Week 12, the Rams rank tied for 14th in the league in Turnover Differential (0). The Rams are 2-2 in games with a positive Turnover Differential and 2-5 in games with an even or negative Turnover Differential.
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||20||8||12|
|3||New York Giants||23||13||10|
|4||New England Patriots||15||9||6|
|5||Green Bay Packers||14||8||6|
|8||New York Jets||22||18||4|
|11||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||20||18||2|
|14||St. Louis Rams||19||19||0|
|23||San Francisco 49ers||8||11||-3|
|25||New Orleans Saints||14||18||-4|
|27||San Diego Chargers||10||16||-6|
Team Penalty Yards Differential
In 2014, the Rams were the 3rd most-penalized team in the NFL, averaging 7.7 Team Penalties Per Game (the same average as 2013). The Rams led the league in most penalty yards (1139), and were 30'th in the league in Team Penalty Yards Differential (-257).
For a team that would like to keep the ball on the ground, penalties all too often force that team into a passing situation. Penalties kill drives, contribute to bad field position and can change momentum in a game. In an average NFL game, the officials will call between 12-14 penalties per game (both teams combined). The Rams' goals should be to have no more than 6 penalties per game, plus a positive Team Penalty Yards Differential.
After showing much improvement earlier in the season, the Rams have had a run of games where they are once again committing too many penalties. In the game against Cincinnati, the Rams committed 7 infractions totalling 45 yards. The Bengals were flagged 3 times for a total of 35 yards. For the game, the Rams had a minus -10 Penalty Yards Differential.
Through 11 games, the Rams rank 11th in the NFL in Penalty Yards Differential (+68), a dramatic improvement over 2014's results. The Rams are 3-2 in games with a positive or even Penalty Yards Differential and 1-5 in games with a negative Penalty Yards Differential.
|Rank||Team||GP||Pen Yds||Opp. Pen Yds||Pen Yds Diff||Pen Yds Diff/Game|
|5||New York Giants||11||589||784||195||12.19|
|7||Green Bay Packers||11||594||718||124||7.75|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||11||594||667||73||4.56|
|11||St. Louis Rams||11||655||723||68||4.25|
|16||San Francisco 49ers||11||510||556||46||2.88|
|17||San Diego Chargers||11||654||677||23||1.44|
|18||New England Patriots||11||700||719||19||1.19|
|19||New York Jets||11||565||581||16||1.00|
|27||New Orleans Saints||11||800||541||-259||-16.19|
|29||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||11||894||613||-281||-17.56|
Big Play Differential
Big Play Differential is the difference between the number of big plays - running plays of 10+ yards plus passing plays of 25+ yards - an offense creates, and the number of big plays a defense allows. How important are big plays to a teams offense/defense? Last season, NFL teams averaged 0.8 points per drive without a big play, and 3.9 points per drive with at least one of them. The higher the big play +/- the better, as this shows the team more often generates big plays than gives them up.
In the game against the Bengals, the Rams had 1 Rushing Big Play (a 60 yard scamper by Tavon Austin that led to the Rams' only TD of the game) and 1 Passing Big Play. The Rams defense allowed Cincinnati 5 Big Plays in total. The Rams had a minus -3 Big Play Differential for the game.
Are the Rams too reliant on big plays? Jeff Fisher didn't seem to think so 3 weeks ago:
"No, I don’t think we’ve had enough big plays. We need more big plays. We need big runs. We need chunks. We need to change field position."
Big/Explosive plays aren't the issue though. The Rams - led by Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley - have the 8th-highest big play percentage in the NFL. The offense can produce huge chunks of yards with the best of teams. It's getting 4-5 yards at a time on a consistent basis that they're struggling with. This has lead to a league-low in total plays run and results in too many 3rd and long situations (and the chains getting rust on them). The Rams have converted only 37 of 143 3rd down attempts (a league-worst 25.9%).
