Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Only One Pig: St Louis Rams

You are going to notice a little something about our rankings... we have the rest of the NFC West pegged fairly low. That's because they aren't very good. There's a reason why we have as much confidence as ever in being able to get back to the playoffs with a bye in the first round.

Of the three teams in the NFC West, the 49ers can only improve, the Cardinals are definitely improving, but the Rams are the one team on the downslope. They are already in a rebuilding phase, but don't appear to know it yet. A 4-12 season is definitely in their near term future.

Why do I believe this? For starters, fans believe the Rams have a good offense. They would be wrong. Yes, St Louis was 4th in the NFC in yards per game. This is like believing Yuniesky Betancourt is a great hitter because he's around a .300 batting average. Let's take a look somewhat deeper.

The Rams could pass the ball. In fact, only Green Bay, Philadelphia, and Arizona passed more times, and only Arizona for more yards in the NFC. There's one common denominator with those teams... they were all bad.

Having a good "stat" pass offense is similar to having a good "stat" pass defense. It generally means two facts:

1. You cannot run the football. The Rams could not (or would not) run the rock, even if they averaged a mediocre 4.0 ypc.
2. You are always behind and so are forced to pass the ball.

While it's sexier to pass the ball more consistently, it is an instant gratification strategy. While there are more yards, there are also more INTs (24 vs Seattle's 10) and sacks (46 vs Seattle's 27). In other words, the other team gets more momentum-changing scoring opportunities and drive stoppers. This is why I cringe when pundits hold up the Rams as a top 10 offense (much less Arizona, but Colin will get around to that). Top 10 offenses aren't in the bottom half of the league in rushing. You've lost the battle up front, and eventually you will give the defense enough opportunities to turn the tables.

Now, once again the Rams have stated in the preseason that Oregon St alum Stephen Jackson is going to get the ball more regularly. This would be good news, and Scott Linehan has shown in Minnesota and Miami the persistence necessary for this transition. Unfortunately, the Rams also have a bad offensive line.

Football Outsiders tracks a few separate offensive line statistics.

"Stuffed": Percentage of runs that result in (on first down) zero or negative gain or (on second through fourth down) less than one-fourth the yards needed for another first down.
"Power Success": Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.

The Rams were "Stuffed" 30% of their runs, good for 31st in the NFL (2nd to last). That's awful. 3 out of every 10 runs were unsuccessful.
Their "Power Success" was slightly better, but not much, as their percentage of 57% was good for 26th in the league.

Maybe more attention to the running game will help that out, but it would seem to me that the defense being set up to defend the pass all the time would actually help these numbers. So I don't necessarily see the Rams taking the next step just because they decided to run more. They need their offensive line to really step up their quality of play for any real improvement to happen.

Also, to those who say that Marc Bulger wasn't healthy all year and so there will be some improvement that way... the man is now officially fragile. He's gotten the tar beaten out of him for years. He's not going to make it 16 games.

Of course, the offense isn't even the problem on this team. That's giving the defense way too much credit.

The Rams defense was a generous bunch, with basically no part of their game being worth anything.

The run numbers are actually a little odd.

Their "Power Success" percentage (imagine turning the above statistics around for the defense) was an awful 77% (30th in the league). Imagine that, 77% of times the opposing offense needed a couple of yards on the ground they got it. However, the Rams ranked an amazing 3rd in the NFL in "Stuffed". I would say that "Power Success" is more important, though, as that usually is an indicator of 3rd down success, and since the Rams couldn't defend the pass either being able to stop the run now and then on first down isn't as impressive. Also, they allowed an absurd 27% of opposing runs to go over 10 yards, 31st in the NFL. So I see the "Stuffed" stat as an outlier. While their big offseason addition of Wil Witherspoon will help this, I don't see it as an enormous help. It also isn't going to help the terrible pass defense.

How bad?

Only San Francisco allowed a worse completion against percentage in the NFC. The DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) numbers tell the tale.

The opposing team's #1 receiver had a DVOA of 37.8%, which is nuts and was worst in the league. To give this a little more context, Chad Johnson had a DVOA of 38%. So the opposing #1 receiver EVERY WEEK was Chad Johnson. Ouch.

Not to be content with being that bad, the #2 receiver had a DVOA of 1.6% and the #3 receiver had a DVOA of 5.8%. These are still below average numbers and in the bottom ten of the league. The secondary couldn't stop anyone. Perhaps Jim Haslett will help, but it's not as if the Saints had a good defense going for them the past few seasons.

The Rams need a lot of help. The draft needs to provide them some young talent to help support all the gaping holes we've gone through in this preview alone (and there are more... many more). This team is not good. This team will not compete for a playoff berth. The only hope for fans in the next five years is for the front office to get themselves in line and actually develop some talent. Until then they will be stuck in 1990's Seahawks mediocrity... good times.

posted by Gavin @ 9:09 AM  0 comments

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