The Rams and Vikings appeared to be two evenly matched teams heading into their Week 9 contest in Minnesota. They ended the first sixty minutes of the game 18-18. The Rams lost 21-18 in overtime, on a Blair Walsh field goal with 9:24 left on the clock. This was a game the Rams could have won. Missed opportunities, penalties and continuing struggles on offense were all significant factors in the 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 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 plus 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 Minnesota, turnovers played virtually no role in the outcome. The only turnover was an interception by Rams CB Trumaine Johnson. It led to no points for the Rams. For the game, the Rams had a plus (+1) Turnover Differential.
After 8 games, the Rams rank tied for 7th in the league in Turnover Differential (+4). The Rams are 2-2 in games with a positive Turnover Differential and 2-2 in games with an even or negative Turnover Differential.
11 teams have winning records as of November 9. 9 of the 11 teams are in the top dozen in the NFL in Turnover Differential.
|1||New York Giants||21||9||12|
|2||New York Jets||19||12||7|
|3||New England Patriots||12||5||7|
|4||Green Bay Packers||12||6||6|
|9||St. Louis Rams||14||10||4|
|11||Kansas City Chiefs||11||8||3|
|15||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||15||14||1|
|20||San Francisco 49ers||8||9||-1|
|22||New Orleans Saints||13||15||-2|
|26||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 Vikings (12 penalties totalling 87 yards). The Vikings only committed 6 infractions totalling 67 yards. For the game, the Rams had a minus -20 Penalty Yards Differential.
As Jeff Fisher noted in Monday’s press conference, defensive offsides have been a problem as of late:
“We’ve had 12 defensive offsides in three games and that is too many. It doesn’t win games for you, so we have to get that fixed.”
Through 8 games, the Rams rank 19th in the NFL in Penalty Yards Differential (-11), a dramatic improvement over 2014’s results. The Rams are 3-1 in games with a positive or even Penalty Yards Differential and 1-3 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 York Giants||9||505||611||106||6.63|
|9||Kansas City Chiefs||8||399||482||83||5.19|
|10||New England Patriots||8||499||580||81||5.06|
|11||San Francisco 49ers||9||387||458||71||4.44|
|12||San Diego Chargers||8||491||552||61||3.81|
|17||Green Bay Packers||8||482||478||-4||-0.25|
|19||St. Louis Rams||8||518||507||-11||-0.69|
|20||New York Jets||8||451||438||-13||-0.81|
|28||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||8||655||478||-177||-11.06|
|29||New Orleans Saints||9||668||475||-193||-12.06|
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 Vikings, the Rams had 7 Rushing Big Plays (Tavon Austin with 4 and Todd Gurley with 3) and 1 Passing Big Play (55 yards to Kenny Britt in the first quarter, which led to a Rams TD). The Rams defense allowed Minnesota 8 Big Plays in total. The Rams had an even Big Play Differential for the game.
Are the Rams too reliant on big plays? Jeff Fisher doesn’t seem to think so:
“No, I don’t think we’ve had enough big plays. We need more big plays. We need big runs. We need chunks. We need to change field position.”
After 8 games, the Rams rank 7th in the league in Big Play Differential (+12), thanks to the efforts of RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and a stingy defense. The Rams are 4-2 in games with a positive Big Play Differential and 0-2 in games with a negative or even Big Play Differential.
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|2||St. Louis Rams||456||46||34||12||10.09%||34||12|
|14||New England Patriots||537||43||23||20||8.01%||34||9|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||496||38||26||12||7.66%||33||5|
|18||New York Jets||541||41||27||14||7.58%||38||3|
|1||Green Bay Packers||479||50||28||22||10.44%||48||2|
|10||Kansas City Chiefs||504||43||25||18||8.53%||43||0|
|12||San Francisco 49ers||542||44||26||18||8.12%||45||-1|
|20||New Orleans Saints||641||47||24||23||7.33%||56||-9|
|31||San Diego Chargers||565||31||12||19||5.49%||44||-13|
|27||New York Giants||581||35||21||14||6.02%||51||-16|
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 Minnesota, the Rams scored 18 points on 14 drives (1.28 PPD), a poor result for the offense. The Vikings scored 21 points on 14 drives (1.50 PPD), a fine performance by the Rams defense. For the game, the Rams had a minus -0.22 Points Per Drive Differential.
