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St. Louis Rams Vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Key Stats Analysis - Week 3

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The season-opening win against the Seattle Seahawks gave us a glimpse of the Rams' potential. Can they rekindle that magic in the next two weeks, facing Arizona and Green Bay on the road? Or are the Rams destined to a 1-4 start and a tough road to the playoffs?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Rams lost a tight game to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, a game they could have won. The 12-6 loss drops the Rams to 1-2 on the season. The season-opening win against the Seattle Seahawks gave us a glimpse of the teams' potential. Can they rekindle that magic in the next two weeks, facing Arizona and Green Bay on the road? Or are the Rams destined to a 1-4 start and a tough road to the playoffs?

Coach Jeff Fisher has chosen to view the first three games with a glass-half-full mentality. I applaud him for that, although the stats tell a different tale:

There's little doubt the Rams' anemic offense is the chief cause of the Rams' woes three games into the season. As Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes:

"The Rams have sunk to 32nd in the NFL in total offense. That's last.

Total offense ranks teams based on yards gained per game, and the Rams (1-2) are averaging only 274.3 yards through their first three contests. They gained only 258 yards Sunday against Pittsburgh, the 14th-lowest total since Jeff Fisher came in as head coach in 2012.

The previous week against Washington, the Rams managed only 213 yards, which was the sixth-worst output in Fisher's 51 games as Rams coach.

In terms of scoring offense, the Rams are averaging 16.7 points per game, which ranks 28th in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Rams' defense moved up to a tie for ninth (with San Diego) in total defense after holding Pittsburgh's previously top-ranked offense to only 259 yards in Sunday's 12-6 loss."

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

2014 Key Stats Analysis

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.

NFL Stats

Turnover Differential

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 the game against Pittsburgh, the Rams and Steelers each gave the ball away once, resulting in a zero/even turnover differential for the Rams. Unfortunately, the Rams' turnover was at a critical juncture of the game. With a little over 3 minutes left in the game (and the Rams trailing 9-6) Nick Foles threw an interception deep in Rams territory. The turnover resulted in a Steelers field goal and snuffed out a potential Rams comeback.

After 3 games, the Rams are tied for 17th in the league in turnover differential (minus -1).

Team Turnover Differential Statistics
Team Takeaways Giveaways Turnover Differential
1 Denver Broncos 10 4 6
2 Buffalo Bills 8 3 5
3 New York Jets 11 6 5
4 New York Giants 6 1 5
5 Carolina Panthers 6 2 4
6 Arizona Cardinals 7 4 3
7 Minnesota Vikings 6 3 3
8 New England Patriots 5 2 3
9 Green Bay Packers 4 1 3
10 Cincinnati Bengals 6 4 2
11 Atlanta Falcons 4 2 2
12 Philadelphia Eagles 8 6 2
13 Seattle Seahawks 4 3 1
14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5 5 0
15 Oakland Raiders 4 4 0
16 Pittsburgh Steelers 2 2 0
17 Chicago Bears 2 3 -1
18 St. Louis Rams 3 4 -1
19 Baltimore Ravens 4 5 -1
20 Tennessee Titans 4 6 -2
21 Houston Texans 2 4 -2
22 Miami Dolphins 2 4 -2
23 Detroit Lions 6 8 -2
24 Cleveland Browns 5 7 -2
25 Dallas Cowboys 3 6 -3
26 Jacksonville Jaguars 1 4 -3
27 San Diego Chargers 5 8 -3
28 Kansas City Chiefs 3 6 -3
29 New Orleans Saints 3 6 -3
30 San Francisco 49ers 2 6 -4
31 Washington Redskins 1 6 -5
32 Indianapolis Colts 3 10 -7

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.

Penalties once again plagued the Rams, this time in the game against Pittsburgh. The Rams committed 7 penalties totalling 97 yards. In contrast, the Steelers committed 4 penalties for 63 yards in total. For the game, the Rams had a minus -34 yard team penalty yards differential.

For the season, the Rams rank 14th in the league in penalty yards differential (plus +5) and (surprisingly) have accumulated the 5th fewest penalty yards (157).

