The Los Angeles Rams are about to embark on yet another postseason journey, their third in four years. The first ended in the wild-card round, while the second resulted in a Super Bowl appearance.
This year’s Rams don’t have the offense of the 2018 team, or even the first squad that went to the playoffs in 2017. But the defense is better than ever and as it’s often said, “defense wins championships.”
That’s harder to buy into in today’s pass-heavy, high-scoring game, but the Rams will try to ride their defense to another championship game. The defense can’t do it alone, though. The offense must pull its weight and keep the Rams in the game.
For the Rams as a whole, their recipe for success in the postseason is fairly simple, and it comes down to four things.
Take care of the football
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
This one is obvious and is something every team strives for. Turning the ball over is the easiest way to lose, no matter how good a team is. The Rams have given the ball away far too often this season, ranking eighth-worst in the NFL in that department. In fact, they’re the first team since the 2007 Giants to turn it over in every game and still make the playoffs. The Rams are lucky to have a defense that often bails them out after turning it over, but great teams will take advantage of the additional possessions in the playoffs, when it’s more important than ever to take care of the ball. In games where the Rams turned it over at least twice, they’re 2-3. In all other games, they were 8-3. Avoiding costly turnovers will be the biggest factor in how far the Rams go in the playoffs.
Score touchdowns in the red zone
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The Rams offense left a lot to be desired this season, but where they were at their worst was in the red zone. They ranked 19th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, getting into the end zone on only 57.9% of their trips inside the 20. In their last three games, they’ve been especially bad, scoring touchdowns only 22.2% of the time. The Rams have attempted 16 field goals from 37 yards or closer, which ranks among the most in the NFL. Far too often, they settled for three points instead of scoring seven, which can make a huge difference in the outcome of a game. It’s no surprise that many of the NFL’s top offenses in points scored also rank among the best in red zone scoring percentage, including the Packers, Titans, Seahawks, Vikings and Buccaneers. If the Rams are to make a deep playoff run, they must be better in this area because field goals won’t get it done in January and February.
Create at least one turnover
(AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
The Rams have been great about this. Their defense ranks 10th in takeaways this season, and on five of their 22 takeaways, they returned them for a touchdowns. The Rams have gone somewhat cold in the takeaway department lately, however, forcing just two in their last four games after taking the ball away 10 times in the previous four games. When the Rams force at least one turnover, they’re 8-3. When they don’t take the ball away, they’re only 2-3, with those losses coming against the Jets, Seahawks and 49ers. Turnovers give the offense extra opportunities and oftentimes, short fields, which is exactly what the Rams need. Again, this is something every team focuses on and it’s not specific to the Rams, but given their struggles on offense, any added possessions and scoring opportunities are huge benefits.
Be efficient throwing the ball
(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Believe it or not, but a strong running game is not what translates to wins for the Rams. It’s an efficient passing attack that leads to victories. The Rams have had eight games where they averaged at least 4.5 yards per rush attempt. In those games, they were 3-5. They’ve also had eight games where they averaged at least 6 net yards per pass attempt. Their record in those games? An impressive 7-1. That includes victories over the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Bears. Being efficient through the air doesn’t necessarily mean racking up big yardage. In four of those games where the Rams averaged at least 6 net yards per pass attempt, Jared Goff didn’t eclipse 300 yards passing. For the Rams to have success, the Rams have to be efficient throwing the ball. They can't have games where they have 45 pass attempts and only throw for 250 yards.