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”.
The Rams put on a fireworks display from Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin and coupled that with a stifling defensive performance to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 27-6 at the EJD.
Why were these five 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 minus -12.2.
In the game against San Francisco, turnovers played virtually zero role in the outcome. The only turnover was a fumble by Rams WR Tavon Austin. It led to no points for the 49ers. For the game, the Rams had a minus (-1) Turnover Differential.
After 7 games, the Rams rank tied for 8th in the league in Turnover Differential (+3). The Rams are 2-1 in games with a positive Turnover Differential and 2-2 in games with an even or negative Turnover Differential.
NFL football is a pretty simple game when it comes right down to it. 11 teams have winning records as of November 3. 9 of the 11 are in the top dozen in the NFL in Turnover Differential.
|1||New York Giants||18||7||11|
|2||Green Bay Packers||11||4||7|
|3||New England Patriots||10||3||7|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||11||8||3|
|11||St. Louis Rams||13||10||3|
|12||New York Jets||15||12||3|
|13||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||13||11||2|
|15||San Francisco 49ers||8||7||1|
|19||New Orleans Saints||12||13||-1|
|27||San Diego Chargers||7||13||-6|
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 committed far too many penalties in the game against the 49ers (12 penalties totalling 93 yards). Fortunately for the Rams, the 49ers were just as undisciplined, racking up 13 penalties for 93 yards. For the game, the Rams had an even Penalty Yards Differential.
Through 7 games, the Rams rank 16th in the NFL in Penalty Yards Differential (+9), a dramatic improvement over 2014’s results. The Rams are 3-1 in games with a positive or even Penalty Yards Differential and 1-2 in games with a negative Penalty Yards Differential.
|Rank||Team||GP||Pen Yds||Opp. Pen Yds||Pen Yds Diff||Pen Yds Diff/Game|
|5||New England Patriots||7||456||553||97||6.06|
|7||Kansas City Chiefs||8||399||482||83||5.19|
|8||New York Giants||8||456||532||76||4.75|
|12||San Diego Chargers||8||491||552||61||3.81|
|13||Green Bay Packers||7||395||433||38||2.38|
|14||San Francisco 49ers||8||357||395||38||2.38|
|16||St. Louis Rams||7||431||440||9||0.56|
|18||New York Jets||7||410||408||-2||-0.13|
|27||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7||576||429||-147||-9.19|
|29||New Orleans Saints||8||593||409||-184||-11.50|
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 the 49ers, the Rams had 2 Rushing Big Plays (courtesy of another outstanding performance by Todd Gurley) and 2 Passing Big Plays. The Rams defense allowed Cleveland only 1 Big Play in total. The Rams had a plus +3 Big Play Differential for the game.
After 7 games, the Rams rank 5th in the league in Big Play Differential (+12), mostly thanks to the efforts of RB Todd Gurley. The Rams are 4-2 in games with a positive Big Play Differential and 0-1 in games with a negative Big Play Differential.
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|2||St. Louis Rams||386||38||27||11||9.84%||26||12|
|13||New York Jets||477||38||27||11||7.97%||29||9|
|14||New England Patriots||461||36||17||19||7.81%||32||4|
|1||Green Bay Packers||407||44||27||17||10.81%||41||3|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||437||33||23||10||7.55%||32||1|
|9||Kansas City Chiefs||504||43||25||18||8.53%||43||0|
|10||San Francisco 49ers||477||39||23||16||8.18%||43||-4|
|18||New Orleans Saints||571||41||23||18||7.18%||52||-11|
|25||New York Giants||508||34||20||14||6.69%||46||-12|
|31||San Diego Chargers||565||31||12||19||5.49%||44||-13|
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 the game against San Francisco, the Rams scored 24 points on 15 drives (1.60 PPD), a mediocre result for the offense. The 49ers scored 6 points on 15 drives (0.40 PPD), an outstanding result for the Rams’ defense. For the game, the Rams had a plus +1.20 Points Per Drive differential.
Heading into Week 9, the Rams rank 13th in the league in Points Per Drive Differential (+0.14). The main reason for the middle-of-the-road ranking is the performance of the offense, which is tied for 30th in the NFL in Points Per Drive. The defense is ranked 2nd best in the NFL (1.47 PPD.) The Rams are 4-0 in games with a positive Points Per Drive Differential and 0-3 in games with a negative Points Per Drive Differential.
The top 10 teams in Points Per Drive Differential sport a combined 59-14 record through the first 8 weeks of the regular season.
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 plus seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time. In their two earlier victories this season, the Rams were either tied or leading at the half.