Team Penalty Yards Differential
Rank Team GP Pen Yds Opp. Pen Yds Pen Yds Diff Pen Yds Diff/Game
1 Arizona Cardinals 3 112 288 176 11.00
2 New England Patriots 3 213 331 118 7.38
3 Kansas City Chiefs 3 123 213 90 5.63
4 Detroit Lions 3 143 231 88 5.50
5 Philadelphia Eagles 3 169 252 83 5.19
6 Indianapolis Colts 3 204 258 54 3.38
7 New York Jets 3 173 214 41 2.56
8 Houston Texans 3 167 201 34 2.13
9 Miami Dolphins 3 187 221 34 2.13
10 Cincinnati Bengals 3 192 212 20 1.25
11 Tennessee Titans 3 195 208 13 0.81
12 New York Giants 3 146 158 12 0.75
13 Minnesota Vikings 3 161 170 9 0.56
14 St. Louis Rams 3 157 162 5 0.31
15 Cleveland Browns 3 199 200 1 0.06
16 Green Bay Packers 3 198 194 -4 -0.25
17 Washington Redskins 3 199 186 -13 -0.81
18 Oakland Raiders 3 223 209 -14 -0.88
19 Baltimore Ravens 3 240 218 -22 -1.38
20 Dallas Cowboys 3 208 174 -34 -2.13
21 New Orleans Saints 3 243 208 -35 -2.19
22 San Diego Chargers 3 178 143 -35 -2.19
23 Atlanta Falcons 3 192 154 -38 -2.38
24 San Francisco 49ers 3 148 107 -41 -2.56
25 Pittsburgh Steelers 3 198 157 -41 -2.56
26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3 271 228 -43 -2.69
27 Carolina Panthers 3 202 150 -52 -3.25
28 Jacksonville Jaguars 3 232 164 -68 -4.25
29 Denver Broncos 3 224 150 -74 -4.63
30 Seattle Seahawks 3 179 105 -74 -4.63
31 Buffalo Bills 3 293 204 -89 -5.56
32 Chicago Bears 3 274 173 -101 -6.31

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 Pittsburgh, the Rams had 2 Big Rushing Plays and 1 Big Passing Play (+3). The Rams' defense only gave up 2 Big Rushing Plays, resulting in a plus +1 big play differential for the Rams. The Rams could have had more big passing plays if not for a number of dropped passes.

The Rams are currently ranked 10th in the NFL in big play differential (plus +2).

Team Big Plays Statistics
Rank Team Plays Big Plays Rush Pass Big Play % BPA +/-
3 Carolina Panthers 202 21 14 7 10.4% 8 13
5 Cincinnati Bengals 192 19 9 10 9.9% 7 12
1 Pittsburgh Steelers 175 20 10 10 11.43% 12 8
2 Buffalo Bills 183 20 12 8 10.93% 13 7
4 Arizona Cardinals 179 18 12 6 10.06% 12 6
6 Kansas City Chiefs 125 12 8 4 9.6% 7 5
19 New York Giants 189 13 7 6 6.88% 8 5
13 Jacksonville Jaguars 187 15 8 7 8.02% 12 3
15 Seattle Seahawks 199 15 13 2 7.54% 12 3
8 St. Louis Rams 150 14 8 6 9.33% 12 2
11 Tennessee Titans 198 17 11 6 8.59% 16 1
14 Minnesota Vikings 170 13 11 2 7.65% 12 1
25 Baltimore Ravens 194 11 4 7 5.67% 10 1
10 San Francisco 49ers 198 17 15 2 8.59% 17 0
20 Washington Redskins 205 14 10 4 6.83% 14 0
22 New York Jets 197 13 9 4 6.6% 13 0
26 Dallas Cowboys 187 10 7 3 5.35% 10 0
29 Philadelphia Eagles 191 9 7 2 4.71% 9 0
12 Chicago Bears 179 15 11 4 8.38% 16 -1
7 Green Bay Packers 117 11 7 4 9.4% 13 -2
9 Indianapolis Colts 185 16 8 8 8.65% 18 -2
16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 178 13 8 5 7.3% 15 -2
21 Atlanta Falcons 209 14 8 6 6.7% 16 -2
17 Cleveland Browns 178 13 7 6 7.3% 16 -3
23 San Diego Chargers 202 12 6 6 5.94% 15 -3
31 Denver Broncos 201 7 4 3 3.48% 11 -4
18 New England Patriots 210 15 8 7 7.14% 20 -5
24 Miami Dolphins 188 11 5 6 5.85% 17 -6
30 Detroit Lions 185 7 2 5 3.78% 13 -6
28 Houston Texans 241 12 9 3 4.98% 19 -7
27 Oakland Raiders 189 10 4 6 5.29% 20 -10
32 New Orleans Saints 202 7 4 3 3.47% 21 -14

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.

Points Per Drive is perhaps the key statistic from the game against Pittsburgh (and for the season to-date). The Rams had 9 drives on Sunday and scored 6 points on those drives (0.67 PPD), a horrible result for the offense. In contrast, the Steelers had 10 drives resulting in 12 points scored (1.2 PPD), an excellent result for the Rams' defense.

The Rams rank 24th in the league in points per drive differential (minus -0.47). The offense is ranked 25th in the league (1.56 PPD), while the defense is ranked 13th (2.03 PPD).

