Managing third down a major issue for Rams in '14

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- More often than not, when the St. Louis Rams struggled on third down in 2014, the question of how to improve there would be posed to coach Jeff Fisher or offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Each time the question was asked, the response was the same: Third down is all about what happens on first and second down. By the time the season ended, the Rams were 27th in the league on third down, coming up with a conversion on 35.4 percent of their 192 third down opportunities.

Clearly, that's not very good. So what, exactly, was the problem? Well, it would start with the inability to "stay ahead of the sticks" by coming up with solid gains on first and second down.

Three yards and a cloud of dust is a common football refrain that's often made fun of because the idea is that it would still leave you 1 yard short of a first down. But based on the numbers, the Rams would have been well served to have gotten 3 yards on first and second down with or without the dust.

That's because the Rams' average distance to moving the chains on third down attempts this year was a whopping 7.86 yards. That's tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the longest distance to gain in the NFL.

For a team that claimed to want to run the ball efficiently, that's a pretty damning statistic. Here are the six teams with the furthest distances to travel on third down this season:

Tampa Bay: 8.56 average yards on 203 third downs

St. Louis: 7.86 average yards on 192 third downs

Jacksonville: 7.86 average yards on 216 third downs

Arizona: 7.69 average yards on 224 third downs

Cleveland: 7.67 average yards on 207 third downs

Tennessee: 7.64 average yards on 196 third downs

For the record, the Rams' 192 third down chances were also the fewest attempts in the league while their 288 first downs were tied for 26th in the NFL. In other words, many times when the Rams moved the chains, it was happening on first or second down. That means they had plenty of good plays on the first two downs but weren't consistent enough to regularly put themselves in position to keep drives going on third down.