Throughout the 2015 season, I tracked 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. The Rams haven’t won a game in nearly three complete 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 contest against the 49ers, the Rams played a clean game and didn’t give the ball away. The only turnover in the game was a Blaine Gabbert interception (returned 42 yards by Eugene Sims) which led to a Rams touchdown. For the game, the Rams had a plus +1 Turnover Differential.
For the season, the Rams ranked tied for 10th in the league in Turnover Differential (+5). The Rams were 4-3 in games with a positive Turnover Differential and 3-6 in games with an even or negative Turnover Differential.
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||29||15||14|
|5||New England Patriots||21||14||7|
|6||New York Giants||28||21||7|
|8||New York Jets||30||24||6|
|10||St. Louis Rams||26||21||5|
|14||Green Bay Packers||22||17||5|
|15||New Orleans Saints||22||20||2|
|21||San Diego Chargers||20||24||-4|
|23||San Francisco 49ers||12||17||-5|
|24||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||23||28||-5|
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 San Francisco, the Rams committed 11 infractions totalling 105 yards, a very poor result. The 49ers were flagged 7 times for a total of 60 yards. For the game, the Rams had a minus -45 Penalty Yards Differential.
For the season, the Rams ranked 19th in the NFL in Penalty Yards Differential (-15), a dramatic improvement over 2014’s results. The Rams were 5-2 in games with a positive or even Penalty Yards Differential and 2-7 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||16||779||1,077||298||18.63|
|7||Green Bay Packers||16||906||1,107||201||12.56|
|8||New England Patriots||16||859||1,013||154||9.63|
|12||San Francisco 49ers||16||823||920||97||6.06|
|15||Kansas City Chiefs||16||878||941||63||3.94|
|16||San Diego Chargers||16||942||976||34||2.13|
|19||St. Louis Rams||16||1,007||992||-15||-0.94|
|20||New York Jets||16||787||767||-20||-1.25|
|26||New Orleans Saints||16||1,112||887||-225||-14.06|
|30||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||16||1,195||859||-336||-21.00|
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 San Francisco 49ers, the Rams had 4 rushing Big Plays and 1 passing Big Play. Uncharacteristically, the Rams defense gave up 8 Big Plays in total to the the 49ers’ offense. The Rams had a minus -3 Big Play Differential for the game.
For the season, the Rams ranked 16th in the league in Big Play Differential (+1), mostly thanks to the efforts of RB Todd Gurley, WR Tavon Austin and a stingy defense. The Rams were 7-2 in games with a positive Big Play Differential and 0-7 in games with a negative or even Big Play Differential. The Rams ran the fewest offensive plays in the NFL (920) and ranked 8th in the league in Big Play percentage (8.59%).
|Rank||Team||Plays||Big Plays||Rush||Pass||Big Play %||BPA||+/-|
|16||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1,017||76||50||26||7.47%||64||12|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||955||85||53||32||8.9%||74||11|
|12||New York Jets||1,074||85||56||29||7.91%||74||11|
|15||New England Patriots||1,050||79||40||39||7.52%||73||6|
|7||Green Bay Packers||1,056||92||53||39||8.71%||88||4|
|8||St. Louis Rams||920||79||56||23||8.59%||78||1|
|11||San Francisco 49ers||969||79||42||37||8.15%||81||-2|
|21||New York Giants||1,053||73||39||34||6.93%||86||-13|
|19||New Orleans Saints||1,096||80||43||37||7.3%||104||-24|
|32||San Diego Chargers||1,100||58||28||30||5.27%||90||-32|
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 the 49ers, the Rams scored 16 points on 12 drives (1.33 PPD), a poor result for the offense. The 49ers scored 19 points on 14 drives (1.36 PPD), an excellent performance by the Rams defense. For the game, the Rams had a minus -0.03 Points Per Drive Differential.
With the regular season now complete, the Rams ranked 18th in the league in Points Per Drive Differential (-0.24). The main reason for the lower-than-average ranking was the performance of the offense, which ranked 31st in the NFL in Points Per Drive (1.43 PPD). In contrast, the defense ranked 9th best in the NFL (1.67 PPD.), the classic bend-but-don’t-break defense. The Rams were 6-0 in games with a positive Points Per Drive Differential and 1-9 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. With the 2015 regular season now in the record books, the Rams now haven’t won a game in the past three seasons unless they were tied or winning at half-time.
