By Richard Winer ‘The Stat Doctor’
Last Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars might have only counted as one game, but for the Rams, the perception and reality of being 2-3 instead of 1-4 is very significant. Although the Rams were double-digit favorites coming into the contest, the scoreboard still says 0-0 at the start, and the team had to buck some troubling trends to win by two touchdowns. Let’s take a look at and behind some of the numbers to help explain how the Rams triumphed.
The Rams have defeated Jacksonville in three of the four games played between the two teams. In those three wins, the common thread and secret to success has been an 80-yard scoring play. Last Sunday, it was Matt Giordano who put the Rams on the board with an 82-yard interception return. That was the longest play of its kind since 2005 when Adam Archuleta pilfered one of Steve McNair’s passes and returned it 85 yards for the Rams’ first score that day in a 31-27 win over Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans. The other two Rams victories over the Jaguars in 1996 and 2005 were helped in large part by Anthony Parker’s 92-yard interception return and a Jamie Martin pass play to Kevin Curtis good for 83 yards and a score, respectively. In all four games against the Jaguars, the Rams have had a return touchdown, including the Brandon Chillar 29-yard blocked punt return in 2005. Even in the one loss to the Jaguars, the Rams came up with a return touchdown when Leonard Little took an interception 36 yards to the house in 2009.
In the first four games of the season, the Rams had 73 rushing plays and 194 pass plays – a ratio of 27 percent rushes to 73 percent pass plays. If the team was searching for more balance in the run-pass distribution when facing the Jaguars, the Rams found it. The team ran 36 times and had 36 pass plays – you can’t get more evenly balanced than that. Here’s the rather startling statistic for the Rams when one looks at that play selection of rushes and passes. Since the Rams moved to St. Louis, there have been 47 games in which the offense ran the ball as often or more often than it passed. The Rams have won 39 of those games for an 83-percent winning percentage. Five of the eight losses were by no more than four points (the other three were blowouts). The team is 124-168-1 (42.5 percent) overall in games as the St. Louis Rams with a record of 85-160-1 in games with more passes than runs, for just under a 35-percent winning percentage – a huge difference, to say the least. Even the “Greatest Show on Turf” in that 1999 regular season was 6-0 in games with as many or more running plays than pass attempts.
The Rams won in spite of the fact that Jacksonville was most prolific on first-down plays, averaging 9.9 yards per play, or six yards better than their average after four games. The last five of their six explosive plays of at least 20 yards occurred on first down, good for 165 yards. Overall, the Jaguars gained 276 of their 363 yards on first down, and that represented 76 percent of their offense for the day. They had more yards on first down than they had been averaging in total offense coming into the game. Take away the six explosive plays that averaged 31 yards per play, and you have 53 plays that only averaged 3.4 yards per snap. The Rams themselves were far more effective running the ball on first down, as they gained 5.2 yards per rush – nearly three yards better than their first-down rushing average in the first four games.
Going into the contest, the St. Louis offense had 28 of its 51 drives lasting no more than two minutes. One could say the Rams reversed their fortunes by only having five of the 13 drives last Sunday lasting no more than two minutes. Seven of the remaining eight possessions lasted more than three minutes. By contrast, the Jaguars had 10 of their 14 drives lasting no more than two minutes, with only one drive lasting more than three minutes. That’s a formula to keep the defense fresh since it doesn’t have to be on the field for extended periods of time.
The passing attack came to life as the game progressed, and Sam Bradford ended up with a passer rating of 105.3 that came from throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of those three touchdown passes were brought in by Austin Pettis, bringing his career total to eight. Believe it or not, his 48 points scored put him second behind Greg Zuerlein in Rams career scoring among active players. More astounding is the fact that his 31-yard touchdown reception not only was his longest as a Ram (previous long was only five yards), but it was longer than the seven prior touchdown catches combined (23 yards).
Fortunately, wins and losses in football are determined by actual points on the scoreboard without depending on style points like we have seen in sports like ski jumping and figure skating. Last Sunday’s win might not have been the most stylish win, but it counts nonetheless and brings the team back to within one game of .500. Now, it’s on to Houston to conclude this season’s Texas two-step against the Texans. This will only be the second trip to Houston to face the Texans, but hopefully it will be as memorable as the 2005 trip when the Rams stormed back late to tie the game and then won it in overtime, 33-27.