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Rams offense seeks improvement on third down

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams recent offensive woes can be attributed to a number of things: pass-protection issues, struggles to consistently run the ball and, certainly, the quality of defenses that have dotted their recent stretch of games.

But Rams coach Jeff Fisher was particularly disappointed in one area against Arizona last week: The team's inability to keep the chains moving on third down.

"I think the big thing right now is our third down," Fisher said. "We converted one third down yesterday and that doesn’t give you a chance to accumulate the touches that you want."

The Rams were 1-for-10 on third down against Arizona and finished the game with 16 first downs and 244 yards of offense. By comparison, Arizona was 6-for-15 on third down to go with 21 first downs and 335 yards of total offense.

It was no coincidence that the Cardinals managed 66 offensive snaps compared to the Rams' 58.

For the season, the Rams are 41-for-108 (38 percent conversion rate), which ranks 23rd in the NFL. But those numbers have dwindled as the quality of defenses have improved in the past month-plus. Facing top-10 defenses such as San Francisco (twice), Seattle and Kansas City, the Rams are 17-for-56 on third in their past five games, a 30.4 conversion rate.

Heading into this stretch of games, it was pretty clear a Rams offense that had surprised with its efficiency in the first five weeks would be facing a new challenge it might not be equipped to handle. Those top defenses have proved to be too much for the Rams to consistently and effectively move the ball on throughout the course of a game.

“It’s all about that in our opinion," Fisher said. "We talked about it as a staff. We had in the last six games, four of them have been on the road, each team’s playing good defense. We've just got to become more consistent running the football, protecting."

At the end of the San Francisco game a couple of weeks ago, the call to throw on third-and-1 when trying to salt the game away was a bit of a head-scratcher. But looking closer at the numbers, it's much more understandable why the Rams threw in that situation.

On third-and-2 or less this season, the Rams have dropped back to pass 15 times, completing 10-of-14 for 107 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 135.1. That includes nine first downs for a conversion rate of 60 percent.

When the Rams run the ball in those same third-and-short situations, they haven't been bad but not as effective as they have throwing. They have seven rushes for 21 yards with a touchdown and a fumble with four first downs for a conversion rate of 57.1 percent.

Those conversion numbers are similar but it's clear the Rams believe they can find the (for them) hard to come by bigger plays in the passing game by going to the pass on third-and-short.