Rams Winning Despite Pitiful Ground Game

Los Angeles Rams RB Sony Michel
Los Angeles Rams RB Sony Michel
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Conference Championship - The least valuable running back of the championship round, Sony Michel, plays for the L.A. Rams. The least valuable running back of the divisional round, Cam Akers, also plays for the L.A. Rams. The least valuable running back of the wild-card round plays for Pittsburgh, but Akers and Michel were still pretty bad, finishing with negative DYAR between them. Week after week, the Rams get nothing out of their ground game. But they're winning anyway, and now their passing attack, defense, and special teams have carried their impotent rushing offense to the Super Bowl.

The Rams' rushing totals through three playoff games are putrid: 97 carries for 283 yards and a 2.9-yard average, with as many fumbles (two) as touchdowns. Yet somehow the details make things even worse. The two touchdowns were both third-and-1 goal-line sneaks by Matthew Stafford, but even including those plays Los Angeles has struggled in short yardage, converting on only eight of 16 runs with 1 or 2 yards to go. (League average success rate on those runs was over 70% this season.) As a team, they have run for 14 first downs with six runs of 10 yards or more while being stuffed for no gain or a loss 25 times (and no, that does not include kneeldowns). On first-and-10, they have been stuffed more often they have gained the 5 yards necessary to count as a successful play, 11 to 10. Overall, the Rams have gained successful yardage on runs only 31% as the team, a lower rate than any team had in the regular season (the Texans were last at 34%).

Both Akers and Michel have negative rushing DYAR this postseason. So do Jake Funk and Cooper Kupp (a combined 3 yards on three carries). Even Stafford, despite his two scores, has just 8 DYAR after being stuffed on sneaks by both the Cardinals and 49ers. By our numbers, L.A.'s best runner this postseason has been Van Jefferson, who has all of one carry for 15 yards.

Put it all together and the Rams have a rush offense DVOA of -44.4% this postseason, the worst playoff run on record for any Super Bowl team since 1983. (If you missed the news, we recently added team playoff DVOAs to all of our seasonal pages—you can see the Rams and the rest of the 2021 playoff field here.) They are threatening to break the mark of another Rams team, though that one played in Missouri, not California. But good news, Rams fans: that team went on to win a championship.

Worst Playoff Rush Offense DVOA, Super Bowl Teams, 1983-2021
Year Team Playoff
Rush DVOA
Att Yds Avg TD Lead
Rusher
Super
Bowl
2021 LAR -44.4% 97 283 2.92 2 C.Akers ???
1999 STL -28.3% 51 111 2.18 1 M.Faulk W, 23-16
2000 NYG -27.8% 100 316 3.16 0 T.Barber L, 34-7
2015 DEN -25.9% 91 298 3.27 2 C.J.Anderson W, 24-10
1985 CHI -17.5% 126 405 3.21 5 W.Payton W, 46-10
2008 ARI -16.0% 112 366 3.27 2 E.James L, 27-23
2009 IND -15.2% 68 242 3.56 1 J.Addai L, 31-17
1989 DEN -12.8% 87 322 3.70 4 B.Humphrey L, 55-10
1986 DEN -11.8% 98 389 3.97 3 S.Winder L, 39-20
2016 NE -11.6% 79 259 3.28 4 L.Blount W, 34-28 (OT)

Yes, the 1999 Rams won three playoff games and a Lombardi Trophy while running for a total of 111 yards. They had a postseason rush offense DVOA of just -28.3%. At least they got a touchdown in there on Marshall Faulk's 1-yard plunge against Minnesota in the divisional round. That puts them ahead of the Giants one year later, who had zero rushing touchdowns in three playoff games, including a 41-0 shoutout of Minnesota when Kerry Collins threw for five scores. But it was Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt who won a Super Bowl for St. Louis, not Faulk the runner. (Faulk the receiver was a big asset, catching 13 passes for 175 yards and a score.)

