Lunch time reading: St. Louis Rams defense ready for a breakout?

If you have a little down time at lunch today or if you're eating lunch at your desk like a total loser, be sure to give this article over at SI.com a read. Kerry J. Bryne from Cold Hard Football Facts takes a look at the big leap in performance by the St. Louis Rams defense, the defensive line in particular. 

Looking at a handful of stats, in particular focused on pass defense and the pass rush, he predicts a big break out for the Rams in 2011. It's hard not to look at the Rams' pick of North Carolina DE Robert Quinn in the draft last month and agree. 

However, Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders, cautioned readers to beware of regression to the mean in linking to the article on Twitter. It's a distinct possibility, especially given the age of several key players on the defensive line and the risk of injury. 

Another issue I have with the SI.com piece, is the reliance on third down stats. Yes, the Rams defense was very good on third downs last year, but they still struggled some on first and second downs. Using DVOA from FO's premium database, here's how the Rams defense fared on all downs (remember, the positive numbers indicate a positive success rate for the offense):

First down: 11.7 percent, ranked 27th
Second down: 8.3 percent, ranked 21st
Third/Fourth downs: -9.4 percent, ranked 9th 

There is more digging to be done within the numbers. Improving on first and second downs will be essential to the defense's success. Defenses that are strong on third downs, but weaker on first and second downs tend to decline. That should be a big concern for the Rams. We'll get into this much more as the season gets closer. 

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