The Rams' Offense Could Be Historically Terrible in 2016

In a primetime game, the Rams gifted us with the worst offensive performance of the week. How much worse can it get?

You might have watched the Los Angeles Rams play the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. You might not have.

As someone in the first group, I wished I was in the second. It's generally a bad sign that he highlight of a primetime NFL game is someone running onto the field.

The Rams failed to record a single point, and our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric was not fond of their play.

Below are the worst five team offensive performances from Week 1 in terms of how many points below expectation they recorded.

Team Opponent Net Expected Points
Seattle Seahawks Miami Dolphins -6.53
Miami Dolphins Seattle Seahawks -7.21
Cleveland Browns Philadelphia Eagles -9.02
Tennessee Titans Minnesota Vikings -11.44
Los Angeles Rams San Francisco 49ers -23.29

The Rams are in a tier of their own here, but let's take a deeper look into their Week 1 performance.

Case Keenum: NFL Starting Quarterback

If you had to turn away from watching Case Keenum throw, this article isn't for you. These numbers are brutal.

In his first three seasons in the NFL, Keenum was a below-average quarterback. On Monday night, Keenum blew those out of the water.

Year Team Drop Backs Passing NEP Passing NEP/P League Avg Passing Success Rate League Avg
2013 HOU 272 -21.04 -0.08 0.05 40.81% 45.91%
2014 STL 80 -9.21 -0.12 0.08 43.75% 46.91%
2015 STL 129 12.58 0.1 0.11 48.84% 46.87%
2016 STL 37 -15.46 -0.42 0.18 29.73% 48.09%

In Week 1, only eight quarterbacks produced a negative Passing NEP -- something tough to do in today’s NFL where passing is so efficient. Here are the eight who did so.

Name Team Drop Backs Passing NEP Passing NEP/P
Trevor Siemian DEN 28 -0.63 -0.02
Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 36 -0.67 -0.02
Tyrod Taylor BUF 24 -1.28 -0.05
Blaine Gabbert SF 35 -2.29 -0.07
Ryan Tannehill MIA 33 -3.35 -0.10
Jay Cutler CHI 34 -3.97 -0.12
Robert Griffin III CLE 29 -9.47 -0.33
Case Keenum LA 37 -15.46 -0.42

As you can see, from a total and per-play perspective, Robert Griffin III and Keenum were well below the others. And looking at per-play efficiency, Keenum was a few ticks below Griffin. So you can say it: Case Keenum was the worst quarterback of Week 1.

12 Targets for 13 yards

Only two Rams pass-catchers came out with a positive Target NEP, and one was running back Malcolm Brown, who got one target. The reason it’s important to look at Target NEP as opposed to Reception NEP is it takes into account all of the players targets -- not just the ones he catches (which didn’t happen much for Rams receivers).

Of course, Keenum’s play heavily influences this metric, but it illustrates the connection between the quarterback and receiver.

Let’s congratulate Kenny Britt for being the other Rams receiver to make a positive contribution, with 4 catches for 67 yards. His 4.28 Target NEP was better than that of Donte Moncrief, Mohamed Sanu, Amari Cooper, and Kelvin Benjamin.

But outside of Britt, it doesn’t look as good. Here is the Target NEP data grouped by position.

Rams' Pass-Catchers Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends
Target NEP -4.54 -3.12 -5.67
Targets 5 23 7
Target NEP/Target -0.91 -0.14 -0.81

At tight end, Lance Kendricks and Tyler Higbee were similar levels of inefficient on a per-target basis, which was probably what most people expected anyway. Todd Gurley didn’t show that he can be a star running routes out of the backfield, with one catch on three targets for a five-yard loss.

Even if you exclude Britt, the wide receiver group was still the most efficient of the three. Or least inefficient. That works too.

Give the Rams credit: they made a noticeable effort to get the ball to Tavon Austin, who head coach Jeff Fisher called “an integral part of our offense”. Austin got 12(!) targets, tied for fourth-most among wide receivers in Week 1, but caught only four of them for a catch rate that was the lowest of the 34 wide receivers with 8 or more looks.

Those 4 catches went for 13 yards. Austin posted the second-worst Target NEP of the week, ahead of only Harry Douglas.

Rushing Woes

If you’re a Todd Gurley fantasy football owner or even just a fan of good football, his box score Monday night left a sour taste: 17 carries for 47 yards. Among the 33 running backs with at least 10 carries, Gurley ranked 28th in Rushing NEP and 26th on a per-play basis.

That’s not trying to say Gurley was injured or not as good as people think. Rather, it’s the numbers backing up the box score saying his rushes were not helping his team score points. However, if you watched the game, you knew he had no room to run, and there’s some evidence to back that up.

First, the 49ers keyed in on stopping the run. That’s concerning because pretty much every team can attempt to do the same thing and try to make Keenum win games. And, per Matt Harmon, Gurley gained many more yards than the average running back facing the same situations would have.

Pro Football Focus credited Gurley with breaking 7 tackles (second-most) and gaining 52 yards after contact (third-most). He had more yards after contact than from scrimmage. That's making the most of a tough situation.

Going Forward

The 2012 Arizona Cardinals had the lowest full-season Adjusted NEP in the last five seasons with a mark of -185.35. That's far worse than the second-place 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars, who had -126.72.

If you extrapolate the Rams' first game over a 16-game season, which is a bad idea from a stat perspective but is illuminating nonetheless, they would end up at -372.27.

On a per-play basis, those Cardinals had an Adjusted NEP per play of -0.17. Los Angeles' in Week 1 was -0.38.

If Keenum is able to improve and make defenses respect the pass, it would do wonders for Gurley, who thrives in space and earns his wage on big plays.

But for now, it's not looking great.