Three other teams here won Super Bowls despite their lousy rushing attack, and all are historically memorable. The 1985 Bears had an all-time great defensive postseason performance, surrendering a total of 10 points in three games with a defensive DVOA of -75.0%. The 2015 Broncos won the Lombardi Trophy in Peyton Manning's final year. And the 2016 Patriots needed the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to escape with an overtime win.

Three of the 10 teams in this table played in Denver, as Manning and John Elway both made a habit of getting to the Super Bowl despite spending a lot of time handing off and watching their runners get tackled for no gain. (One of Manning's Colts teams also makes an appearance.) The ironic thing about this is that the Broncos also had the best rushing attack of any Super Bowl team, as Terrell Davis' 1998 club ran 112 times for 549 yards (a 4.9-yard average) with seven touchdowns, eventually beating Atlanta 34-19 in the Super Bowl.

To be fair to the Rams, we're dealing with inherently small sample sizes, and a big game against Cincinnati in two weeks could take them off this table entirely. And the Bengals, for their part, won the AFC tournament despite some subpar run defense—4.7%, second worst of all playoff teams. Cincinnati has only given up one rushing touchdown in the playoffs, but the Raiders, Titans, and Chiefs each averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry against the Bengals, combining for 382 yards in 65 carries over the three games.

Football is often a game of matchups. And the Super Bowl could be decided by this battle between the easily resistible force and the conveniently movable object.

 

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
1.
Jimmy Garoppolo SF
16/29
232
2
1
0
79
80
0
LAR
Yes, Garoppolo! A stronger opponent adjustment moves him ahead of Stafford. Garoppolo's passing DYAR by quarter: 15, 81, 51, -67. In that fourth quarter he went 3-of-9 for 30 yards with an interception; his last six pass attempts resulted in that pick, a completion that lost 3 yards, and four incompletions. As you might expect, a lot of his production came after the catch. On throws to receivers at or behind the line of scrimmage, he only completed four of eight passes with an interception, but those four completions gained 57 yards and a touchdown. His 44-yard touchdown to Deebo Samuel on second-and-12 produced more than half his passing DYAR on the day; 47 of those 44 yards came after the catch.
2.
Matthew Stafford LAR
31/45
337
2
1
2
73
71
2
SF
Quarter-by-quarter splits are the theme of a championship Sunday that saw a lot of peaks and valleys for everyone involved. Stafford had -49 DYAR in the first quarter, 22 in the second, 53 in the third, and 44 in the fourth. His totals in that first quarter: 7-of-10 for 53 yards with an interception, plus a 9-yard DPI. L.A. won despite Stafford's struggles in the red zone, where he went 6-of-7 for 45 yards, and though he did throw two scores, he also gave up an interception and a pair of sacks. He completed each of his nine throws to his left, gaining 93 yards and a touchdown in the process. He also had a good day on third downs, going 10-of-14 for 125 yards and eight conversions, picking up a ninth conversion on that DPI, though his interception also came on third down.
3.
Joe Burrow CIN
23/38
250
2
1
1
42
28
14
KC
Quarter-by-quarter, Burrow had -20 in the first, 45 in the second, 47 in the third, -58 in the fourth, and 14 in overtime. He only threw for one first down in that fourth quarter, when he went 4-of-7 for 23 yards with an interception. He was also slow to start the game, failing to gain 10 yards on any completion in the first 28 minutes of the game. Up to that point, he had gone 8-of-16 for all of 42 yards. Like Garoppolo, he got a lot of help from his receivers—his two touchdown passes gained a total of zero yards through the air and 43 after the catch.
4.
Patrick Mahomes KC
26/39
275
3
2
4
-4
-9
5
CIN
OK, here's the big one: Mahomes threw for 80 DYAR in the first quarter, 96 in the second, -92 in the third, -70 in the fourth, and -22 in overtime. That's 176 before halftime, -185 afterwards. In one stretch of the second half he went a dozen dropbacks in a row without picking up a single first down, going 3-of-10 for 16 yards with an interception and two sacks. We could list splits by down or direction or pass distance here but the pattern for all of them is the same: lights-out in the first half, disaster in the second.

