The Los Angeles Rams' Offense Is Firing on All Cylinders
A season after a 4-12 record and measly 224 points scored on offense, the Los Angeles Rams have emerged as one of the best offenses in the NFL through the first nine weeks of 2017.
Under first-year coach Sean McVay, the Rams have already scored 263 points, 39 more than their output all of last season. Our nERD-based power rankings have them as the third-best team in the league, and their incredible one-season turnaround is due nearly entirely to their offense -- something we dove into a few weeks back in a piece that was, for the most part, focused on the Rams as a team.
With this offensive explosion looking more legit by the week, let's peep some of the key individuals behind the Rams' improvement.
We're going to be using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. This is the metric we use to track the expected points added on each play throughout the season for both teams and players with the team totals being adjusted for strength of opponent. NEP gives us the context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is much more valuable than that same completion on 3rd and 4. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
Let's get to it.
It Starts With the Quarterback
Jared Goff was bad in 2016. Like, really bad.
His -0.28 Passing NEP per drop back was the eighth-worst mark from any quarterback with at least 200 drop backs in a season since the dawn of the 21st century. In terms of just last season, among the 39 passers with at least 100 drop backs, Goff's Passing NEP per drop back checked in last in 2016.
The difference between Goff this year and Goff last year is quite striking.
Below, we can see how he is performing this season in comparison with all quarterbacks with at least 250 drop backs. In addition to his Passing NEP per drop back, we'll also look at his Passing Success Rate, which is the percentage of drop backs that positively impact NEP.
|Player||Passing NEP Per Drop Back||Rank||Success Rate||Rank|
For reference, the average Passing NEP per drop back among the 23 quarterbacks in the sample is 0.11, with the average Success Rate coming in at 46.56%.
The disparity between Goff's ranks in these two categories can best be explained by the amount of big plays the Rams' quarterback is hitting on. Goff is producing at a slightly below-average level when it comes to his overall passes, but when he does connect, he delivers big. In 2017, 33 of his pass plays have gone for at least 20 yards, the third-most among quarterbacks.
Sure, maybe some of the big plays aren't sustainable, but Goff's one-year improvement is incredible. He's gone from one of the worst quarterbacks in the league to a guy approaching the top tier.
The Pass Catchers
Goff is aided by an efficient group of wide receivers. The trio of rookie Cooper Kupp, free-agent signing Robert Woods and trade acquisition Sammy Watkins all bring something different to the Rams' passing game.
The figures below correspond to the 83 wide receivers who have seen at least 30 targets this season. The average Reception NEP per target among this set of players is 0.67, while the average Reception Success Rate is 84.00%
|Name||Reception NEP Per Target||Rank||Reception Success Rate||Rank|
As we can see, Watkins is the big-play threat who, despite a lesser workload, is a home-run hitter for the Rams. He has the fewest targets (31) of this trio, but his 19 receptions have brought him 331 yards and 3 touchdowns, picking up an impressive 17.4 yards per catch.
Kupp is the main safety valve for Goff, as evinced by his high Success Rate, which stems from being targeted on safer throws. Woods, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. Of the three, he has been the best fantasy weapon due to volume and a whiff of big-play ability, but his efficiency is considerably lower than both his teammates.
The Comeback Kid
Remember earlier when we touched on how historically bad Goff was in 2016? Well, there was another guy on the Rams who also put together a historically bad showing last season.
Among all running backs since 2000 with at least 250 rush attempts in a single season, Todd Gurley's -0.12 Rushing NEP per carry was the seventh-worst clip. That was out of 226 backs.
But Gurley has emerged as a true three-down workhorse in 2017 -- in spectacular fashion, too.
Among the 21 backs with at least 100 carries this year, Gurley ranks seventh with a Rushing NEP per carry mark of -0.02 (yes, negative, because running the ball is so much more inefficient than passing). His Rushing Success Rate of 44.10% is good enough for second among this same subset. In truth, these per-play numbers aren't too far off from the 2016 league averages -- -0.02 Rushing NEP per play and 40.28% Success Rate -- but they are a smashing improvement on Gurley's numbers from a year ago.
He's been a key factor in the passing game, as well. Among the 11 backs with at least 40 targets, he ranks second in Reception NEP per target with a clip of 0.54. Furthermore, there are only six running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts and 40 targets. Gurley leads all six in Rushing NEP per carry and Reception NEP per target.
Gurley's 338 receiving yards are already a career high, and he's been a true dual-threat weapon in 2017.
The Rams boast a quality defense -- one that ranks ninth overall, per our schedule-adjusted metrics -- but that's nothing new as they've had a solid defense in past years with Aaron Donald leading the way. The difference this year is the Rams' high-octane offense, and that high-powered attack runs through Jared Goff.
The Rams have the third-lowest pass-to-run ratio in the NFL (1.03), and while they have been fairly successful when running the ball, it is when they allow Goff to air it out that they have been at their most efficient this season.
All of it adds up to the Rams having a pretty good shot to make the postseason, something they haven't done since 2004. Our metrics give the Rams an 85.5% chance of making the playoffs, the seventh-best odds in the NFL, and as impossible as it would've seemed 12 months ago, we give the Rams a 10.0% chance of winning it all, the fifth-best Super Bowl odds.