St. Louis Rams need to keep penalties in check against Pittsburgh


Coming into the 2015, one of the biggest needs for the St. Louis Rams was to cut down the penalty count. As this site explored during the offseason, Jeff Fisher’s men were in the top six for penalty yards in each of the last three campaigns. Penalties kill drives on offense and give fresh momentum to the opposition on defense. This has proved very costly for the Rams in recent years.

Against Seattle in Week 1, there were signs of improvement. St Louis committed only four penalties for a total of 30 yards, compared to the Seahawks seven flags for 76 yards. In 2014 the Rams conceded fewer penalties than this only twice all year – against Seattle in Week 7 and Denver in Week 11. Not by coincidence, these were both victories for the blue and gold.

Moving into Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, the old ways crept back in. The penalty count and yards both more than doubled from the previous week. The Rams gave up 80 yards on nine penalties. Even more disheartening, seven of those nine flags came in the second half of the game, at the start of which the Rams were already trailing 17-0. This suggests that the discipline was lost in the fight to get back into the contest – perhaps symptomatic of the youthfulness of the Rams roster. 

Aug 21, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Line judge Sarah Thomas (53) throws a penalty flag Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

So how much of this is attributable to youth? As identifies, the Rams have had the youngest roster in each of the last four years. This week’s opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are currently 26th – a drop from 18th last season. Yet they still remain 17th in the table for most penalties conceded.

2014’s second-youngest roster behind St Louis was Jacksonville – yet the Jaguars were penalized just 73 times last year, the league’s lowest tally. This is a trend that has continued into 2015, with the AFC South team again second only to the Rams in the age chart, yet 28th in terms of penalties. While it could be suggested the relatively young age of the Rams is a major reason for the penalty count, other teams have shown that youth does not necessarily equate to flags.

Perhaps then it is more productive to look at where the penalties are coming from. This shows that the problems mirror the area of the roster which has arguably seen the poorest level of play in recent years – the offensive line.

In 2014, 21 of the teams 123 penalties were for false starts. So far this year, 4 of the 13 flags against St. Louis have been for false starts. Both are above average for the league. It should not be underestimated the power these five-yarders have in taking the steam out of a drive. It is the difference between manageable yardage situations and the second or third and long situations that the Rams have struggled so often to convert on. St Louis was a healthy 6 for 11 on third down in Week 1, which fell to 2 for 12 against Washington in Week 2.

We could speculate further as to the reasons why the Rams penalty bug seems unshakeable. Maybe it’s youth, maybe it’s a weak position group, maybe it’s poor officiating. Whatever the reasons, it is hard to deny that penalties have been a real thorn in the side for Jeff Fisher and the team recently. Fans will hope the relatively low count seen in Week one can be repeated against Pittsburgh on Sunday.