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Narrative Check: Rams gonna Ram?

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Installment two in a series that puts popular Seahawk-related narratives to the statistical test.

do either of us have personal space issues because now is a good time to figure that out no I'm good me too cool
do either of us have personal space issues because now is a good time to figure that out no I'm good me too cool
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Narrative Du Jour

"Every year, the Rams play the Seahawks tougher than one has a right to expect. The Rams haven't finished above .500 since the Eisenhower administration, yet they somehow manage to rise to the occasion vs. our Hawks, and then fall back to earth against the rest of the league. Because Rams."

The Data

Parameters are as follows:

  • Only games from the Russell Wilson Era will be considered. (By the way, that's going to be the default for most of this series, unless we get into 10 a.m. starts or Pete Carroll's challenge success rate, which sounds like a good idea, me. "I'm welcome.")
  • We'll look at the Rams' performance against the Seahawks in several team categories: W-L record, point differential, QB passer rating, rating differential, yards/game, yards/play alongside yards/play allowed, points/drive alongside points/drive allowed, then top it off with turnover margin. Then we'll compare the results to their performance against the league as a whole since the start of the 2012 season.
  • We'll discover if the Rams outperformed their usual selves against the Hawks.
  • Stats are courtesy of the Seahawks and Rams pages at pro-football-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
  • If the data is inconclusive, we'll cast a slightly wider net to see if the Rams might've overachieved.

Then we will know something. Something largely dependent on small sample size, but something nonetheless.

NOTE: As always, the parameters are chosen BEFORE any research is done. It's what I did for the last Narrative Check, and it's how the future posts will operate. Any cherry-picking done by me is accidental. Any subjective endpoints are innocently chosen. If you're trying to tear down or confirm a narrative, what's the point in being dishonest?

And up goes the curtain...

TABLES 1A & 1B: POINTS FOR/AGAINST

Are we going to find a better differential for the Rams when they face the Hawks?

They've been outscored 168-141 by Seattle the last four years. Breakdown:

2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
STL points scored - SEA points scored 32-33 18-41 34-46 57-48 141-168

Average game score turns out to be Hawks 21, Rams 17.6.

They've been outscored 1228-1100 by the rest of the league the last four years.

2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
STL points scored - NFL points scored 267-315 330-323 290-308 223-282 1100-1228

Average game score this time is Random NFL team 21.9, Rams 19.6

Not a significant difference, then. Seattle-St. Louis games are lower scoring than the rest of the Rams games, by three points on average. That's the conclusion. Makes sense, with two competent defenses involved. And the Rams score fewer points against the Hawks than usual -- come to think of it, same as most NFL teams do when up against the league's best scoring defense four years running.

Interestingly though, the Rams were basically even in points against the league during 2013-14, getting outscored by only 11 points total. While in 2012 and 2015, they got trounced by the league (minus-107!) but outscored the Hawks 89-81.

Narrative: not confirmed overall, but 2012 and 2015 are worth keeping an eye on.

TABLES 2A & 2B: W-L RECORD

Are the Rams winning more often against the Hawks than against the competition at large?

Rams vs. Hawks Rams vs. Others
2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
W-L 1-1 0-2 1-1 2-0 4-4, .500 6-7-1 7-7 5-9 5-9 23-32-1, .418

So against non-Seahawks, the Rams are a .418 franchise. Against the team with the third-best record in the league since 2012, however, the Rams are a .500 club. Yeah, it's only eight games. Swap a win for a loss and the Rams fall to .375. Counterpoint: the Niners and Cardinals have enjoyed no such success -- they are a combined 5-11 against the Hawks in the same time period.

vs. Hawks, 2012-2015 vs. other NFL teams, 2012-2015
Rams 4-4, .500 23-32-1, .418
Niners 2-6, .250 34-21-1, .618
Cards 3-5, .375 36-20, .642

So the W-L data is unequivocal: of all the division opponents, the Rams typically pose the most trouble in the standings, despite being the worst NFC West team. Definitely fishy.

Narrative: confirmed. P.S.: in 2012 and 2015, the Rams went 3-1 against the Hawks. That makes sense given the scoring stats from Tables 1A and 1B.

TABLES 3A & 3B & 3C: YARDS PER PLAY

What's going on here?

