The Rams defense has been heavily criticized by fans recently, and for good reason. Compared to last years’ unit, this defense has yet to impress, and hasn’t taken advantage of the star power they have. However, there is still hope for this Rams defense to turn it around, as they were still able to make the Super Bowl in 2018 with a similar defense. That being said, today, I’ll be breaking down what’s been going wrong with the Rams defense, and comparing it to their defense in 2018.

First, let’s start off with what’s been going wrong on defense this year. The defense has given up more points and yards than they did in the first 4 games of 2020, so they aren’t performing like last year. The loss of John Johnson (Leading tackler), Troy Hill (2 Pick sixes), and Brandon Staley is being felt on this team.

Many fans, including myself, thought that their depth at safety would help fill the void, but so far it has not. When targeted, Jordan Fuller has allowed a 114.7 passer rating, and Taylor Rapp has allowed a 142.2 rating. Terell Burgess has seen limited action so far and is currently being out-snapped by Nick Scott and Robert Rochell. As the season goes on, if the starters keep underperforming, I’d expect some of the other guys to get more playing time. The pressure from the D-Line has remained relatively the same, so I’d pin this more on the secondary then them.

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey reacts after an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Jalen Ramsey

On the bright side, Jalen Ramsey is playing extraordinarily well from the Star position. He has the second-most targets on the defense, yet is allowing the least passer rating (52.9). For comparison, the next best defender rating is Robert Rochell with 71.5. He’s impacting the game in a different way, but it forces Darious Williams and Long jr. to play positions they’re not comfortable in. According to Next Gen Stats, Ramsey is playing 56% of his snaps in the slot, his highest in his career. When he played on the outside last season, we saw a better performance from the others in the secondary, so it should be interesting to watch what the Rams do with him for the rest of the season. In my opinion, the DB room played significantly better last year when Ramsey covered a teams’ best receiver. 

Aaron Donald and the D-Line haven’t been doing that bad of a job either. The defense has had at least 2 sacks in every game this year so far and has been pressuring opposing QBs a lot with 46 QB pressures (tied for 6th place). The loss of Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox hasn’t been felt, as the defensive line has been relatively the same without them. Guys like Sebastian Joseph-Day and Greg Gaines have stepped up to fill their roles. Aaron Donald continues to be a threat, and opens up lanes for his teammates.

Linebackers

The LB room hasn’t impressed since Littleton left in 2020. Kenny Young has been decent, but no one has stepped up and showed the 100+ tackle talent a good MLB should have. The Rams have tried to cover up this by having their safeties take up some of the slack, but without Johnson, they’ve struggled. On the 2018 defense, they had 2 100 tacklers (Johnson, Littleton), and in 2019 had 3 (Weddle, Rapp, Littleton). Granted, tackling isn’t the best indication of a good defense, but it shows the ability of defenders to seek out the ball and make plays. The rookie Ernest Jones has seen very limited time, despite impressing in pre-season. They had the chance to draft Nick Bolton out of Missouri, who’s been good for the Chiefs so far, but didn’t pull the trigger.

2018 Defense

The Rams’ 2018 defense wasn’t great (19th in yards, 20th in points), yet they were able to make it to the Super Bowl. As shown in the chart below, through the first 5 games, the Morris defense has been somewhat similar to Wade Phillips’ unit in 2018. They’ve allowed more yards and points, but have gone up against tougher opponents. For comparison, the Rams 2018 opponents through 5 weeks had 45 wins the year before, and this year their opponents had 50 wins. Compared to last year’s schedule, only ⅖ teams made the playoffs the year before versus ⅘ teams this year. I think this Rams defense has the potential to be great, they just need to fix some of their easy mistakes like the missed tackles and communication errors. 

Overall, this year’s Rams defense hasn’t impressed so far. They’ve generated the same amount of turnovers and sacks, but are giving up substantially more yards and points. They have faced tougher opponents, but just aren’t as dominant as last years’ unit. We are only 5 games through so far, so I’m waiting to see what adjustments Morris makes during their mini bye week. They have a relatively easy stretch the next 3 weeks (NYG, DET, HOU) so if they struggle against those offenses (All bottom 10 in PPG), then there’s a real problem.

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