St. Louis Rams: Breaking Down Why Legatron Should Strike Fear into Opponents

Matthew MeltonContributor IIIDecember 4, 2012

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Less than halfway through his first NFL season, St. Louis Rams placekicker Greg Zuerlein has arguably become the team's most threatening offensive force.

This shouldn't come as any surprise, as Zuerlein has been pushing away the competition from the moment he was drafted by the Rams.

Soon after drafting Zuerlein in the sixth round of this year's draft, the Rams announced that longtime PK Josh Brown would be released.

Rams fans first remember Brown from his days on the Seattle Seahawks. Twice in 2006, Brown kicked very long field goals with very little time left on the clock to steal victory from the Rams.

Those two losses cost the Rams the NFC West crown, if not a potential first-round bye, as the Rams finished on the outside of the playoff picture at 8-8.

So when the Rams signed Brown in free agency prior to the 2008 season, there was a little "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" behind the Rams' move.

I bring this history lesson up because it's important to remember that Zuerlein wasn't replacing a dead camp leg for the Rams this year. He was filling in for someone who made nearly 82 percent of his kicks for the Rams. He was filling in for someone who led the NFL in field goals as recently as 2010.

What has Zuerlein done to show he belongs? Besides having more nicknames than Sean Combs, Zuerlein has shown he can make a field goal from nearly anywhere on the field.

I've written before that Zuerlein (aka Legatron aka Greg the Leg aka Young G-Z) is the Larry Bird of the NFL. Once Z is in the building, he's in scoring range.

That's not completely true, but considering Zuerlein has made field goals from 60, 56 and 54 yards (multiple times), Zuerlein can score from anywhere the Rams need him to score.

In fact, Zuerlein leads the NFL with seven field goals from 50-plus yards. The single season record is eight. He's also a perfect 7-for-7 from 40-49 yards, and Zuerlein has consistently shown he can make a pressure kick.

In today's NFL, everyone talks about red-zone defense. Once an offense gets near the 20-yard line, defenses are supposed to turn on a magic switch and suddenly stop the offense in its tracks.

That's partly because the possibility of a touchdown looms as an offense creeps closer to the endzone. But it's also because that precious piece of land near the 20-yard line is classic field-goal territory.

Call it the "orange zone," that sliver of land between the defense's 20- and 30-yard lines. Stall the offense there, and you force them to accept three points when what they really wanted was the full seven.

Maybe the defense gets lucky and sacks the quarterback, pushing the offense outside of the "orange zone" and instead in to punting territory.

Zuerlein's value is not only in his accuracy, but also his distance. Zuerlein extends the Rams' "orange zone" well beyond the opponent's 30-yard line and very close to midfield.

As this chart detailing all made field goals in 2005 shows, at 50 yards or longer, NFL kickers are successful on about 52 percent of their kicks.

So far this season, among kickers besides Zuerlein who have attempted at least four field goals from 50 yards or longer, the NFL success rate is 44-for-72 (61 percent).

This season, Zuerlein is 7-for-11 on field goals 50 yards or longer. If you discount the 66-yard attempt Zuerlein took in the final seconds of the Rams' loss in Miami, Zuerlein has a 70 percent success rate on field goals above 50 yards.

In reality, that number is even higher because Zuerlein made a 53-yard field goal in overtime against the 49ers in San Francisco. That attempt was nullified on a delay of game penalty, and Zuerlein ultimately missed from 58 yards.

Zuerlein's true success rate from 50-plus yards is probably much closer to 80 percent, making him nearly 50 percent better than the average NFL kicker in long-distance field goals.

Zuerlein's leg means that the Rams can be more aggressive than they otherwise would be in attacking the end zone once the offense crosses midfield.

If the Rams are facing a 3rd-and-7 from the opponent's 38-yard line, they don't have to sheepishly run the ball to try to gain a handful of yards and set up a shorter (re: makeable) field-goal attempt.

The Rams can use any multitude of formations to take a shot downfield, knowing that an incompletion will not cost the Rams much. For Zuerlein, a 55-yard field goal is just as likely to be made as a 51-yarder.

When defenses know that points can be scored once the offense crosses midfield, the pressure starts to amp higher with every first down gained.

Instead of trying to keep the Rams out of just the red zone, defenses now must look to keep the Rams on their side of the field. It's an impossible task for any defense.

That pressure seeps into every facet of a defensive gameplan. Maybe you can't afford to blitz the Rams as they approach midfield, fearing that any completion on a hot read would lead the Rams, at a minimum, to an almost certain three points.

Maybe those linebackers over-pursue on a play action, thinking they have to make an instant tackle to keep the Rams out of scoring range. A little misdirection from the Rams offense, and suddenly Chris Givens or Danny Amendola sneak behind the coverage and find an open space downfield for a nice completion.

Jeff Fisher's faith in Zuerlein is unprecedented for a rookie kicker, especially one from a tiny Division II school in St. Joseph, MO.

Fisher knows that as long as he's got Legatron, the Rams can aim for the end zone without fear of coming up empty on a drive.