Let's first take a look at some key 3rd down stats, based on down and distance, from the St. Louis Rams' 2015 offense. It's painful, but we need to revisit why the Rams went ALL IN on Cal QB Jared Goff with the #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft:
We're going to skip 3rd and short, because the Rams were actually ok in these situations due to the power running of Todd Gurley. On 44 attempts, they converted 19 (43%), with 12 on the ground and 7 in the air. The NFC West average excluding the Rams was 46%.
Let's focus on the other 202 3rd downs by digging into the success for various distance ranges.
3rd and 1-4
The Rams had 41 plays (out of 202, 20.3% of total 3rd downs), and converted a total of 17 (41%). The NFC West average excluding the Rams was 60.4% (-19%).
Obviously teams loaded the box on 3rd and short, because the Rams had 21 rushes for just 25 yards, converting 11 (52%). The NFC West average on rushing attempts excluding the Rams was 65% (-13%). Overall, the Rams could be more creative here instead of feeding Gurley to loaded boxes.
Rams' QB's were 9 of 19 for 114 yards, converting 6 (31.5%) for one TD, no INT's and an 84.1 passer rating. The NFC West average excluding the Rams on passing attempts was 61% (-30%). This is definitely a killer, being in such short yardage and converting at half the rate of the rest of the NFC West. Reliable slot or inline TE targets are needed here.
3rd and 4-6
These are the money conversions, where the first two downs put the offense in a good chance to convert, assuming the ball is out quickly and on target.
Teams are less likely to succeed in blitzing in this down and distance if the QB is quick processing and accurate under pressure.
On 60 plays (29.7% of total 3rd downs), the Rams converted a total of 21 (35%). The NFC West average excluding the Rams was 43.7% (-9%). The Rams decided to run on 6 of those 60 plays (10%), and converted just 1 (16.7%). So, defenses could pretty much key in that the Rams were looking to pass unless the QB checked into a run option.
In the passing game, Rams QB's were 23 of 51 for 293 yards, 4 TD's and no INT's for a passer rating of 89.7. They converted 20 (39%). The NFC West average excluding the Rams in these passing situations was 46% (-7%), so this was not a major problem area but needs to be improved.
A TE like Tyler Higbee, who thrives in zones and the seam, should help, as well as Pharoh Cooper from the slot.
Goff's ability to release the ball quickly and accurately in the face of pressure should also help, hypothetically.
3rd and 7-9
Here is where the Rams were bad. VERY bad. And this is where the addition of a QB like Goff, with solid pocket awareness, mobility to buy time for routes to fully develop, and accuracy in the 5-15 yard areas, helps.
On 40 plays (19.8% of total 3rd downs), the Rams converted a total of SEVEN 3RD DOWNS (17.5%). The NFC West average excluding the Rams was 38.9% (-21%). So, the Rams knew something had to change in a hurry here.
The Rams converted zero of 4 rushing attempts, and only 7 of 36 (19.4%) passes. The passes were flipped from the 3rd and 4-6 down and distance, with Rams' QB's 14 of 36 for 90 yards, 0 TD's and 4 INT's for a passer rating of 7.4. I repeat, SEVEN POINT FOUR. The NFC West average excluding the Rams in these passing situations was 42% (-23%). Yikes, guys.
In this case, the addition of warm bodies helps. But, the Rams need a QB capable of standing in the pocket and delivering consistently, WR's capable of separating in the intermediate levels, and TE's who can simply catch the ball and get to the sticks.
An intriguing player is Southern Miss' Michael Thomas, who has shown an innate ability to win in traffic and in jump ball situations. This is a player that could usurp Brian Quick for a role in these situations.
3rd and 10+
If the Rams are in this situation, then that's just too bad because it's very difficult to convert these. But, the Rams found themselves in this situation a staggering 61 times (30.1%), converting a total of SEVEN THIRD DOWNS (11.4%). The NFC West average excluding the Rams was 22% (-11%).
On 10 of the 61 (16.4%), the Rams just handed the ball off, gaining 67 yards and 1 first down (10%). So, the Rams aren't going to do much there except get better field position for Johnny Hekker.
On 51 pass attempts (83.6%), the Rams converted SIX (11.7%) for 230 yards, zero TD's and 1 INT for a rating of 53.6. The NFC West average excluding the Rams in these passing situations was 27% (-15%).
To expect Goff et al to fix this would be idealistic. Instead, let's hope that the Rams rarely find themselves in 3rd and 10+ to begin with, with better QB play, Todd Gurley finally being 100% healthy, Tavon Austin carving out more of a role as a receiver and more reliable pass catchers in Higbee, Cooper and Thomas.
Note: Austin's 5th year option was picked up by the Rams today, so it's clear he's part of future plans.
Out of 202 3rd downs that were not 1 yard or less, the Rams converted 25.7%, good for last in the league. The NFC West average excluding the Rams was 46% (almost double). The Rams may have well just punted on most 3rd downs. Seriously:
In 2015 Every NFL team is better at converting 4th & 10 than the @STLouisRams are 3rd & anything. They'd be better of punting on 3rd down— trey wingo (@wingoz) December 7, 2015
The Rams are hoping that the addition of Jared Goff is the salve needed to fix the offense for good. We will see if that is enough, along with a promising TE prospect in Tyler Higbee, a do it all WR like Pharoh Cooper, a raw but rapidly improving TE in Temarrick Hemingway, and a "plays bigger than he is" WR like Michael Thomas.
Not to mention, another step by the current supporting cast and coaching staff. If the Rams can get to at least 38% for 3rd down conversion rates, they can be a sleeper offense like Teddy Bridgewater's Vikings.