After 11 games, the Rams rank tied for 11th in the league in Big Play Differential (+6), mostly thanks to the efforts of RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and a stingy defense. The Rams are 4-2 in games with a positive Big Play Differential and 0-5 in games with a negative or even Big Play Differential.
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||686||63||36||27||9.18%||55||8|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||697||50||34||16||7.17%||42||8|
|8||St. Louis Rams||642||55||38||17||8.57%||49||6|
|7||Green Bay Packers||704||63||34||29||8.95%||59||4|
|16||New England Patriots||728||54||27||27||7.42%||50||4|
|14||New York Jets||735||56||37||19||7.62%||54||2|
|10||San Francisco 49ers||648||54||30||24||8.33%||57||-3|
|26||New York Giants||718||45||22||23||6.27%||61||-16|
|17||New Orleans Saints||752||54||29||25||7.18%||73||-19|
|32||San Diego Chargers||757||40||17||23||5.28%||62||-22|
Points Per Drive Differential
Points Per Drive Differential is a derivative of Points Scored/Allowed. It measures the number of points generated/allowed on an average drive. 13 teams reached the playoffs/won 10 games in 2014. 10 of them finished in the top dozen in Points Per Drive Differential.
Successful teams with winning records are normally the most efficient - both offensively and defensively - and consistently generate positive PPD Differentials. The higher the points per drive (offense) the better, and in theory the highest this statistic could be is 8, which would occur if a team scored a touchdown AND a two point conversion every time they have the ball. Conversely, the lower the points per drive allowed by the defense, the better.
In the game against Cincinnati, the Rams scored 7 points on 12 drives (0.58 PPD), a poor, dismal result for the offense. The Bengals scored 24 points on 11 drives (2.18 PPD), a below-average performance by the Rams defense. For the game, the Rams had a minus -1.60 Points Per Drive Differential.
Heading into Week 13, the Rams rank tied for 22nd in the league in Points Per Drive Differential (-0.31). The main reason for the lower-than-average ranking is the performance of the offense, which is 31st in the NFL in Points Per Drive (1.35 PPD). In contrast, the defense is ranked 7th best in the NFL (1.65 PPD.) The Rams are 4-0 in games with a positive Points Per Drive Differential and 0-7 in games with a negative Points Per Drive Differential.
The top 10 teams in Points Per Drive Differential sport a combined 80-30 record through the first 12 weeks of the regular season.
|Team||Points Per Drive||Points Per Drive Against||Point Differential|
|1||New England Patriots||2.63||1.64||0.99|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||2.21||1.72||0.49|
|8||Green Bay Packers||2.05||1.73||0.31|
|9||New York Jets||1.93||1.65||0.28|
|13||New York Giants||2.33||2.17||0.17|
|20||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2||2.21||-0.21|
|22||St. Louis Rams||1.35||1.65||-0.31|
|29||San Diego Chargers||2.05||2.54||-0.49|
|30||New Orleans Saints||2.01||2.65||-0.64|
|32||San Francisco 49ers||1.28||2.26||-0.98|
Score At Half-Time
There was a semblance of Jekyll (the first half) and Hyde (the second half) in most of the Rams' games last season. The teams' point differential in the first half of games: plus 58. In the second half of games: minus 88. The Rams were leading or tied at the half in 11 games last season. The Rams' record was 6-5 in those games. The Rams lost all 5 games where they were behind at the half. In fact, the Rams haven't won a game in the past two and a half plus seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time.
