NFC West: scoring

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Late last week I began the process of piecing together a record prediction for the Rams in 2013.

Seeking the input of fans on Twitter, I wanted to see how optimistic a small sample of the fan base is and what were some of the overriding issues in their minds about what can take the Rams from just under .500 to double digits in victories.

The responses for the record ranged mostly from 7-9 to 9-7 with a few optimistic souls going for the gusto with 12-4 or 11-5 predictions. But the answer for what would take the Rams to the next level and put them into the playoffs was pretty universal: score more points, stupid.

OK, so nobody really called me stupid, at least not in response to those questions. But the next logical part of the discussion was to ask how many points they’d need to score to take the next step.

A few responses:

The baseline answer seemed to come in around 21 point per game, trending a bit higher than 22. Most cited a talented defense as the reason that three touchdowns would be enough to help the Rams improve.

Of course, for the Rams to reach that level, they’d have to post a point total the offense hasn’t reached since 2005 when the Rams finished 11th in the league with an average of 22.7 points per game.

Getting to 25 or higher would represent a nearly monumental challenge in reaching levels of scoring the Rams haven’t hit since 2003 when they finished tied for second in the league at 27.9 points per game.

Bringing it back to more recent trends, the Rams' offense has reached historic levels of struggle scoring points. In the dozen years since the Rams were at the peak of their powers and led the league in scoring in 2001, they’ve posted the second- and third-worst scoring seasons (2009, 2011) among all teams.

Last year, the Rams made some strides, improving to 18.7 points per game, good for 25th in the league. Improvement to 21 points per game would only bump the Rams up to a tie for 22nd in the league in that regard.

For frame of reference, of the 12 teams that reached the playoffs in 2012, 11 finished in the top 14 in the league in scoring. Only Indianapolis wasn’t in that group and the Colts finished tied for 18th at 22.3 points per game.

My take: The Rams expended a ton of offseason energy, dollars and draft capital to improve an offense that has desperately needed a jolt. A three-point gain would be nice but it probably wouldn’t be enough to get them into the playoffs given the high-octane offenses around the league. The Rams' defense is probably going to be solid again this year but isn’t at the point yet where it can carry the team to victories on a consistent basis. Ratcheting up the offense into the 22-23 points-per-game range would likely be enough for the Rams to contend deep into the season and perhaps reach the playoffs. To do that, they’ll need a lot of luck in terms of health on the offensive line and many of their young skill position players to take a step forward.

Next step requires offensive improvement

October, 17, 2012
Road Dog observes via Twitter that the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams have each scored 110 points through Week 6.

This oddity led me to wonder how well teams have done when averaging what works out to 18.3 points per game.

The first chart shows seven teams scoring fewer than 19 points per game last season. Those seven teams posted a combined 29-83 record. None finished better than 7-9. Six failed to win more than five games in a season.

These were bad, bad teams.

Arizona and Seattle are each 4-2 through six games this season. St. Louis is 3-3.

All four NFC West teams rank among the NFL's top five in points allowed per game.

Strong defense is allowing these three NFC West teams to enjoy relative success despite limited scoring on offense.

We've seen these teams play close games that could have gone either way at the end.

How well these teams perform in the end could hinge on how much their offenses improve as the season progresses. Seattle and St. Louis have shown signs of improvement on that side of the ball. Arizona is dealing with a long list of injuries on offense, affecting their prospects.

The second chart shows nine teams averaging fewer than 19 points per game this season. Four are .500 or better.
The San Francisco 49ers lead the NFL in fewest points allowed.

They're on pace to set a franchise single-season record for fewest points allowed per game. They can set the record by holding their four remaining opponents to 14 points per game or fewer.

The 49ers have allowed 161 points in 12 games, an average of 13.4 points per game. The 1976 team allowed 190 points in 14 games, or 13.6 per game. That means the current team must hold its remaining four opponents to beneath 57 combined points.

Arizona (19.3), Pittsburgh (22.3), Seattle (18.0) and St. Louis (11.7) would score 71 total points (17.8 per game) if they met their season averages. Of course, those averages were set mostly against teams with weaker defenses.

For the 49ers, holding their final four opponents to 14 points per game seems reasonable, particularly after watching San Francisco shut out St. Louis on Sunday.