Rams’ Red Zone Offense Among League’s Best

Posted Oct 15, 2013

While the Rams’ offense hasn’t gained a tremendous amount of notoriety entering Week 7, it has been among the league’s most efficient when inside the 20-yard line.

The unit, led by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, currently ranks third in the NFL and first in the NFC with a red zone touchdown rate of 66.7 percent and a red zone scoring rate of 94.4 percent. The latter figure comes with a caveat, however, as the only instance in which the Rams had a red-zone possession and did not come away with points was an end-of-game kneel at the conclusion of a 34-20 win over Jacksonville.

“I think, ultimately, that’s where the games come down to,” Schottenheimer said at his mid-week press conference prior to the Houston game. “When you get down there, whether it’s from a sudden change in the defense or you get a return or something, you’ve got to be able to put points on the board.”

Last week served as an excellent example of Schottenheimer’s approach. While the Rams were held to just 216 yards of offense in their 38-13 victory, they could not have been more efficient on three red-zone possessions, scoring touchdowns on each drive. By contrast, Houston was one-for-six in their opportunities inside the 20.

The Rams’ production rate has been a direct byproduct of QB Sam Bradford’s work in protecting the football through six weeks. Bradford has been intercepted just three times—none in the red zone—despite ranking seventh in the league with 233 passing attempts. Among NFC quarterbacks only Dallas’ Tony Romo and New Orleans’ Drew Brees have more touchdown passes than Bradford’s 13, 12 of which have come on red-zone possessions.

The Rams’ early-season success rate in the red zone is no coincidence. Following a 2012 season in which the unit ranked 30th in the league with a red-zone scoring rate of 75.7 percent, the offense placed an extra degree of attention to such situations during the preseason, and the dividends of that work have been evident.

“We put a lot of work into the red zone this offseason,” Bradford said prior to Sunday’s game. “Last year, especially early in the year, it is an area that we struggled in. Obviously, to win games in this league you’ve got to be able to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. I think the success that we’ve had early in the year can be attributed to the fact that early in OTAs and early in training camp there was a lot of emphasis put on that.”

Tight ends have been featured prominently in the Rams’ offensive scheme no matter where they are on the field, but Bradford has given them a bit of extra attention in the red zone. Six of Bradford’s 13 touchdown passes have been to tight ends, including two last Sunday in Houston. The Rams took full advantage of their depth at the position on Sunday, as TE Cory Harkey became the third different tight end to catch a touchdown pass from Bradford this season.

While the Rams’ efficiency in the red zone has never been an issue this year, the team’s volume of possessions inside the 20 has received a sharp uptick along with the running game. Led by rookie RB Zac Stacy, the Rams posted their top two performances on the ground in the last two weeks, racking up 143 and 99 yards, respectively.

“A number of these opportunities that we’ve taken advantage of have been off of play action, and so we establish the run and now you force the defense to be balanced,” Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher said following the win over Houston. “We’ve yet to score a rushing touchdown this year but that’s coming. But, because we’re running the football a little bit better, it’s creating opportunities.”