In the terribly played game against Cincinnati, the Rams went into the locker room at half-time losing 17-7. The Rams were held scoreless in the 2nd half, losing 31-7. In an interesting reversal of form, the Rams (in contrast to 2014) are playing better football in the 2nd half of games than they did last year. In 11 games this season, the Rams have been outscored by their opponents 108-84 in the second half while being outscored 122-102 in the first half. The Rams are 4-2 when leading or tied at the half, and 0-5 when behind starting the 3rd quarter.
|Week||Turnover Diff.||Big Play Diff.||PPD Diff.||PY Diff.||Half-Time||Game Score|
|1 (Sea)||Negative||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 10||Won 34-31 OT|
|2 (Was)||Positive||Negative||Negative||Negative||0 17||Lost 24-10|
|3 (Pit)||Even||Positive||Negative||Negative||3 9||Lost 12-6|
|4 (Ari)||Positive||Positive||Positive||Negative||10 9||Won 24-22|
|5 (GB)||Negative||Positive||Negative||Positive||10 14||Lost 24-10|
|7 (Cle)||Positive||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 3||Won 24-6|
|8 (SF)||Negative||Positive||Positive||Even||20 6||Won 27-6|
|9 (Min)||Positive||Even||Negative||Negative||15 10||Lost 21-18|
|10 (Chi)||Even||Negative||Negative||Negative||10 24||Lost 37-13|
|11 (Bal)||Negative||Negative||Negative||Positive||7 3||Lost 16-13|
|12 (Cin)||Negative||Negative||Negative||Negative||7 17||Lost 31-7|
Negatives across the board can only mean one thing: a big loss. And that it was.
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Bengals’ 31-7 win over the Rams.
St. Louis Rams
– Another game and another pair of nightmarish throws from Nick Foles (-2.9). There are so many problems in his game right now that it’s difficult to see him ever regaining the form he had in Philadelphia a couple of years ago. His pick-six was one of the worst throws I’ve seen all season, as it combined two huge no-nos for a quarterback: throwing late over the middle and throwing across his body.
– If there is one consistent bright spot for this offense, it’s Tavon Austin (+2.1). He once again broke another big play on Sunday, a 60-yard run on a jet sweep that set up the Rams’ only touchdown on yet another jet sweep from Austin. Both plays were made possible by nothing other than Austin’s pure speed to the corner. The third-year receiver broke a ridiculous six tackles on six receptions, and had 42 of his 33 yards come after the catch on the day.
– Is it too soon to trash the Greg Robinson (-3.3) pick? Even if the No. 2 overall pick from 2014 does somehow turn it around, they’ve still wasted two years out of a possible five-year rookie deal with truly dreadful play from the left tackle. He’s now had six straight games of -2.0 play or lower after allowing six pressures on Sunday.
DT Aaron Donald (+2.7)
DE William Hayes (+2.4)
WR Tavon Austin (+2.1)
LB Akeem Ayers (+2.1)
RB Tre Mason (+0.9)
– After a fantastic start to the year, Andy Dalton (+0.1) has returned to approximately the same player he’s been his entire career, with a +1.5 overall grade since Week 5. He’ll make absolutely gorgeous throws over the middle of the field, like the touchdowns to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, but then panic when plays break down, and force it into small windows like the Janoris Jenkins interception and the near pick from Darren Bates in the back of the end zone. Both were late throws, and both windows were shrinking quickly.
– Facing one of the best defensive lines in the entire NFL, the Bengals’ offensive line acquitted themselves nicely. No player graded higher than +1.0, but only Russell Bodine (-2.5) and Andre Smith (-1.3) graded negatively. That’s usually considered a success against a front four that, just last week, handed our top-graded guard, Marshal Yanda, his lowest-graded game in two seasons. They combined to allow only five pressures on the day.
– Quite the eventful day for Dre Kirkpatrick (+2.0), who had by far his best game of the season. The cornerback was targeted 11 times and allowed six catches, but for only 34 yards. He also had three pass breakups, and he actually led the Bengals in stops with five. Even on some of the first downs he did concede, Kirkpatrick was in solid position to secure the tackle. It was only his second positively graded game all season.
DT Geno Atkins (+6.3)
CB Leon Hall (+3.6)
DE Carlos Dunlap (+3.2)
DE Wallace Gilberry (+2.4)
WR A.J. Green (+2.1)