The Rams are now 7-8 after pulling off the 23-17 upset in Seattle against the Seahawks. Coming off three straight wins, the Rams are staying and practising out west for the season finale in San Francisco. They have a very good chance of finishing 8-8, the Rams best record under Jeff Fisher.
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.
Turnovers played a key role in the Rams’ win over the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams played a clean game and didn’t give the ball away. In contrast, Seattle committed 3 turnovers. The costliest was a 1st quarter fumble by Will Tukuafu (forced by Mark Barron). The fumble was recovered by Akeem Ayers and returned for a 45 yard touchdown, giving the Rams a 10-0 lead. For the game, the Rams had a plus +3 Turnover Differential.
After Week 16, the Rams rank tied for 10th in the league in Turnover Differential (+4). The Rams are 4-2 in games with a positive Turnover Differential and 3-6 in games with an even or negative Turnover Differential.
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||28||13||15|
|5||New York Jets||29||21||8|
|6||New England Patriots||21||14||7|
|7||New York Giants||26||20||6|
|9||Green Bay Packers||20||15||5|
|10||St. Louis Rams||25||21||4|
|15||New Orleans Saints||20||19||1|
|22||San Francisco 49ers||12||16||-4|
|23||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||21||25||-4|
|28||San Diego Chargers||15||23||-8|
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.
In the game against Seattle, the Rams committed 5 infractions totalling 60 yards. The Seahawks were flagged 10 times for a total of 83 yards. For the game, the Rams had a plus +23 Penalty Yards Differential.
Through 15 games, the Rams rank 18th in the NFL in Penalty Yards Differential (+30), a dramatic improvement over 2014’s results. The Rams are 5-2 in games with a positive or even Penalty Yards Differential and 2-6 in games with a negative Penalty Yards Differential.
|Rank||Team||GP||Pen Yds||Opp. Pen Yds||Pen Yds Diff||Pen Yds Diff/Game|
|2||New York Giants||15||769||1,066||297||18.56|
|6||Green Bay Packers||15||852||1,070||218||13.63|
|11||New England Patriots||15||818||920||102||6.38|
|14||Kansas City Chiefs||15||823||882||59||3.69|
|15||San Francisco 49ers||15||763||815||52||3.25|
|16||San Diego Chargers||15||897||941||44||2.75|
|18||St. Louis Rams||15||902||932||30||1.88|
|20||New York Jets||15||746||722||-24||-1.50|
|26||New Orleans Saints||15||1,067||855||-212||-13.25|
|29||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||15||1,130||826||-304||-19.00|
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 Seahawks, the Rams had 3 Rushing Big Plays and 1 Passing Big Play (a 28 yard TD pas to Kenny Britt in the 2nd quarter. The Rams defense allowed Seattle only 3 Big Plays in total. The Rams had a plus +1 Big Play Differential for the game, a game dominated by two outstanding defenses.
After 15 games, the Rams rank tied for 15th in the league in Big Play Differential (+4), mostly thanks to the efforts of RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and a stingy defense. The Rams are 7-2 in games with a positive Big Play Differential and 0-6 in games with a negative or even Big Play Differential.
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|6||Green Bay Packers||981||87||51||36||8.87%||83||4|
|7||Kansas City Chiefs||890||78||47||31||8.76%||73||5|
|8||St. Louis Rams||849||74||52||22||8.72%||70||4|
|12||New York Jets||1,019||82||54||28||8.05%||71||11|
|13||San Francisco 49ers||891||71||40||31||7.97%||76||-5|
|14||New England Patriots||996||77||39||38||7.73%||68||9|
|16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||946||71||48||23||7.51%||59||12|
|17||New Orleans Saints||1,031||77||41||36||7.47%||97||-20|
|22||New York Giants||972||67||34||33||6.89%||82||-15|
|32||San Diego Chargers||1,033||54||25||29||5.23%||79||-25|
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 (offense) 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. Conversely, the lower the points per drive allowed by the defense, the better.
In the game against Seattle, the Rams scored 16 points on 11 drives (1.46 PPD), a lower-than-average result for the offense. The Seahawks scored 17 points on 11 drives (1.55 PPD), an excellent performance by the Rams defense. For the game, the Rams had a minus -0.09 Points Per Drive Differential.
Heading into Week 17, the Rams rank 21st in the league in Points Per Drive Differential (-0.25). The main reason for the lower-than-average ranking is the performance of the offense, which is 31st in the NFL in Points Per Drive (1.43 PPD). In contrast, the defense is ranked 10th best in the NFL (1.68 PPD.). The Rams are 6-0 in games with a positive Points Per Drive Differential and 1-8 in games with a negative Points Per Drive Differential.
