National Football League

Rams Still Strive for More Consistency

I’ve said during “The Fast Lane” with D’Marco that my hope for the rest of the Rams’ season is that they start to play consistently well. In their first 10 games, they played OK in their first game, then played three bad ones in a row, then bounced back with a good performance against Jacksonville, a terrific game at Houston, a clunker at Carolina, then a good game here against Seattle, an OK performance against Tennessee and a dominant game at Indy.

To this point, the Rams haven’t played two really good games in a row back-to-back. We know they can play good games, because they’ve played several. But the youngest team in the NFL needs to start developing some consistency. They need to play consistently well at home (where they’re 2-3), and they need to put together good games, win or lose, on a more regular basis.

For this team, it’s going to start with the offense. Heading into Week 12, the Rams are 27th in the NFL in offensive yards per game. They’re 22nd rushing and 24th passing. The first way to get better offense is to stay on the field, but the Rams are just 27th in the league in third-down conversions. They need to get much better on third down to keep drives alive and score more.

Defensively, the Rams are 19th overall. While they lead the NFL in sack percentage, they’ve had a really difficult time stopping the run. They’ve allowed 114.5 yards a game, which is 18th, and 4.2 per rush, which is 20th. But that’s not the story, because it’s a Jekyll and Hyde group. They’ve had games where they’ve allowed 86, 36, 44 and 18 yards. But they’ve also had games where they’ve allowed 219, 198, 193 and 153 yards. The run defense is wildly inconsistent. And for a team that sacks the quarterback so well, they’re only 20th in defensive third-down efficiency.

The Rams do play OK in a “phone booth.” On offense, they’re 16th in the league in trips to the red zone with 31, and 14th in touchdown efficiency at 54.8 percent, having scored 17 TDs. The most efficient red-zone offenses, Denver and Dallas, are 79.1 percent and 66.7 percent, respectively. Just two more red-zone touchdowns would have the Rams in the top five in efficiency, tied with San Francisco and Miami. Offensively, they’re close.

On defense, they’ve allowed the 12th-most red-zone trips, and are 15th, allowing 19 touchdowns for a 54.3 percent touchdown efficiency for the opposition.  The leader, Baltimore, has allowed nine TDs on 28 trips. Kansas City is second, with only six touchdowns on 17 red-zone trips. To be among the elite, the Rams need to get that touchdown efficiency down to around 40 percent.

On offense, this is a running team now. They need to be efficient and protect the ball on offense. The Rams are a plus-5 in the turnover differential. If they can be a plus in every game they play, they will give themselves a great chance to win. They also need to run the ball well in the red zone and get their touchdown efficiency just a tad better.

It’s a matter of better individual performances. The Rams are tied for the league lead in dropped passes with 27, and are second in drop percentage at 7.8 percent. If they would cut those drops and percentage roughly in half, that would increase their third-down percentage and probably their red-zone efficiency to the point that they’d be top seven in the league.

Defensively, the pass rush is there and the tackling has generally been good. The problem has been the number of completions against the Rams. They’ve allowed opposing QBs to complete 65.7 percent of their passes, and the league average is 61.2 percent. Only six teams have allowed a higher percentage against, and that keeps the opposition offense on the field. Of course, they can’t allow the exceptional rushing performances turned in by DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore, Arian Foster and Chris Johnson, but hopefully those games will be few and far between. In their last four games, the Rams have allowed an average of 94 yards per game, and that includes a 198-yard performance by Tennessee.

The Rams have a young team, but that’s not an excuse anymore. The 1999 Rams were the youngest team in the NFL, and they won the Super Bowl. Same with the 2010 Packers, who beat the Steelers. Young players like Janoris Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Alec Ogletree and soon T.J. McDonald will have to play at a more consistent level.

On offense, the young receiving corps needs to become more consistent, and the club needs to continue play within Kellen Clemens’ limitations. It appears the Rams have found a running game with Zac Stacy. They need more explosive plays from Tavon Austin and Chris Givens, and continued ascent from Brian Quick and Daryl Richardson as complementary players.

The special teams have settled down and the penalties appear to have been solved there, but the Rams still commit too many penalties before and after plays start. That’s another area where they need to improve.

This should be an interesting final six games. There are a bunch of talented young athletes on the Rams. Now, this veteran coaching staff needs to mold them into talented young football players, and a talented young football team. The time has come to start winning in St. Louis.