In their 2015 season-opener at the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams upset the favored, defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks 34-31 in overtime. The Rams overcame three fumbles, the absence of RB's Todd Gurley and Tre Mason, and a 31-24 4th quarter deficit in securing the victory.
As Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted:
"NFL studies show that when you’re minus-2 in takeaway-giveaways, you’re going to lose more than 80 percent of the time."
"Allow a defensive touchdown, or allow a special teams score, and your chances of winning decrease all the more."
"Well, all of the above happened to the Rams in Sunday’s season opener against Seattle, yet somehow they managed to pull out a 34-31 overtime victory."
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 5 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 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 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 -12.2.
In Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams pulled off a rare feat: they won the game despite handily losing the turnover battle. The Rams coughed up three fumbles, while intercepting Seahawk's QB Russell Wilson once (a minus -2 Turnover Differential). An Isaiah Pead fumble at 9:07 of the fourth quarter led to a Seattle drive for a field goal. A fumble on the exchange from Tim Barnes to Nick Foles at 13:25 of the third quarter led to a Steven Hauschka field goal and a 13-10 Seattle lead. Nick Foles was sacked (and fumbled the football) at 4:46 of the 4th quarter. Seattle defender Cary Williams returned the fumble for a touchdown, giving the Seahawks a 31-24 lead.
After Week 1, the Rams are tied for 26th in the league in Turnover Differential (-2).
|1||New York Jets||5||1||4|
|3||New York Giants||3||0||3|
|7||Kansas City Chiefs||2||0||2|
|10||New England Patriots||1||0||1|
|11||Green Bay Packers||1||0||1|
|14||San Francisco 49ers||1||1||0|
|15||New Orleans Saints||1||1||0|
|21||San Diego Chargers||2||3||-1|
|22||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||2||-1|
|29||St. Louis Rams||1||3||-2|
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.
The Rams were flagged for 4 penalties - totalling 30 yards - in the contest against Seattle. The Seahawks committed 7 penalties for 46 yards. For the Rams, the result was a positive Team Penalty Yards Differential of 16 yards. An excellent result given their recent penalty history.
After one game, the Rams rank 10th in the NFL in Team Penalty Yards Differential (+16).
|Rank||Team||GP||Pen Yds||Opp. Pen Yds||Pen Yds Diff||Pen Yds Diff/Game|
|1||New York Jets||1||30||109||79||4.94|
|10||St. Louis Rams||1||30||46||16||1.00|
|11||Kansas City Chiefs||1||25||39||14||0.88|
|12||New England Patriots||1||64||77||13||0.81|
|18||New York Giants||1||44||35||-9||-0.56|
|19||Green Bay Packers||1||74||64||-10||-0.63|
|20||San Diego Chargers||1||40||29||-11||-0.69|
|27||San Francisco 49ers||1||57||25||-32||-2.00|
|28||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||97||55||-42||-2.63|
|29||New Orleans Saints||1||73||30||-43||-2.69|
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 Seattle, the Rams' offense produced 1 rushing big play, and 4 passing big plays. The Rams' defense gave up 4 big plays in total, resulting in a plus +1 Big Play Differential for the game. A 37-yard strike to Lance Kendricks with less than a minute left in regulation time allowed the Rams to tie the game and ultimately win in overtime.
The Rams rank 11th in the league in Big Play Differential through the first game of the season (+1).
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|3||Green Bay Packers||53||7||5||2||13.21%||7||0|
|4||San Francisco 49ers||66||8||8||0||12.12%||3||5|
|8||New York Jets||60||6||5||1||10%||3||3|
|11||St. Louis Rams||55||5||1||4||9.09%||4||1|
|14||Kansas City Chiefs||67||5||4||1||7.46%||4||1|
|16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||63||4||2||2||6.35%||5||-1|
|22||San Diego Chargers||74||4||2||2||5.41%||4||0|
|23||New England Patriots||58||3||2||1||5.17%||9||-6|
|27||New Orleans Saints||70||3||0||3||4.29%||9||-6|
|28||New York Giants||61||2||2||0||3.28%||2||0|
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 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.
In Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams scored 34 points on 11 drives (3.09 points per drive). The Seahawks scored 31 points on 11 drives (2.82 points per drive), resulting in the Rams having a 0.27 Points Per Drive Differential for the game.