The Rams once again held true to form in the game against the 49ers. The Rams went into the locker room with a healthy 20-6 lead. The Rams’ stout defense held the 49ers to no points in the second half and Todd Gurley did the rest, in a 27-6 Rams victory. In an interesting reversal of form, the Rams (in contrast to 2014) are playing better football overall in the 2nd half of games when compared to the first half of games. In seven games this season, the Rams have outscored their opponents 72-57 in the second half, while being outscored 68-63 in the first half. The Rams are 4-0 this season when leading or tied at the half, and 0-3 when behind starting the 3rd quarter.
|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|
|4||Positive||Positive||Positive||Negative||10 9||Won 24-22|
|5||Negative||Positive||Negative||Positive||10 14||Lost 24-10|
|7||Positive||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 3||Won 24-6|
|8||Negative||Positive||Positive||Even||20 6||Won 27-6|
Positive results pretty much across the board equate to a decisive win for the Rams against the San Francisco 49ers. 3rd down conversions (last in the league) and Red Zone scoring (22nd in the league) continue to be problematic for the Rams’ offense.
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Rams’ 27-6 win over the 49ers.
San Francisco 49ers
– QB Colin Kaepernick (-6.5) continued to showcase his inability to get anything going offensively. His passing grade of -8.1 was the lowest of the week by a long shot. He rarely attempted passes that traveled 10+ yards in the air, and when he did, he struggled, completing only 2-of-11 for 49 yards. Kaepernick was under pressure on 36 percent of his dropbacks, and was a mere 3-for-13 for 12 yards when under pressure. He did finish with a positive rushing grade, but that’s never been an issue for Kaepernick. His throws were all over the place in this game, and at this point, it’s worth questioning if he really gives the 49ers the best chance to win.
– CB Tramaine Brock (+1.0) had a good day in pass coverage, finishing with a coverage grade of +1.7. He was targeted five times, but allowed only two completions for 14 yards. He also had a beautiful pass breakup. S Jaquiski Tartt (+2.9) also had a solid day for the 49ers’ defense, finishing with a team-high grade. He finished with a +1.9 in coverage, thanks to a couple of big stops for minimal gain, and a forced fumble. He also had a positive run defense grade. Overall, the 49ers had solid pass defense on the day, allowing the Rams to complete only 14-of-22 attempts for 206 yards and one touchdown.
– The 49ers’ offensive line looked completely overmatched the entire game against a strong Rams’ defensive line. Only one offensive lineman had a positive grade: T Erik Pears (+0.3). It was a rough day for G Alex Boone (-6.8), who allowed two QB hits and two pressures, and was blown up multiple times in the run game. Same goes for G Jordan Devey (-5.8). The 49ers’ rushing attack finished with a paltry 18 yards on 17 attempts, and much of that was due to the poor offensive line play.
S Jaquiski Tartt (+2.9)
OLB Corey Lemonier (+1.2)
CB Kenneth Acker (+1.1)
TE Vance McDonald (+1.1)
CB Tramaine Brock (+1.0)
St. Louis Rams
– The Rams’ defensive line stole the show in this one, led by DT Aaron Donald (+6.6) and DE Robert Quinn (+6.1). They were all over the field making plays, especially when it came to rushing the passer. By the end of the game, the two had combined for a sack, four QB hits, and six hurries. But they also were stout against the run, finishing with +2.6 and +1.8 run defense grades, respectively. After a few weeks of below-average (by their standards) play, this game was more what everyone is used to seeing from these two star players.
– RB Todd Gurley (+1.5) showed his speed on his 71-yard touchdown run, where he went untouched thanks to him absolutely exploding through the hole and outrunning the second-level defenders of the 49ers—all the way to the end zone. But take away that run, and the 49ers’ defense held him to only 62 yards on 19 attempts. He didn’t get much help from his offensive line, as they finished with a combined -12.7 grade, including -9.6 when it came to run blocking. Offensively, the Rams were not great, as they struggled to move the ball, aside from their two long-touchdown plays.
– It was a great day in coverage for the Rams’ trio of S Mark Barron (+4.0), LB Akeem Ayers (+2.0), and CB Janoris Jenkins (+3.4). Barron was targeted eight times, but allowed only three receptions for 19 yards. He also had one pass breakup. Ayers only saw four targets, and allowed two of them to be caught, for a mere 4 yards. But it was his three passes defended (he had one when he wasn’t the primary coverage) that gave him his team-high +3.9 coverage grade. Finally, Jenkins was targeted five times, and allowed just one catch for 3 yards, and a pass defended. It was a good day for a unit that allowed only 162 yards on 39 attempts.
DT Aaron Donald (+6.6)
DE Robert Quinn (+6.1)
S Mark Barron (+4.0)
CB Janoris Jenkins (+3.4)
LB Akeem Ayers (+2.0)