The St. Louis Rams' defense had their worst game of the season last week. Was it a fluke or a sign of things to come?
It's no small task, and in spite of the Rams recent run of success, last week's loss to the Lions is prompting some to wonder whether or not they can win again.
This post from ESPN's Mike Sando says it all in the title: "Rams' blowout loss beginning of a slide?"
It's a fair question to ask in the wake of a hapless performance in week 5. Hopefully, the haplessness was more of a fluke than the winning was in the two weeks before.
Most concerning was the fate of the Rams defense, surrendering 4 TDs. That was a far cry from the unit's performance in the four games prior to week 5.
Was it a fluke or signs of things to come? Let's take a look.
Let's start with the defense, a unit that had been allowing an average of 13 points per game through the first four weeks. In the Sando article Matt Williamson had this to say about the defense:
I was high on the Rams' defense before that Detroit game. They had new life. They were playing above their heads in a way, but that defense was in a position where they wouldn’t get embarrassed, they would keep games close...
The worst defensive DVOA for the Rams this season came in week 1 against the Cardinals when they had a 14 percent DVOA. Against Washington, they had a near identical 13.8 percent DVOA. They were much better against Oakland with a -12.5 DVOA and absolutely shut down Seattle with a -27.8 DVOA.
Against the Lions, the Rams had a 33.6 percent DVOA, positively atrocious. It's also a big outlier, which says suggests that the defense really isn't quite this bad. What hurt them in this game was pass defense, which was a horrifying 56.8 percent DVOA, another big outlier. Their next worst performance against the pass was in week 1, a 30.2 percent DVOA. Last season, the Rams defense had a weekly DVOA topping 33 percent just 4 times.
The Rams defense continued to struggle against passes to slot receivers and tight ends. The short passes just behind the DL, the kind that frustrate Rams fans, worked well for the Lions, moving the chains and breaking the Rams string of success on third downs.
Complicating matters last week was the limited role of an injured Justin King and Kevin Dockery out all together. That put more onus on the strong safeties and linebackers in coverage of those type of passes. More concerning is that the Rams outside linebackers continue to be susceptible, struggling with coverage and outside runs. This was the first game where it really cost them, but it's probably going to be an issue all season. We'll see what happens when Chris Chamberlain, the LB they use in nickel packages, returns.
Fluke. The defense is capable of playing better than this. On stat of note, in games last season where the defense flopped to the tune of a 30 percent DVOA or worse, they bounced back the next week with an average DVOA of 13.8 percent. That speaks well of the coaches ability to get the Rams defense back on track, especially since we know last year's defense was much worse than this unit.
We'll look at the fluke factor for the Rams offense in a later post.