For the Rams' 2014 NFL regular season, I kept track of five key statistical measures and how they correlated to/affected the outcome of each game. Although these statistics were quite revealing and informative, something seemed to be missing from the statistical equation in explaining the Rams' 6-10 record. "DARTA" attempts to fill in some of the blanks.
Of the five statistics I tracked this past season, two were the most telling: Turnover Differential and the Score At Half-Time. In the last two seasons, the Rams have not won a game unless they were leading or tied at half-time. Turnovers played a critical role in the teams' fortunes in 2014. The Rams had a record of 3-0 in games with a positive turnover differential, and an 0-6 record in games with a negative turnover differential. The Rams had a zero turnover differential in seven games, and won three of them. In the four games the Rams didn't turn over the ball, their record was 4-0.
"DARTA" (my terminology) takes a deeper look into turnovers and special teams play. The term stands for "Defensive And Return Touchdowns Allowed". It accounts for the number of points a team allows on safeties, fumble returns, interception returns, blocked kicks, and kickoff/punt returns.
In 2014, the Rams gave up TEN touchdowns/70 points (by far the most in the NFL) in this statistical measure. 8 were defensive TD's resulting from fumbles and interceptions, 1 resulted from a blocked punt, and the 10th was a 99-yard kickoff return by Kansas City's Knile Davis. In contrast, Miami, Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Kansas City all gave up 2 points or less in this statistical measure last season.
Was there a correlation between DARTA and the Rams' win/loss record in 2014? The Rams were 0-8 in games where they gave up a DARTA, and 6-2 in games where they didn't give up a DARTA. It's much harder to win a game when you're spotting the opponent 7 easy points.
How could such poor results in DARTA last season possibly bode well for the Rams in the upcoming season?
A Top-Five Defense
The Rams gave up 354 points (22.1 ppg.) in the 2014 regular season. That put them in a tie for 16th in the NFL, an average result for the Rams defensively (at least on the surface). In reality, the Rams' defense was much better than the rankings suggest. Total points allowed can be deceiving when determining the quality of a teams' defense, especially if that team has an extremely high total of DARTA in a particular season. In the Rams' case, the defense gave up only 284 points (17.8 ppg.) in 2014, putting them in the top half-dozen teams in the league in points allowed (when adjusted for DARTA). The Rams' defense simply wasn't on the field when the other 70 points were scored.
Five reasons the Rams' defense should be even better in 2015:
- Chris Long should be healthy and not miss a substantial part of the season.
- Mark Barron will be with the Rams for the entire season.
- The Rams didn't lose a single starter from 2014 during the offseason.
- The team added two quality, experienced players (Akeem Ayers and Nick Fairley) in Free Agency. Both should have a positive impact on the defense.
- The unit now has an entire season under its collective belt in a Gregg Williams-led defense.
Changes In Personnel/Offensive Philosophy
The Rams played their last 25 regular season games with backup quarterbacks as starters. In 2014, Austin Davis and Shaun Hill combined for 20 turnovers (16 interceptions and 4 lost fumbles).
The Rams acquired a starter-quality QB in the offseason (Nick Foles). Foles will not be asked to win games through the air, as the Rams are moving towards more of a run-based, ball control offense. The Rams' 2015 NFL Draft picks made that clear, with the selection of 4 run-blocking OL and RB Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick.
The addition of Foles - plus Jeff Fisher's desire to keep the ball on the ground - should result in fewer turnovers by the offense (and by extension fewer DARTA). The Rams' running backs were responsible for only 4 lost fumbles last season.
The Rams had 27 giveaways in 2014, which ranked 9th-worst in the NFL. There's certainly room for improvement in this critical area of the game.
The likelihood of the Rams repeating their dismal 2014 results in DARTA this coming season isn't very high, if for no other reason than regression towards the mean.
"Because 16 games just aren’t enough to learn much about a team, we can usually safely say that teams that exhibit some extreme characteristic or have some event occur a freakishly high (or low) amount of the time will not have that same experience over the next 16 games. That’s simple regression toward the mean."
Given the Rams' recent history, their 2014 DARTA results would appear to be an outlier. The Rams' DARTA for the 4 seasons prior to 2014: 5 in 2013, 3 in 2012, 4 in 2011, and 3 in 2010. Expect the Rams to significantly reduce their DARTA totals in 2015.
This coming season, the Rams will field their most talented team in the Snead/Fisher era. With a significant reduction in the number of turnovers and DARTA, the Rams should produce a winning record and vie for a playoff berth.