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Rams Need to Make Big Plays

The Rams just haven’t figured it out yet.

They just can’t seem to figure out how to make the big plays that will help them win games this season. They better find a way to get it fixed pronto. In the National Football League, every game is going to come down to six to eight critical plays that will be the difference between winning and losing. A team either makes them or gives them up. There is no third position.

This season there have been several series on offense where the Rams’ players have made mental mistakes in the form of pre-snap penalties that have short-circuited drives and killed scoring opportunities. In 2011, the Rams have committed 20 false-start penalties with 12 that have led directly to stalled drives that either cost the team a key first down or points following the penalties. I’m not sure exactly where that puts the Rams in terms of ranking in the NFL, but I would be shocked if it’s not on the higher end of the league. But what gets lost in all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about bonehead penalties is that when the Rams actually earn an opportunity to make a play in a game, they have missed on it because of poor execution.

The most frustrating example of this is the Rams inability to take advantage of wideout Brandon Lloyd’s speed and big-play ability on deep passes, even though he’s only been here since October 17 when he was traded from the Denver Broncos for a conditional pick in the 2012 draft. The pick is a sixth-round pick that would become a fifth-round pick if Lloyd catches 30 passes for the Rams in 2011. In the last few weeks, Lloyd has been able to get behind the coverage a few times, but both of the Rams’ starting quarterbacks–Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley–have just flat out missed him with the football.

The Rams have connected on 23 explosive plays (plays of 20 yards or more) this year with four on the ground and 19 coming in the passing game. They would have a few more if they could be more accurate in finding Lloyd on deep routes. Some receivers don’t have to be wide open or require a lot of separation to be effective in the passing game. Sometimes a guy has to go up and get it to make a play on deep routes and Lloyd has shown he’s one of those guys. He’s a former high school high jumper!

Week after week in the NFL, big plays are made by receivers who have minimal separation and go up and out-leap defenders for the football and pick up big chunks of yardage. They either score or set up scoring opportunities. Unfortunately, penalties are also a huge part of the equation on vertical routes. Offensive players have a big advantage and usually get the benefit of the doubt with officials when it comes to pass interference calls on deep passes down the field. Referees tend to lean toward the offensive side when the ball is in the air and there is contact by a defender. A majority of the interference calls go against the defense so percentages are slightly in your favor when throwing deep in certain situations. The percentages go up even higher if the receiver has good enough body control to sell the disruption. Receivers are paid to make tough catches in traffic.

The Rams need to hit on opportunities to change field position in a hurry. Steven Jackson can’t continue to be the only big-play threat on the field. He carried the ball 29 times for 130 yards Sunday, and still the team needed more. Misconnections on explosive plays down the field have prevented the Rams from taking control of games and forcing the team to constantly slug it out on defense. If the Rams continue failing to finish drives with touchdowns instead of field goals, then the team will continue to struggle keeping teams out of the end zone.

Against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, the defense surrendered just one touchdown drive late in the game. Unfortunately, that’s all it took to ruin what would have been a great defensive day.