Naughty Nurse: Rams ride Spag's Defensive Hogs

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 27, 2011



(Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of the Rams below. Click here to see our pre-draft reviews of other NFL teams.)
 
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts bench-press champion
 
St. Louis won a pathetic six games from 2007 to 2009, three fewer than the Lions over the same period – and Detroit went 0-16 one of those years.
 
But the Rams surpassed that total with seven wins alone in 2010 and were one Week 17 victory away from walking into the playoffs as the champions of the NFC West – just a year after fielding the worst team in football (1-15).
 
There's still plenty of room for improvement, especially on offense and, yes, even at quarterback. But the trends are very, very good and very promising.
 
St. Louis
The 2010 storyline: The Rams were easily the NFL's most improved team in 2010.
 
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 7-9 (18.1 PPG – 20.5 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-4 (16.0 – 25.4)
Last five seasons overall: 21-59 (.263)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Hog Index (7th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Passing YPA (30th)
 
All Quality Stats 
Defensive Passing YPA: 8th
Quarterback Rating: 22nd
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 10th
Relativity Index: 25th
 
 
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Rams scored a humble 289 points in 2010, but it was an incredible 65 percent improvement over the 175 points they scored in 2010. Defensively, St. Louis surrendered 328 points, the organization's best effort since the NFC champion team of 2001 (273 points).
 
Best game of 2010
20-17 win vs. San Diego (Week 6). The upstart Rams jumped all over the scary-on-paper but underachieving Chargers, racing out to a 17-0 first-half lead and then holding on for a 20-17 victory. The St. Louis offense played turnover-free ball while the team's rapidly rising Defensive Hogs sparkled, with two sacks each from Larry Grant, James Hall and Chris Long.
 
Worst game of 2010
16-6 loss at Seattle (Week 17). The Rams, after a 1-15 season in 2009, had a very simple chore in front of them on the last week of the 2010 campaign: beat the 6-9 Seahawks and march into the playoffs as champions of the NFC West. Instead, they sputtered in a game that exposed all of the team's offensive weaknesses. The team mustered just two mid-game Josh Brown field goals, netted 184 yards of offense and Sam Bradford was hugely ineffective with 1 INT and just 155 yards on 36 attempts (4.3 YPA). It was a very disappointing end to a season of great progress ... but a game that served as a perfect statistical microcosm of the season as a whole.
 
Strength
Coach Steve Spagnuolo's Defensive Hogs. The St. Louis coach, now entering his third year at the helm, rose to fame as the defensive coordinator with the Giants, when his top-ranked Defensive Hogs were largely responsible for the single greatest upset in NFL history: New York's 17-14 win over undefeated New England and it's seemingly invincible offense (record 589 points) in Super Bowl XLII.
 
He's quickly brought the same style of football to St. Louis, after struggling during his first season. Check out these incredible Cold, Hard Football Facts from the first year of the Spagnuolo Era to the second:
  • The 2009 Rams ranked 30th at forcing Negative Pass Plays (6.4%)
  • The 2010 Rams ranked 9th at forcing Negative Pass Plays (9.3%)
  •  
  • The 2009 Rams ranked 29th in third-down defense (43.5% success against)
  • The 2010 Rams were 2nd in third-down defense (33.5% success against)
  •  
  • The 2009 Rams were 32nd (dead last) overall on our Defensive Hog Index
  • The 2010 Rams were 7th overall on our Defensive Hog Index.
  •  
  • The 2009 Rams ranked 31st in Defensive Passer Rating (96.9)
  • The 2010 Rams ranked 9th in Defensive Passer Rating (80.2)
Wow! Incredible data.
 
The steady play of rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford (18 TD, 15 INT, 76.5 rating) captured all the attention, as high-profile passers usually do. But the spectacular rise of the Rams defense might have been the great statistical story of 2010 and is almost solely responsible for the team's rise from 1-15 to playoff contender in one year.
 
Weakness
Rushing offense. Passing offense. The Rams were largely inefficient running the ball in 2010. But they made up for it by being largely inefficient passing the ball, too.
 
Running back Steven Jackson is considered one of the best in the game, and was a lone bright spot in the leanest years in St. Louis. But the fact is of the matter is that he averaged just 3.76 YPA on the ground in 2010, and the team as a whole averaged 3.68 YPA (26th).
 
Bradford, meanwhile, generated plenty of pub for his rookie-record 590 pass attempts and his 3,512 passing yards – second all time among rookie quarterbacks only to Peyton Manning himself (3,739 yards in 1998).
 
But as you know, the Cold, Hard Football Facts put no value in volume, only in efficiency. And the truth is that Bradford was hugely inefficient getting to those lofty numbers: his 590 passes for 3,512 yards equaled a woeful average of 5.95 YPA.
 
For a little perspective, 2010 YPA leader Philip Rivers produced 4,710 yards on just 541 attempts (8.71 YPA) – nearly 3 yards per attempt more. It's a dramatic difference in production.
 
As a team, the Rams ranked 30th in Passing Yards Per Attempt, using our model that accounts for sacks (5.24 YPA).  
 
All in all, it was a very promising rookie campaign for Bradford. But he needs to show vast improvements in efficiency before the Rams develop a playoff-caliber offense.
   
General off-season strategy/overview
It's pretty obvious the Rams need help on offense. In fact, they may be the rare team in which we'd suggest looking at a wide receiver early in the draft (normally verboten from our perspective, especially for a team that had a losing record the year before).
 
The team's biggest receiving weapon in 2010 was Danny Amendola, who quietly became the Wes Welker of the NFC last season. He's an undrafted, undersized (5-10, 185) second-year return specialist turned possession receiver who led the Rams in receptions (85), yards (689) and receiving TDs (3) in 2010. Oh, and like Welker, he went to Texas Tech.
 
Given the fact that the Rams are vastly improved on defense, and already has its "quarterback of the future," and lacks big-play capabilities, WR might be a good fit.
 
The team desperately needs help on the OL, too, to shore up the league's 26th-ranked Offensive Hogs, most likely in the interior.
 
The team drafted combine-wunderkind OT Jason Smith with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft. But he's underwhelmed so far, in part due to a rookie head injury. He was relegated to right tackle in 2010 as Rodger Saffold proved one of the year's great rookie linemen and captured the LT spot.
 
And as good as RB Jackson has been as the team's premier offensive workhorse, it's probably time to admit that the heavy workload (nearly 400 touches each of the past two years) has finally caught up with him. He certainly lacked explosiveness in 2010, as discussed above. Nothing against him. But RBs almost always flash out and burn quickly in the NFL.
 
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
With its solid defense, little bit of improvement on offense, especially out of Bradford, who should progress nicely in his second year, this team has a very legit shot at, say, 10 wins and an NFC West title.

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