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 big win against Seattle, the Rams went into the locker room at half-time winning 16-3. They held on to win 23-17. The Rams are 7-2 when leading or tied at the half, and 0-6 when behind starting the 3rd quarter. The Rams are 7-0 when they score at least 20 points in a game and 0-8 when they score less than 20.
|Week||Turnover Diff.||Big Play Diff.||PPD Diff.||PY Diff.||Half-Time||Game Score|
|1 (Sea)||Negative||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 10||Won 34-31 OT|
|2 (Was)||Positive||Negative||Negative||Negative||0 17||Lost 24-10|
|3 (Pit)||Even||Positive||Negative||Negative||3 9||Lost 12-6|
|4 (Ari)||Positive||Positive||Positive||Negative||10 9||Won 24-22|
|5 (GB)||Negative||Positive||Negative||Positive||10 14||Lost 24-10|
|7 (Cle)||Positive||Positive||Positive||Positive||10 3||Won 24-6|
|8 (SF)||Negative||Positive||Positive||Even||20 6||Won 27-6|
|9 (Min)||Positive||Even||Negative||Negative||15 10||Lost 21-18|
|10 (Chi)||Even||Negative||Negative||Negative||10 24||Lost 37-13|
|11 (Bal)||Negative||Negative||Negative||Positive||7 3||Lost 16-13|
|12 (Cin)||Negative||Negative||Negative||Negative||7 17||Lost 31-7|
|13 (Ari)||Negative||Negative||Negative||Negative||0 10||Lost 27-3|
|14 (Det)||Negative||Positive||Positive||Negative||7 0||Won 21-14|
|15 (TB)||Positive||Positive||Positive||Positive||21 3||Won 31-23|
|16 (Sea)||Positive||Positive||Negative||Positive||16 3||Won 23-17|
A lot of positive results in the game against Seattle, resulting in an upset victory.
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Rams’ 23-17 win over the Seahawks.
St. Louis Rams
– The story of this game was very similar to the story from the Rams’ Week 1 win over the Seahawks. The Rams’ defensive line absolutely controlled the Seahawks’ offense. Aaron Donald (+9.9) was once again unstoppable. The Seahawks ran outside zone a good number of times, and only once did they manage to cleanly block the second-year defensive tackle. Williams Hayes (+6.4) also continued to show that his extremely high grade this year is no fluke. He finished the day with four sacks, two hits, and three hurries.
– One of the most surprising outcomes of the game was how well the Rams’ offensive line stood up to the Seahawks’ talented front. Case Keenum was pressured on only five of his 25 dropbacks, and at times, there were holes for Todd Gurley (-1.8) to run through (key words being “at times”). Greg Robinson (-4.6) was still a liability, but the two rookies on the right side of the line played some impressive football. Right tackle Rob Havenstein (-0.2) may have finished with a negative grade, but that came against one of the best edge rushers in football, Cliff Avril. Right guard Cody Wichmann (+5.2) had by far his best outing of the season, and made a living controlling Ahtyba Rubin in the run game.
– QB Case Keenum (-2.0) was basically instructed not to mess up an early lead, with only six attempts targeted 10+ yards downfield and an average depth of target of 7.0 yards—but the Rams were still lucky that one of his handful of ugly misses didn’t cost them the win. He threw multiple balls underneath that pinged off defenders’ hands that could have just as easily been picked. Most notable were near-interceptions to K.J. Wright and another to Kelcie McCray late in the fourth quarter.
DT Aaron Donald (+9.9)
DE William Hayes (+6.4)
RG Cody Wichmann (+5.2)
FS Rodney McLeod (+2.0)
WR Kenny Britt (+1.4)
– Another solid showing from QB Russell Wilson (+1.8), but some untimely sacks, botched snaps (seriously, what were those?), and non-existent running game killed the Seahawks’ offense. It also didn’t help that his best throw of the day, a dime on a corner route to Jermaine Kearse (+0.7), was called back due to penalty.
– The offensive line was once again thoroughly dominated, with every starter earning a steep negative grade. The interesting thing to me, though, was how many runs were blown up by fullback Will Tukuafu (-3.4) and Lemuel Jeanpierre (-2.3), who was used as a blocking tight end on five snaps. One play in particular, third quarter at 9:48, was perfectly blocked at the point of attack and could have been a touchdown, except Tukuafu botched his kick-out block on Akeem Ayers, and it ended up in a 2-yard gain.
– It’s easy to remember Richard Sherman (+1.6) getting burned badly for a touchdown by Kenny Britt, but the linebackers and secondary had a solid day in coverage. Four different players (Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Kelcie McCray, and DeShawn Shead) earned coverage grades of +1.0 or above, and no single player gave up more than 32 yards. The defense held up it’s end of the bargain for most of the day in this one.
DE Michael Bennett (+3.9)
K.J. Wright (+2.7)
WR Doug Baldwin (+2.2)
QB Russell Wilson (+1.8)
MLB Bobby Wagner (+1.8)