Rams Finding More Red Zone Success

Posted Dec 27, 2012

For most of the early part of the season, the Rams offense found itself lamenting missed opportunities, chances to put points on the board that fell by the wayside for one reason or another.

A silly penalty here, a dropped pass there, a missed throw, a protection breakdown, you name it and the Rams had it, especially in situations where they’d successfully moved inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

The red zone, or the money zone as a number of Rams call it, has been a thorn in the Rams side for a few years running. Between the 20s, the offense could move the ball but when they got in close with a chance to put some points on the board, too often they’d settle for a field goal or, worse yet, come up empty.

“Obviously, that’s an area where we struggled earlier in the year,” quarterback Sam Bradford said.

But as the Rams have won four of their past five and have a chance to finish the season with a winning record and an undefeated mark in the NFC West, one area the Rams have made marked improvement is in the red zone.

While they rank just 21st in the league in red zone touchdown efficiency, scoring a touchdown on just 51.4 percent of their trips inside the 20, they have bolstered that number significantly in the past three games.

Starting with the Buffalo game on Dec. 9, the Rams have scored touchdowns on seven of their past eight trips to the red zone. Aside from a missed chance late in the Minnesota game that came on the heels of two incompletions, the Rams have been nearly flawless in their execution inside the opponent’s 20.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher credits the sudden uptick in red zone production with finding a better offensive balance that can keep defenses guessing.

“We’re making throws and making catches,” Fisher said. “We’re also – as we talked about when we were struggling – you have to also use the run game. ‘Jack’ (RB Steven Jackson) scores from (5) yards out yesterday and he’s had a couple good runs in there. So, we’ve got the ability...if you’re running it and throwing it, and you also have the ability to use the play-pass which we’ve done. You saw the good run-action fake that we executed that ‘AP’ (WR Austin Pettis) caught. His touchdown pass was, everybody comes and is respecting the run, the ball goes over the top.”

Not only have the Rams been finding multiple ways to score touchdowns in their red zone trips, they’ve been doing it at an incredibly efficient rate.

The Rams actually sit 11th in the league in yards per play inside the 20 with 2.99 yards per attempt but that number has been on a meteoric rise of late.

On the seven drives that have resulted in red zone paydirt in the past three games, the Rams have covered 98 yards on just 18 plays, a robust 5.4 yards per attempt in the most tightly defended part of the field.

In addition to the balanced production in the run and the pass, the Rams have also eliminated some of the red zone mistakes that plagued them earlier in the season. They’ve had no penalties inside the 20 in the past three games and they’ve had no turnovers after giving it away four times there on the year, which ranks 25th in that category.

“I think if you look at one of the reasons we’ve had success down there lately is we haven’t killed ourselves,” Bradford said. “We haven’t had penalties to put us in long yardage situations or to take us out of the red zone, and when we’ve had third downs, we’ve converted them. I think those are two critical keys to succeeding in the red zone.”

SHERMAN CLEARED: The NFL announced Thursday morning that Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has been cleared to return after overruling a suspension for violation of the league’s rules on performance enhancing drugs.

Sherman had initially been suspended for four games for violation of the policy but argued that some shenanigans in how his test was handled made any result one that could have seen some tampering.

Sherman played the past three weeks after the suspension while he awaited the results of his appeal.

“He makes a lot of plays,” Fisher said. “He finds a way to get the ball in the end zone; he’s a good tackler, very competitive.”

Indeed, Sherman has emerged as one of the best cover corners in the league. He is tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions, including one in the first meeting with the Rams and leads the Seahawks in pass breakups with 23.

Knowing Sherman will be in the lineup came as no surprise to the Rams even if it wasn’t welcome news.

“No, he’s a great player,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He got us one time last game, got a great interception down the boundary. He’s a great football player. When you throw to his side, you have got to be careful because you never know what he’s going to do.”

NO PRO BOWL: The NFL announced the players going to Hawaii for its annual All Star game on Wednesday evening.

And, for the second year in a row, the Rams were left without a representative heading to the Pro Bowl.

It wasn’t surprising last year when the Rams stumbled to a 2-14 record but at 7-7-1 this year, the Rams had no shortage of candidates with players like running back Steven Jackson, linebacker James Laurinaitis, ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan, safety Quintin Mikell and kicker Greg Zuerlein all legitimate contenders to rank among the best at their position in the NFC.

Alas, it was not to be in a very competitive conference but as the Rams continue to improve, it stands to reason the day will come soon where they’ll have more than one headed to Hawaii.
SAFFOLD’S PROGRESS: Left tackle Rodger Saffold returned to the starting lineup on Nov. 11 at San Francisco on a schedule that was, by his estimation, a bit earlier than expected.

Saffold suffered a knee injury in the Sept. 16 game against Washington that kept him out for the next six games and the bye week. He battled back and came back against the Niners and, much to his own astonishment, has been back in the lineup ever since.

“I’m really surprised,” Saffold said. “I kind of came back a little early, actually really early so I was worried about it but I haven’t been trying to play running back anymore and I have been wearing my knee brace and they have been helping me out throughout the week.”

INJURY REPORT: The Rams returned to practice Wednesday after enjoying a victory Monday and a normal Tuesday off for Christmas.

Upon their return, the Rams came back with a relatively short injury report, considering that it’s the final week of the NFL season.