After one game, the Rams rank 13th in Points Per Drive Differential (+0.27).
|Team||Points Per Drive||Points Per Drive Against||Point Differential|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||2.22||0.3||1.92|
|3||New York Jets||2.82||1||1.82|
|9||New England Patriots||3.11||2.33||0.78|
|10||Green Bay Packers||3.44||2.88||0.57|
|12||Kansas City Chiefs||1.8||1.43||0.37|
|13||St. Louis Rams||3.09||2.82||0.27|
|14||San Diego Chargers||2.75||2.55||0.2|
|16||New York Giants||2.6||2.45||0.15|
|25||New Orleans Saints||1.73||2.58||-0.86|
|32||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1.17||4.2||-3.03|
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 seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time.
In the game against the Seattle Seahawks, the Rams were tied 10-10 at the half. They went on to finish regulation time in a 31-31 tie and won the game with a field goal in overtime.
|Week||Turnover Diff.||Big Play Diff.||PPD Diff.||PY Diff.||Half-Time||Game Score|
|1||Negative||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 10||Won 34-31|
Good teams produce good statistics. The Rams (notwithstanding turnovers) generated positive results in every other statistical category in the win against Seattle.
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Seahawks-Rams game:
– DE Michael Bennett (+4.0) picked up right where he left off in the Super Bowl, dominating the Rams offensive line early on in the game. He finished with one sack and three additional hurries, as well as four solo stops. Bennett slowed down a bit towards the end of the game, as the Rams adjusted their blocking to focus mainly on double-teaming him. However, his +4.0 overall grade still led the Seahawks, and it would have been higher if not for two offside penalties.
– TE Jimmy Graham (+0.4) had a good debut for the Seahawks, leading the team with a +1.5 receiving grade. He caught six of eight balls thrown his way for 51 yards. He also caught what was the game-tying touchdown on a perfectly timed out route thrown by QB Russell Wilson (+1.1). However, Graham did struggle a bit when asked to block, allowing a QB pressure and finishing with a -1.3 combined run and pass block grade.
– The Seahawks’ offensive line struggled mightily in this game, allowing 20 total QB pressures on 55 passing snaps. RT Garry Gilliam (-11.1) was constantly beat to the outside, giving up a QB hit and six total pressures. The lone bright spot was C Drew Nowak, who is replacing C Max Unger, the Seahawks’ top graded offensive lineman from last season. Nowak didn’t allow a pressure and finished with a +0.2 overall grade.
– With the exception of CB Richard Sherman (+0.6), the Seahawks secondary had a tough day in pass coverage. Sherman was targeted a mere four times, allowing only two receptions for 29 yards—pretty much taking Rams WR Tavon Austin (-1.3) out of the game. The rest of the secondary allowed the Rams to go 16-for-20 for 268 yards and a touchdown. LB Bobby Wagner (-2.9) struggled the most (-3.0 coverage grade), allowing all four passes he saw to be caught for 105 yards, 80 of which were gained after the catch.
DE Michael Bennett (+4.0)
DE Cliff Avril (+3.9)
LB Bruce Irvin (+3.3)
RB Marshawn Lynch (+2.0)
DT Jordan Hill (+1.6)
– DT Aaron Donald (+10.0) was nearly unblockable all game long, racking up big play after big play. He sacked the QB twice, added an additional hurry, and made seven solo stops. Any one-on-one blocking matchup, Donald beat almost effortlessly. Even when Seattle double-teamed him, he was still beating those blocks. His +5.5 pass rush grade and +4.3 run stop grade were both game-highs.
– QB Nick Foles (+1.3) had a very good day throwing the football, finishing with a +3.3 passing grade, which is the fourth-highest in Week 1 so far. He was especially good when under pressure, going 10-for-13 for 199 yards and a late game-tying touchdown. With no pressure, he was only 8-for-14 for 98 yards. His deep-ball game was also impressive, as he went 3-for-5 for 79 yards and a touchdown on passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
– DE Williams Hayes (+5.0) had perhaps the most impressive performance of the night for the Rams defense. Despite rushing the passer on only 16 plays, Hayes recorded six total pressures (one hit, five hurries). He constantly beat Seahawks RT Garry Gilliam (-11.1) with the speed rush to the outside. He finished the night with a pass rush productivity score of 28.1, which is the highest among all defensive ends so far in Week 1.
-The Rams’ offensive line did not hold up very well against the Seahawks defense, allowing a sack and 13 pressures on 32 passing plays. When running the ball, they were hardly better, as the Rams ran 26 times for only 72 yards, a mere 2.8 yards per carry. Not a single offensive line player had a positive grade for pass blocking, and only C Tim Barnes (+1.2) had a positive run block grade, thanks to some fantastic reach blocks. Overall, the Rams’ line finished with a combined -15.1 overall grade.
DT Aaron Donald (+10.0)
DE William Hayes (+5.0)
DE Robert Quinn (+4.9)
DE Chris Long (+2.6)
HB Benny Cunningham (+2.3)