Rams vs. Hawks Rams vs. NFL
2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
Offensive YPP 4.9 3.9 4.7 4.9 4.6 5.3 5.0 5.3 5.2 5.2

The Rams might find a way to win, but they don't gain yards more consistently against the Hawks. In fact, they're significantly worse than usual. More than 10 percent off their usual YPP pace. On to the other side of the ball.

Rams vs. Hawks Rams vs. NFL
2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
YPP allowed 5.6 3.7 6.1 4.3 4.9 5.3 5.4 5.6 5.4 5.4

There it is -- their defense might know how to handle the Hawks, but is pedestrian against other foes.

Let's see if the Hawks' offfensive stats confirm:

Hawks vs. Rams
Hawks vs. Others
2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
Offensive YPP 5.6 3.7 6.1 4.3 4.9 5.8 5.6 5.9 5.9 5.8

Yeah they do. Seattle's offense is better than average every year, averaging 5.8 YPP across the RWE, but just managing 4.9 YPP against the Rams. A 16 percent drop-off in YPP matches the memory of many failures against the Rams' annoying defensive line. So...

Narrative: Somewhat confirmed. The Rams offense fails against the Hawks, as could be expected, but their defense more than compensates by shutting down the Hawks offense.

TABLE 4: POINTS PER DRIVE

A lot of numbers. The "Total" column is the first place to direct your attention.

Rams vs. Hawks Rams vs. NFL

2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
Offensive PPD 1.60 0.82 1.42 2.15 1.48 1.42 1.64 1.55 1.29 1.48
PPD allowed 1.74 1.67 1.95 1.55 1.71 1.77 1.78 1.57 1.52 1.66
Differential -0.14 -0.85 -0.53 +0.60 -0.23 -0.25 -0.14 -0.02 -0,23 -0.18

Look at all those matching numbers. The offensive points per drive and those allowed stay constant. Except for this tidbit, again related to 2012 and 2015: those two years are when the Rams are at their worst against the league, with their worst differential -- yet that's when they are at their best against the Hawks.

Narrative: Not confirmed overall. Except  if you want, look closer and it is kind of confirmed, if you restrict the data to '12 and '15 again. Thaaat's the trend.

TABLE 5: PASSER RATING AND DIFFERENTIAL

Are recent Rams quarterbacks, all 28.5 of them, over-performing against a historically stingy defense?

In eight games, Bradford et al. have gone:

152-240-1586-6-8. Comes out to a passer rating of 76.8. Averages out to 19-30 for 198 yards, just under one TD, plus one pick.

Concurrently against all foes, they've gone:

1233-2051-13769-75-52. Comes out to a passer rating of 81.8. Averages out to 19-32 for 215 yards, just over one TD, just under one pick.

The Seattle defense is, since 2012, holding Rams QB's back a little, according to the most basic passing stats. But the rub is here, in the differential.

Rams vs. Hawks Rams vs. NFL
2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
Passer rating differential +12.6 -7.4 -52.9 +3.9 -12.3 -1.2 -9.9 -6.9 -16.3 -8.4

Passer rating has its flaws. But rating differential has long been a stat that correlates heavily with victory. Overall? Advantage Seattle. And yet there they are, those 2012 and 2015 seasons again, skewing to the Rams.

OK, the second rub is in the infuriating performance of rat bastard Nick Foles.

Foles vs. Hawks, Week 1, 2015: 18-27-297-1-0 with 11.0 Y/A and a 115.8 rating.

Foles vs. everyone else afterward: 172-310-1755-6-10 with 5.7 Y/A and a 64.9 rating.

Thanks Nick, for being just about twice as good against the Hawks than against everyone else.

Narrative: A mixed bag. Though the Rams' QB parade ran a negative passer rating differential all four years, and played less well against the Hawks than other opponents, they outdueled RW on average in the trouble years of 2012 and 2015.

TABLE 6: TURNOVERS

Are the Rams taking care of the ball better, and taking it away more, against the Hawks?

Rams vs. Hawks Rams vs. Others

2012 2013 2014 2015 Total 2012 2013 2014 2015 Total
Turnovers +/- +1 -4 -1 +1 -3 -2 +4 -1 +3 +4

Not really. Well, maybe a little in 2012 and 2015. But if anything, they are more careless against the Hawks, all seasons considered.