Heading into Week 10, the Rams rank 16th in the league in Points Per Drive Differential (+0.09). The main reason for the middle-of-the-road ranking is the performance of the offense, which is 31st in the NFL in Points Per Drive (1.56 PPD). 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 0-4 in games with a negative Points Per Drive Differential.
The top 10 teams in Points Per Drive Differential sport a combined 62-19 record through the first 9 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 the tightly played game against Minnesota, the Rams went into the locker room at half-time with a 15-10 lead. The Rams couldn’t hold on to the lead in the second half and ended up losing in overtime. 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 eight games this season, the Rams have outscored their opponents 75-68 in the second half and scored the same amount of points as their opponents (78-78) in the first half. The Rams are 4-1 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|
|9||Positive||Even||Negative||Negative||15 10||Lost 21-18|
Aside from the weekly analysis of 5 chosen statistics, a few more bear mentioning. 3rd down conversions continue to be a problem for the Rams. They converted only 2 of 16 3rd downs in the game against the Vikings and are last in the league in 3rd down efficiency (23.8%). The Rams are leaving themselves too many third-and-longs. Of the 16 third downs in the Minnesota game, 11 of them were 7 yards or more. Tough to convert those with any kind of frequency. Dropped passes continue to plague the offense. The Rams are 3rd-worst in the league in percentage of passes dropped (6.0%). The Rams are still having trouble getting started in the first quarter. Through 8 games, the Rams have been outscored 50-25 in the first quarter.
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Vikings’ 21-18 win over the Rams:
St. Louis Rams
– If you’re going to rely solely on running back Todd Gurley (+1.5), the Rams offensive line is going to need to give him more help than they did on Sunday. So many runs were DOA because of a completely blown block up front. The main culprits were left tackle Greg Robinson (-4.0) and left guard Andrew Donnal (-7.9). Gurley averaged only 1.5 yards prior to contact.
– Mark Barron (-2.6) had looked like a natural in his transition to linebacker up until this week’s game. Against Adrian Peterson, though, he took his lumps. The former safety was asked to take on a few more blocks than usual and the results were predictable. The lowlight of his game came on the Vikings last third down conversion in overtime. Barron was lined up in the weakside A-gap and as Peterson took the handoff right on a dive play, Barron took the bait and abandoned his gap to attack the ball carrier in the short yardage situation. Peterson immediately cut back into the now open gap and the conversion put the Vikings into field goal range.
– One of the stories of the game for the Rams was their lack of discipline. This manifested most visibly in their penalty problem. On defense alone, seven different players were flagged. The Vikings were gifted six first downs via penalty and countless other second chances due to those mental errors. It’s not just a one-time thing, either. The Rams -14.9 overall penalty grade is the second lowest in the NFL.
DT Aaron Donald (+5.0)
LB Akeem Ayers (+4.0)
RG Jamon Brown (+2.0)
FS Rodney McLeod (+2.0)
WR Kenny Britt & CB Trumaine Johnson (+1.9)
– Linval Joseph (+10.9) put on possibly the most dominant performance against the run that I’ve ever seen. He manhandled blocks in ways you almost never see. Down after down. The defensive tackle collected six stops against the run, and blew up many more setting up easy plays for his teammates, en route to a crazy +8.6 run defense grade for the game.
– This was not a pretty game from Teddy Bridgewater (-1.4 passing). While he made some nice plays with his legs early on, including a touchdown run, he struggled mightily trying to make plays with his arm down the field. Bridgewater finished just 3 of 8 on targets 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s rarely going to get it done. Shaun Hill (-1.2) wasn’t much better with his longest completion on six attempts traveling just three yards down the field.
– It’s time to give some love to the Vikings guard, Michael Harris (+4.4). His performance after switching from tackle this year has flown under the radar, but no guard has graded out higher over the past two weeks. On Sunday, he was the only lineman not consistently overmatched by the Rams uber-talented interior. The right guard was matched up with Michael Brockers much of the day and held him to his lowest run defense grade of the season.
DT Linval Joseph (+10.9)
RG Michael Harris (+4.4)
LB Anthony Barr (+4.2)
DE Everson Griffen (+3.0)
CB Xavier Rhodes (+1.2)