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Jerick McKinnon KC
12
65
0
3/4
30
0
31
15
15
CIN
Though McKinnon's 14-yard run in the fourth quarter was his only carry that gained 10-plus yards or a first down, all 12 of them gained at least 1 yard, and seven counted as successful plays. Two of his catches also gained first downs: a 14-yard catch on second-and-2 and an 11-yard catch on third-and-3.
2.
Elijah Mitchell SF
11
20
0
3/3
50
0
17
-11
28
LAR
Mitchell's only run for a first down was a 3-yard gain on second-and-1, and only one of his carries gained more yards than that; four went for no gain or a loss. But each of his three catches gained at least 11 yards and a first down, the longest a gain of 21.
3.
Cam Akers LAR
13
48
0
1/1
2
0
6
8
-2
SF
Akers had just one run for 10 or more yards and only one other first down while getting stuffed three times. Hey, at least he didn't fumble this week.
4.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC
6
36
0
1/2
4
0
5
13
-7
CIN
Each of Edwards-Helaire's six carries gained at least 3 yards and two went for first downs, the longest a gain of 14.
5.
Joe Mixon CIN
21
88
0
3/3
27
0
1
-7
8
KC
There were nine runs of 10 or more yards this week, and Mixon had three of them, the longest a gain of 23. But he only had four first downs while getting stuffed four times. His best catch was his 18-yard gain on first-and-10.

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Jerick McKinnon KC
12
65
0
3/4
30
0
31
15
15
CIN
2.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC
6
36
0
1/2
4
0
5
13
-7
CIN
3.
Cam Akers LAR
13
48
0
1/1
2
0
6
8
-2
SF
4.
Joe Mixon CIN
21
88
0
3/3
27
0
1
-7
8
KC
5.
Sony Michel LAR
10
16
0
1/2
-4
0
-25
-8
-16
SF
The good news for Sony Michel is that he ran for a pair of first downs with a long gain of 8 yards while being stuffed four times. Yes, this is the good news. The bad news for Sony Michel...

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Sony Michel LAR
10
16
0
1/2
-4
0
-25
-8
-16
SF
... is that his one catch was a 4-yard loss on third-and-3 in the red zone.

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Elijah Mitchell SF
11
20
0
3/3
50
0
17
-11
28
LAR

 

Five Best Wide Receivers and Tight Ends by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Cooper Kupp LAR
11
14
142
12.9
2
46
SF
Kupp's totals include -5 rushing DYAR for his one carry, a 2-yard loss. Seven of his catches gained at least 10 yards and a first down, the longest a gain of 25.
2.
Mecole Hardman KC
3
4
52
17.3
1
38
CIN
Hardman's totals include 15 rushing DYAR for his two carries for 18 yards. His three catches: 44-yard gain on first-and-10; 3-yard touchdown on first-and-goal; 5-yard gain on first-and-10.
3.
Travis Kelce KC
10
11
95
9.5
1
33
CIN
Only four of Kelce's catches gained double-digit yardage with a long gain of 19, but he still finished with seven first downs, including three conversions with 5 yards or less to go for a first down.
4.
Odell Beckham LAR
9
11
113
12.6
0
32
SF
Five of Beckham's catches gained at least 10 yards and a first down, the longest a gain of 29. He added a 6-yard gain on second-and-four to boot.
5.
Tee Higgins CIN
6
10
103
17.2
0
30
KC
Higgins' longest catches were a 44-yard gain on first-and-10, an 18-yard gain on second-and-10, and a 16-yard gain on first-and-5. He added two more first downs: a pair of 8-yard gains on third-and-5 and second-and-8.

 

Worst Wide Receiver or Tight End by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Demarcus Robinson KC
0
3
0
0.0
0
-22
CIN
Three targets: interception on second-and-3, incomplete on first-and-10, incomplete on second-and-10.

Comments

32 comments, Last at 02 Feb 2022, 12:43pm

1 This does serve as an…

This does serve as an interesting datum for the argument about Jimmy G.

