By Richard Winer, M.D. for TonySoftli.com
You might say the Rams were able to “Buc” a few trends with their 23-13 victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday. The team concluded the home portion of its schedule on a rousing note by carefully expanding a 14-13 third quarter lead to a double-digit triumph for the sixth time this season. For the first time this year, the Rams won a game when they did not score at least 27 points. They overcame two fumbles in just under two minutes by allowing only three points off of the turnovers while scoring 10 points of their own off of two Tampa Bay giveaways. It was quite a day for the defense that allowed only 170 yards in 56 plays, so let’s dig a bit deeper into those numbers.
The way this game started out was not exactly a preview of coming attractions. The teams exchanged three-and-outs on their opening drives and the Rams lost Jake Long on their third play from scrimmage. When the Bucs went 85 yards in 11 plays thanks largely to two passes to Vincent Jackson for a total of 52 yards, the Rams were down, 7-0, and this seemed like a bad omen. After all, there had been no lead changes since the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game some six games ago. But, the Rams were not deterred and set sail on their own 80-yard drive that covered 13 plays and 7:43 off the clock—the second longest drive by time this year. Not a single play covered more than nine yards, that is, if you don’t count the 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Tampa Bay. Zac Stacy’s one-yard plunge and Greg Zuerlein’s PAT tied up the proceedings at 7-7.
That set up arguably the key point of the game as the Bucs converted a third down and had first down at their own 30-yard line. Running back Bobby Rainey was halted behind the line of scrimmage by Alec Ogletree who forced the fumble that was recovered by William Hayes. The Rams had terrific field position at the Tampa Bay 27, but that has not always meant good news for the team. In the previous 17 drives that started beyond midfield, the Rams had only six touchdowns and five field goals. It only took nine seconds, most of which was the double reverse razzle-dazzle play behind the line that ended up in the hands of Stedman Bailey and he was off to the races. No Tavon Austin from West Virginia, no problem. The fellow Mountaineer scored his first touchdown, so both of the rookie wide receivers from West Virginia have rushing touchdowns. This was also the third Rams’ touchdown drive that took only one play following a turnover. There actually was a lead change and the Rams did not give up the advantage and they are still undefeated when leading at the half.
What about that Rams’ defense? Perhaps in the spirit of the holidays, the defense offered to provide free gift wrapping at the Edward Jones Dome. The catch was that they were going to put everything in sacks. Five different players representing the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary were involved in the seven sacks of Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon. Quinn led the way with three sacks to set a team record of 18 sacks in a season (since sacks became an official statistic in 1982). To put Quinn’s season in perspective, consider that he is averaging 1.20 sacks per game. For his 46-game career thus far, he has 33.5 sacks for an average of 0.73 sacks per game. Deacon Jones and Reggie White are the only players to record 100 sacks with one team while averaging more than one sack per game. Bruce Smith is the all-time official sacks leader with 200, but his average was 0.72 sacks per game. Quinn is very close to Rams Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood who had an unofficial total of 151.5 sacks in 202 games for a 0.75 sacks per game average. Interestingly enough, if Quinn gets 2.5 sacks in Seattle that would mean that he had virtually doubled his average of sacks per game each of his three years in the league.
The Bucs were successful on four of their first five third down conversions, but were blanked in their next nine attempts. Tampa Bay had an average of 6.7 yards to go on those nine plays and ended up with minus-13 yards for their efforts. Only two of the nine plays gained positive yardage as Glennon went 2-for-4 for 15 yards while being sacked four times. Furthermore, the Rams defense held the Bucs to only one first down on three 3rd-and-1 attempts. In the last two games, the defense has only allowed 61 yards on 29 third down plays for an impressive 2.1 yards per play average. Also, Tampa Bay only averaged 2.3 yards on their 22 first down plays—a 0.7 average in the first half—with the Rams allowing more than five yards on only three of those plays.
It might be the holiday season, but the Rams extended their “No Returns” policy another week. From 1960 until the Saints game this season, the Rams had never been in a game in which they allowed no kickoff OR punt returns. Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker have now done this on consecutive Sundays with six kickoffs and two punts against the Bucs as well as six kickoffs (including one onside kick) and four punts against New Orleans. At home against the Niners, the Rams also allowed no return yards, but there was one punt return for no yards. The tandem of Zuerlein and Hekker along with the rest of the special teams players now have six games in their 31 games allowing fewer than 10 return yards. Before they arrived, that had only happened twice since 1960 (seven yards at Dallas in 2011 and four yards at Denver in 2002).
That kind of special teams play contributed significantly to the Rams having the better average drive start by double-digits the last two games. After posting an 11-yard per drive advantage against the Saints, the Rams were a whopping 20 yards better than the Bucs in the average drive start category. The Rams on average started at their own 42-yard line and had no drives starting inside their own 20-yard line. The last time the Rams had a better average drive start was against the Ravens in 2003 when they had seven drive starts past the 50 and averaged their own 43-yard line. Of further significance is the fact the Rams had 17 special teams penalties in their first five games and have but eight in the last ten games.
The season concludes Sunday in Seattle where the Rams will have ended three of their last four seasons. There is plenty on the line for Seattle in terms of playoff seeding and the Rams will look to end the year with three consecutive wins and a .500 season. Let’s see, the Seahawks will be rooting for the Cardinals and the Falcons. The Niners and the Saints will be cheering for the Rams and the Falcons. Rams fans can simply cheer for the Rams (and maybe the Giants, also!) to win the season finale.