So far this year, the St. Louis Rams have had an issue with penalty flags littering the field like dirty laundry in a young man’s dorm room.
The real problem has not been on offense or defense, where a total of 16 penalties have been called. The real concern for the Rams seems to fall upon the 17 special teams penalties called against them. Coach Jeff Fisher has stated that he disagrees with many of the calls on returns so far. It is hard enough to win in the NFL without shooting yourself in the foot almost seven times a game.
Of St. Louis’ 288 total penalized yards, 145 have came from special teams. The Rams have had at least two penalties called on their special teams each game this year. That is an alarming amount for a group that plays about 20-30 percent of the game.
The most penalized of the group has been the punt return team, accounting for 12 of the 17 penalties. The most general goal for any return team is to give the offense the best possible field position they can. In the most recent game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Rams lost 125 yards on six penalties.
While the team’s offense has to deal with the return penalties, it may be Tavon Austin who is feeling the disappointment the most, losing most of his biggest returns to penalties. Austin has seen 188 yards taken away from him on returns. He officially has 57 yards on 17 returns, averaging 3.4 yards per return. Without the penalties committed by his blockers, his would be averaging about 10 yards per return for a total of 257 yards.
That is a big difference for starting field position for a team that has yet to find its flow offensively.
Austin provides the Rams with most dynamic returner they have had since Az-Zahir Hakim in the days of the Greatest Show on Turf before his fumblitis got the best of him. Austin has been shifty on his returns, changing direction many times. When he changes direction, the defenders will follow.
The Rams’ rookies have accounted for 11 of the 17 penalties, which could be somewhat due to their inexperience and trying to hold a block just a bit too long. At some point, they have to learn what they can or can’t get away with, much like lineman throughout a game or a pitcher learning an umpire’s strike zone. Some referees will let you get away with more, but at this point the rookies should have an idea of what is acceptable.
Ray-Ray Armstrong has committed four of these penalties, followed by Brandon McGee and Stedman Bailey. Bailey has proved himself to be valuable as a gunner on punt coverage, downing several punts and consistently getting pressure on returners.
If the Rams’ special teams fail to clean up the holds on returns, we may see a change in personnel. Something has to change for this team to find success on Sundays.Committing fewer penalties on special teams will give them a better chance for the offense to start in good position. My guess is that Fisher won’t accept starting at the 22-yard line for much longer.