Despite leading the week in DYAR, if you asked any of the four teams if they'd prefer to have had him as their QB -- even knowing the result of their game -- none of them would have said yes. Not even the 49ers.

Stats love him, but he plays like a drunkard on a high wire.

6 just-heave-it-to-Chases If…

just-heave-it-to-Chases

If you think Burrow is simply throwing it in Chase's direction then you're missing the beauty of the Burrow-to-Chase over the shoulder. Burrow is putting it where Chase can get it and Chase is hella good at getting it in traffic. The chemistry between the two is strong and it's nowhere near as simple as the "throw it near him" that you're implying.

(I'm from Baltimore, btw, so I don't like this, but it's the truth.)

7 Yeah, I guess that's true…

Yeah, I guess that's true. Burrow doesn't throw a wild ball or anything, he deserves credit. Like I said, he's clearly a step above Garoppolo. But he is definitely getting a lot of mileage out of some short throws.

29 I would take JimmG over…

I would take JimmG over Stafford. Stafford throws the same boneheaded interceptions even more than jimmyG. And I prefer Jimmy's fast release and leadership over Stafford's strong arm. With that 49ers OLine, especially right side, Stafford would have doubled his interceptions. Had Tartt caught the easiest interception he would ever get, 49ers would have been at Super Bowl and we would all be talking about how boneheaded Stafford is. My personal opinion is Stafford is a good highlight QB but a loser overall. 

People complain about YAC and I could not care less. 49ers offense is designed for it. 

I am surprised people also don't talk about how below average 49ers base run game is especially in playoffs. It was so ineffective at the beginning of the year they had to move their best reciever who was averaging 100 yards game (more than Kupp at that time) up to game 11 and made him a running back, practically reducing his receiving yards down to less than 50 per game. And whenever he runs Kittle is in block meaning that there is really one viable receiver. Practically Deebo running makes no benefit to passing game play action. And base running game required Kittle to remain in block most of the time. They run what they call "Zorro" very often and Kittle is always in block on those runs.

For what 49ers run as an offense JimmyG is pretty good match. I also think Jimmy G would be better in a different offense. When he arrived in 2017 they had to play in a different way and he was very successful. I would not be surprised if he goes to Steelers or Bucs and be back at playoffs and championship games.

He is no Mahomes or Brady but he is better than at least half of the other starting QBs.

Also I think he must have slept with Troy Aikman's wife. 

 

 

31 Just chose to ignore the…

Just chose to ignore the pick six that G desperately tried to throw to Jalen Ramsey on the very next drive.  But luck is part of the game, and some quarterbacks get lucky.  Burrow almost threw what would have been a game-losing pick six two weeks ago.  Lewis Billups probably still wakes up at night in a cold sweat thinking about the how he dropped an INT from Montana in SB 23, that would have totally changed perceptions and legacies.

And bringing up the "winner/loser" dynamic and nebulous/subjective concepts like "leadership".  Did I stumble on to the ESPN message boards?

32 Jimmy is known to make…

Jimmy is known to make boneheaded throws and gets criticized for it all the time. Which I also wrote in my very comment that you replied to. Not sure why you suggest that I ignore it. Stafford leads NFL with four pick sixes this year. Thanks for bringing that up. They are more boneheaded than any throws Jimmy makes. Stafford also leads the league with 17 interceptions. Jimmy writes checks his arm cannot cash, or does not see underneath LB. Stafford throws stupid interceptable balls.

The question was who would prefer Jimmy. I am a 49ers fan. I follow the news. I read what players and coaches say. There is nothing subjective about Jimmy being a leader in that locker room. And quarterbacking (and many other jobs) is not just something one does 3 hours on Sunday. Trey Lance is very lucky to have seen a great example of how to prepare, how to move on from mistakes, how to lead other people from Jimmy. 

I don't know if Stafford is a leader or not. But I know what Jimmy is. I also did not mean loser in the sense that he loses game (which he does, a lot) but the way he plays. He will find ways to lose games. 

 

 

 

 

2 ...47 of those 44 yards came…

...47 of those 44 yards came after the catch.