In the season-ending loss to San Francisco, the Rams went into the locker room at half-time leading 16-10. The Rams were shut out in the second half and lost 19-16 in OT. For the season, the Rams were 7-3 when leading or tied at the half, and 0-6 when behind starting the 3rd quarter. The Rams were 7-0 when they score at least 20 points in a game and 0-9 when they score less than 20.
In their 9 losses this season, Rams scored 28 points (total) in 2nd half and OT
— Bernie Miklasz (@miklasz) January 4, 2016
|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|
|17 (SF)||Positive||Negative||Negative||Negative||16 10||Lost 19-16 OT|
Pro Football Focus Player Grades
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the 49ers’ 19-16 win over the Rams.
St. Louis Rams
– DT Aaron Donald (+15.4) closed out his All-Pro caliber season with one of the most dominant games in the PFF era (2007-present). Donald was in the backfield on what seemed like every single snap, and earned huge grades for both pass rushing (four hits, four hurries, and a batted pass) and run defense. While J.J. Watt, Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh and Kawann Short were all tremendously productive this season, Donald’s +104.0 cumulative season grade leads all NFL interior defensive linemen by nearly 30 points. Donald was the best interior lineman against both the run and the pass in 2015, just his second year in the league.
– LT Greg Robinson (+3.2) earned his first green-graded game of the season after earning a +2.5 run blocking grade and allowing just one hurry in pass protection. This was only the second game of the season in which Robinson earned a positive grade, making 2015 a disappointing season for the second overall pick of the 2014 draft. Robinson’s athleticism and power were on display at times yesterday however, especially when he was asked to pull and screen block. Robinson ranks 74th of 76 NFL tackles with a -26.6 cumulative pass blocking grade this season, and will need show drastic improvement in that area in 2016.
– QB Case Keenum (-0.6) was just 3 of 11 for 83 yards on passes thrown more than 10+ yards in this game. Keenum did not turn the ball over, but did not make many big plays either, as St. Louis was content to run a conservative offensive game plan. The 49ers blitzed just eight times in the game and finished without a sack, but were disruptive when they brought extra rushers. Keenum finished 1 of 8 for 9 yards and a -1.3 grade against the blitz and 4 of 13 for 34 yards and a -1.5 grade under pressure.
DT Aaron Donald (+15.4)
DE William Hayes (+6.1)
LT Greg Robinson (+3.2)
DT Michael Brockers (+2.5)
HB Benny Cunningham (+2.1)
San Francisco 49ers
– San Francisco’s rushing offense was a nonfactor in this game, as their offensive line was unable to get any movement against an excellent St. Louis front seven. All five offensive linemen and both starting tight ends for the 49ers earned red grades for run blocking, and San Francisco gained just 93 total rushing yards at 2.8 yards per carry. HB DuJuan Harris (+3.1) was the team’s leading rusher with 67 yards, and also led the team with eight catches and 86 receiving yards.
– While he was not able to crack the starting lineup this season, 2015 first-round pick DE Arik Armstead (+2.4) enjoyed a successful rookie year. Armstead earned green grades for both pass rushing and run defense this year, and his +14.0 overall grade was second only to Leonard Williams among rookie interior defensive linemen. Second-year OLB Aaron Lynch (+2.3) also had a strong season, especially as a pass rusher (14.3 Pass Rushing Productivity ranks 4th of 33 qualifying NFL 3-4 OLB’s). As they head into an uncertain offseason, the 49ers can be confident that they have building blocks in their front seven in Armstead and Lynch.
– QB Blaine Gabbert (-2.6) earned a red grade for the fourth time in his last six games, despite his production against the blitz (10 of 16 for 20 yards, 1 TD, +1.9 grade). Gabbert fumbled twice and was also intercepted, and struggled under pressure (7 of 17 for 86 yards, 1 INT, -1.1 grade). After performing well in his first two starts, Gabbert has given the 49ers little reason to believe that he is their long-term answer at the quarterback position.
HB DuJuan Harris (+3.2)
DE Arik Armstead (+2.4)
WR Quinton Patton (+2.4)
OLB Aaron Lynch (+2.3)
CB Jimmy Ward (+1.5)