Narrative: not confirmed. No glaring outliers, no strange trends, no eye-poppers. Although, hold on a sec... it should be noted that RW has thrown three picks in only one regular-season game in his career. That'd be in St. Louis. In 2012.

The Conclusion(s)

According to the numbers above, the Rams seemed to overachieve in '12 and '15 against the Hawks, but underachieve in '13 and '14. Those were, of course, inconvenient years for the Rams to rise up against their betters, because of playoff implications. Our Hawks could've used another win each season to improve their seeding and not get sent to the #1 seed for a 10 a.m. playoff game in the divisional round. On the flipside, when we take care of business vs. the Rams, we tend to end up with home-field advantage.

Stupid Rams.

To round out the conclusion, I'd like to dive more into the 2015 portion of the rivalry. Something you should know about the most recent iteration of the Rams: they finished last in the league in a bunch of stats. A bunch:

  • Total yards
  • 1st downs
  • Passing Yards
  • Passing TD
  • Drive scoring percentage
  • Plays/drive
  • Yards/drive

Add in that they also found themselves in the bottom four in points scored, points per drive, net yards/attempt and drive length, and it's no stretch to say the Rams were the worst offense in the league. DVOA liked them enough to place them 29th but we'll chalk that one up to generosity.

Well, in almost every one of those categories where the 2015 Rams placed last, did they overachieve against the Seahawks? Not significantly.

  • Total yards? Averaged 278.5, which still puts them in last place.
  • 1st downs? Averaged 16.5. New rank: 31
  • Passing yards? Averaged 189.5. New rank: 31
  • Passing TD? Got 2, so 16 over the season. New rank: 29
  • Drive scoring percentage? 40 percent against the Hawks. New rank: 6 (EXCEPTION ALERT)
  • Plays/drive? Averaged 5.45. New rank: 30
  • Yards/Drive? Averaged 29.25. New rank: 26

So maybe they still acted like regular Rams overall statistically, then over-achieved where it mattered, like in actual points generated? Seahawks games are 12.5 percent of the Rams' schedule, but against the Hawks, they:

  • Scored 20.3 percent of their points;
  • Got 28.6 percent of their wins;
  • Banked 33.3 percent of their defensive touchdowns;
  • Posted their only special teams TD of the year.

There it is. They're just a manifestation of Fate, kicking us in the nuts because that's a Fate kind of thing to do. The Rams aren't really that much better, overall, against the Hawks. It's mostly that the data, in its ignorance, thinks that our Rams-Hawks games are subject to the same physical and mathematical laws as the rest of space-time. It doesn't know that these division games, these rivalry games -- they're just weird. It doesn't know that Earl

'd,

or that Golden

'd,

or that Dion Bailey

'd,

or that Heath Farwell

'd,

or that Patrick Lewis, one day, instead of snapping, suddenly started Touretting the ball in the general vicinity of the backfield:

Silly numbers. Watch the game why don'tcha.

The data has its limitations. It doesn't know that Richard Sherman probably recovered a game-changing fumble with 1:14 left that one time, but the officials couldn't be bothered to check it out. It doesn't know that the Rams once fake-punted from their own 18, with three minutes left, and up 2 in the fourth quarter. They actually did that. But the data wasn't paying attention.

Anyway, tallying up our confirmations on the narrative, in all six categories:

Narrative confirmed: Twice

Narrative not confirmed: Three times

Mixed bag: Once

Ridiculously small sample size of 2012 and 2015: Definitely confirmed five times.

It's not that the Rams overachieve consistently against the Hawks, in several phases. It's that they perform well enough to keep it close, then the fluky shit happens. If Anthony McCoy doesn't fall down on the final drive in 2012, if the fake punt fails, if the fumbles bounce another direction, if Earl's karate chop is .2 seconds later -- maybe all this hand-wringing is for naught.

So when it feels to me like the Rams are overachieving, it's because the trouble years are sticking in my mind. As well those seasons should. The Rams' fluky shit didn't stop the Hawks from reaching XLVIII and XLIX. It might've played a minor part in keeping them out of XLVII and L.

I mean, come on, the Hawks are trying to win Lombardis here, and clearly the Rams aren't, so they should definitely save their special brand of footbally weirdness for some other unsuspecting squad. 2016's good for us if it's good for you, Fisher.