Not sure if this is a typo or a non-standard way to indicate where the ball was caught.

5 How did we not notice when…

How did we not notice when KC ran out Nathan Peterman in that Patrick Mahomes jersey after halftime?

19 Head injury?

My theory (or question) while watching the game was whether Mahomes had somehow suffered a head injury late in the first half or early in Q3. His accuracy and decision making both cratered. What other explanation is there?

23 The explanation is that the…

In reply to by carlosla

The explanation is that the Bengals dropped 8 men into coverage and there was no one open. It's hard to make good decisions when you are in a situation where there are no good decisions. The inexplicable thing is why the Chiefs didn't just run the ball.

9 Mahomes

If this were an episode of Miami Vice, we'd have to investigate what, exactly, happened to Patrick Mahomes at halftime. Did he get a phone call from kidnappers with a ransom demand?  Who was that guy in the second half?

12 So what I hear you saying is...

So what I hear you saying is that the gameplan for the Bengals on defense should be the same as (what it looked like) in the 2nd half against KC- drop 8 guys in coverage, double Kupp and OBJ on every play and force someone else to beat you?

25 I need to check the depth charts..

But for MVP I'm looking for a Bengals outside LB.. . The one who takes the crazy Matt Stafford pick to the end zone from 10 yards out early, then does something else random later on (picks up an Akers fumble in the last 2 minutes or something). Risk / reward on that bet would be reasonable.. .

 

13 Perspective on the Stafford/Goff trade

Jared Goff postseason stats (6 games): 1300 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, about a 46 QBR

Matthew Stafford postseason stats (3 games): 905 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 68.4 QBR

I can understand why some might still say the Rams overpaid, but it's very hard to see what the Rams could have done in the draft (with mid/late-round picks) that would have elevated Goff's postseason numbers to Stafford's. 

17 Is the idea of a team making…

Is the idea of a team making the Super Bowl with a bad running game really that shocking? This site has beaten the idea of "establishing the run" to death, and even in mainstream commentary, there's a pretty general consensus that passing is more important than running. I guess conceivably it could be an issue in short-yardage situations, but that seems like such a small percentage of plays that it wouldn't preclude a team from making a deep playoff run. If not for the fact that McVay seems to want to run even though they're bad at it, I would have said that the Rams are the logical conclusion of the Football Outsiders model: a team built to pass every play.

18 It's a touch odd because…

It's a touch odd because good passing teams often have efficient, if not necessarily prolific rushing offenses. Consider the Addai Colts or the Law Firm Pats. Teams selling out to stop your passes tend to allow efficient rushes when thrown as off-speed pitches.

20 no runs needed

Kyndynos-----your last line of the FO model of a team built to pass every play reminded me of this Dan Marino quote: "We're not running the ball again until we get ahead. Shula was calling the plays, but I told them,'I don't care what he calls, we're throwing every pass from now until we get the lead'. To Shula's credit, he always gave me that option".

I think Miami still holds the Record for only handing the ball off a total of 8 times in a S.B. game. They are credited with 9 runs, but 1 of them was Marino's run believe it or not.

I am pretty sure Stafford and the Rams will not break that lack of rushing Record.

22 Cooper Kupp is following up…

Cooper Kupp is following up one of the more productive regular seasons ever with one of the more productive playoff runs ever by a WR. If he gets 7 catches in the SB he'll set the all-time record for most catches in a single postseason, and if he gets 60 yards he'll be second all-time in yards behind 08 Fitzgerald's insane 546. I feel like this isn't getting enough attention.

24 Yea, Kupp has been amazing. …

Yea, Kupp has been amazing.  He‘s always had good efficiency numbers, but I don’t think anyone had him on their top 5 (probably not even top 10) WR list until he exploded this season (at 28, which also seems kind of odd).  Pretty remarkable.

27 Tee Higgins really impressed on Sunday

A lot of strong hands catches.  A tall guy that can be a consistent possession receiver with some wheels is the perfect #2 with Chase on the other side.