Team Points Per Drive Statistics
Team Points Per Drive Points Per Drive Against Point Differential
1 Arizona Cardinals 3.82 1.36 2.46
2 New England Patriots 3.5 2.12 1.38
3 Buffalo Bills 2.78 1.84 0.94
4 New York Jets 1.84 1.14 0.7
5 Denver Broncos 2.06 1.36 0.69
6 Green Bay Packers 2.9 2.22 0.68
7 Pittsburgh Steelers 2.53 1.86 0.68
8 Cincinnati Bengals 2.36 1.75 0.61
9 Carolina Panthers 1.97 1.41 0.56
10 Seattle Seahawks 2.39 1.91 0.48
11 Atlanta Falcons 2.62 2.18 0.44
12 Tennessee Titans 2.54 2.14 0.4
13 New York Giants 2.6 2.32 0.28
14 Minnesota Vikings 1.88 1.67 0.21
15 Dallas Cowboys 2.27 2.27 0
16 Houston Texans 1.33 1.40 -0.06
17 Kansas City Chiefs 1.82 1.89 -0.07
18 Philadelphia Eagles 1.45 1.58 -0.13
19 Washington Redskins 1.72 1.90 -0.18
20 Cleveland Browns 1.87 2.12 -0.25
21 Baltimore Ravens 2.19 2.47 -0.28
22 Oakland Raiders 2.26 2.61 -0.34
23 San Diego Chargers 2 2.44 -0.44
24 St. Louis Rams 1.56 2.03 -0.47
25 Miami Dolphins 1.55 2.18 -0.63
26 Indianapolis Colts 1.65 2.29 -0.64
27 New Orleans Saints 1.88 2.55 -0.67
28 Detroit Lions 1.7 2.37 -0.67
29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1.32 2.16 -0.84
30 Jacksonville Jaguars 1.4 2.68 -1.28
31 San Francisco 49ers 1.45 2.91 -1.45
32 Chicago Bears 1.48 3.62 -2.14

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.

The Rams held true to form in the game against the Steelers. The Rams went into the locker room down 9-3. In a tough defensive struggle, the Rams lost to the Steelers 12-6. Once again the Rams were unable to overcome a half-time deficit. In an interesting reversal of form, the Rams (in contrast to 2014) are playing better football in the 2nd half of games when compared to the first half. In three games this season, the Rams have outscored their opponents 37-31 in the second half, while being outscored 36-13 in the first half.

Weekly Summary

Week Turnover Diff. Big Play Diff. PPD Diff. PY Diff. Half-Time Game Score
1 Negative Positive Positive Positive 10  10 Won 34-31 OT
2 Positive Negative Negative Negative 0  17 Lost 24-10
3 Even Positive Negative Negative 3  9 Lost 12-6

Pro Football Focus Player Grades

Here are the top takeaways from Sunday’s Pittsburgh-St. Louis game, including the highest-graded players for each team:

Pittsburgh Steelers

— You’re going to find this a lot when teams play the Rams, but the Pittsburgh offensive line had a tough day at the office, in particular the interior trio of Ramon Foster (+0.6), Cody Wallace (-3.3) and David DeCastro (-1.9). They just couldn’t deal with Aaron Donald (+3.9), especially in the run game, with more than half of Le’Veon Bell’s rushing yards coming after contact.

Antonio Brown extended his NFL record of consecutive games with at least five receptions and 50+ receiving yards to 35 games. He caught 11 of the 13 passes thrown his way for 108 yards and now must work to maintain that streak with Michael Vick at QB and not Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers signal caller went down with a knee injury.

— Vick only played 18 snaps, but already we saw that it’s the same old player we know. Vick completed five of his six attempts for 38 yards, but also took a couple of sacks, one in particular he was entirely at fault for, bailing on a clean pocket before trying to outrun multiple defenders only to come up just short of the line of scrimmage.

Top Performers:

RB Le’Veon Bell (+3.1)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (+3.0)
WR Antonio Brown (+2.6)
DE Stephon Tuitt (+2.1)
CB Ross Cockrell (+1.9)

St. Louis Rams

— Aaron Donald was once again the standout on defense for the Rams, playing the game at a different speed to those trying to block him. What was interesting was that almost all of his big plays were in the run game, jacking blockers back into the mesh point and consistently re-routing runs.

Nick Foles (+0.8) didn’t have his worst game against the Pittsburgh secondary but he did save his worst play of the day for when it mattered most, with the Rams getting the ball back trailing just a score with a chance to win the game. Foles threw a hopeful ball down the middle of the field straight to the deep safety who had baited him into it by moving toward the sideline at the snap.

Todd Gurley saw his first 14 snaps of action in this game, carrying six times for nine yards and getting little opportunity to impress. Those numbers are obviously not great, but they represent a complete dearth of blocking on the carries he did get, as he gained 10 yards after contact despite netting only nine in total.

Top Performers:

DT Aaron Donald (+3.4)
LG Jamon Brown (+3.1)
WR Kenny Britt (+2.6)
CB Lemarcus Joyner (+2.4)
DE Ethan Westbrooks (+1.8)
S T.J. McDonald (+1.8)