Friday, January 08, 2016

Rams Offer Vikings Blueprint for Beating Seahawks

Two weeks ago from this coming Sunday, the St. Louis Rams improved their record to 7-8 by beating the Seattle Seahawks, in Seattle.  The game should be instructive for the Vikings for several reasons and serve as a guide for beating the Seahawks this weekend, even if Seattle does what it always does and Minnesota does what it can be expected to do.


Yes, even if Seattle does what it is expected to do and Minnesota does what it can be expected to do, the Vikings can win on Sunday.

Do tell.

The Seahawks entered the game game against the Rams two weeks ago as 14-point favorites, a monstrous line in the NFL, with simulated games having Seattle winning 38-7.  Sound familiar?  The final score of the game was St. Louis 23, Seattle 17.

The final score of the Rams-Seahawks tilt at the end of December was the least interesting part of the game, however.  Far more intriguing were the game's statistics.  The Rams did what everyone expected them to do on offense, which is to say, virtually nothing.  On the day, quarterback Casey Keenum was 14 of 23 for a woeful 104 passing yards.  Keenum did have one passing touchdown, however, and had no interceptions.

The Rams also had limited success on the ground.  Rookie running back Todd Gurley tallied 83 yards on 19 carries with one touchdown.  The rest of the Rams' rushers gained 19 yards on 11 carries.

As suggested by these statistics, outside of failing to intercept a pass, the Seahawks' defense also did what everyone expected it to do.  It held the Rams to 205 total yards of offense, sacked Keenum four times, forced two fumbles, controlled the time of possession, and limited first downs and third-down conversions.

If you read only these statistics from that game, you would guess that the Seahawks won. Seattle's offensive statistics would only reinforce that impression, with Russell Wilson passed for 289 and two touchdowns and took no sacks.  Wilson also rushed for 38 yards.

Despite all of the numbers in favor of the Seahawks in the game against the Rams, however, there were even more important numbers that operated against them and that resulted in the number that mattered most in the end, a losing final score.  Despite moving the ball well, the Seahawks were the victim of strong defense and offensive mistakes, turning the ball over three times and taking 10 penalties for 83 yards.  The surprisingly relatively disciplined Rams, meanwhile, took five penalties for 60 yards.  And, despite two fumbles, the Rams did not lose either fumble.

The +3 statistic on turnovers is substantial.  Generally speaking--without factoring relative team strengths--teams win 75% of the time when they have one fewer turnover than the other team.  The percentage increases to approximately 88%, when the turnover margin is +2.  Given a +3 turnover margin, the rate of victory is nearly 100%.

That the Rams defeated the Seahawks by less than a touchdown suggests that they probably needed every bit of the +3 turnover differential that they obtained in the game.  Given the expectations entering the game, however, it is reasonable to view the Rams' differential against the Seahawks as essentially resulting in a 20-point swing versus the odds.

That should be of note to the Vikings, who enter Sunday's game against Seattle as a decidedly narrower underdog.  The current line has the Vikings at +5.  But 53% of the money currently is being bet on the Vikings.  If a lesser team in the Rams can parlay a +3 in turnover differential into a 20-point swing from the game's opening line, the Vikings ought to be able to win Sunday's game by being on the positive side of the turnover differential.  The only question is how far they need be on the positive side.

Confounding the analysis are the possible the possible return of Marshawn Lynch and the possible absence of Linval Joseph.  Seattle had no rushing attack against the Rams, totaling a meager 59 yards on the ground.  Lynch's presence should bolster that total, even with Joseph in the lineup, by forcing the Vikings to respect the run and, thereby, creating more opportunities for Wilson to both pass and run.  If Joseph does not play, those possibilities only increase.  And, if those possibilities become reality, the Vikings likely will need not only to have a positive turnover differential, but also to have a differential greater than +1 and possibly, as the Rams did, convert a turnover directly into a touchdown.

The odds are still against Minnesota this weekend, but the odds are merely predictive.  The Vikings have the benefit of getting to actually play the game and decide the outcome based on performance.  And if the Rams--a team that subsequently lost to the 49ers--can defeat the Seahawks with virtually no offensive output, surely the Vikings, a much more well-rounded team, can at least duplicate that feat.


HBandM said...

Good to have you posting again, VG.

Broed wit nofro said...

Laces out!