The Rams linebackers have been up and down all year. James Laurinaitis is having a down year by his standards, but the outside linebackers have definitely improved around him. The Packers and the Patriots used a short passing game to pick apart the Rams offense, and the lack of coverage skills by the linebackers had a lot to do with it. How did our writers grade them?
C+: Dunbar was a great addition; he plays hard, and is a pretty well rounded player. JL55 is still a tackling machine, but I've seen him get ran over by RBs.
C+: Laurinaitis is among the league leaders in tackles, and Dunbar has proved himself worthy as a starter but we still need a third starter and better depth to round out this group.
C: JL55 just piles on tackles, but isn't doing as well against the run or against the pass; Dunbar has been a great add. Still work needs to be done and the unit needs to gel better (like the DLine)
B- : This is a mixed bag, because in a sense it's a tale of two stories. James-L has been disappointing in the new scheme. I know he leads the NFL in tackles, but he is making a lot of them down field. He's not great in coverage, and doesn't appear to have the power at the line of scrimmage that we've seen in the past (he did lose 15 lbs before the season this year). On the other hand, J. Dunbar has been playing at a high-level. He is flying around and making plays. He looks like a player that uses film and knows how to make a difference on the field.
B-: This group, led by middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, has played well, but they're missing something. What this group has suffered from is defensive play calling, not effort on the field. The LB unit is missing a OLB/DE hybrid to add to the pass rush when possible and complicate assignments for those trying to block Long and Quinn. Jo-Lon Dunbar is the MVP of the defense so far this season. He's been all over the field, and he's earned every penny of his FA contract. McIntosh and Haggan really haven't impressed me in pass coverage, or in sealing off running lanes in the OG/OT gaps. Since the 49ers rushing offense is keyed on getting their OL or FB to the second level, the Rams linebackers will have a tough game ahead of them.
D+: I'm really disappointing in this group, I'm not going to lie to you, I don't know who the third starter is on this squad off the top of my head, which is sad, because I can tell you the other 21 starters, and the backup corners. After James L, got his new deal, it looked like he was going to be great, but he hasn't been impressive, the stats are there, but if you actually watch him play, and see him getting shock, shoe string tackles, getting ran over and barely tacking the ball carrier, it's sad. Dunbar has been the only bright spot, he's a good aggressive player.
B-: Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a great addition to the team, and is arguably the best linebacker by quality of play. Laurinaitis is having a so-so year, but overall, things could be much worse. Rocky McIntosh has had a quiet year. Overall, this unit is much improved from 2011, and it'll be exciting to see what they are capable of down the stretch.
C: Jo-Lunn Dunbar has been a refreshing addition, however, JL has had his worst season of his career. He makes tackles in volume, but fails to make game-changing plays.
C: "C" sounds lower than I'd like it to because I so want to give them a "B." The McIntosh and Dunbar acquisitions have seriously upgraded the OLB corps, and is a far cry from Poppinga and Leber. The Rams rushing D is still top 15, which is respectable. The sacks, however, just aren't there. 3.5 sacks (3 by Dunbar) halfway through the season is a meager figure. If it's due to playing more coverage than blitzing, then where are the INT's? Two on the year...LB's are better, but average. It's a "C" for me
D: I'm not going to sugar coat it, this unit has been bad. Jo-Lonn Dunbar has made some highlight plays, but his lack of coverage skills is really hindering the Rams. He also doesn't bring much in terms of a pass rush, but man is having a mediocre OLB look like gold compared to what the Rams threw out there the last few years. Rocky McIntosh has provided nothing after a lot of hype coming in, but the Rams have been playing nickel a lot this season and will continue to do so. James Laurnaitis. James. James. James. I am very disappointed in James this year. His is having a very mediocre year. Sure he has a high number of tackels, but he is out on defense for a high number of snaps, he should be getting a lot of tackles, along with game changing plays, which he hasn't been providing. He is off in the pass game so far in 2012, and he is horrible so far in the running game. He is not fighting off blocks and his tackles are not strong this year. He looks weak this year. Losing 10 lbs going into the season looks like it failed for JL55. The last two games, offenses targeted the middle of the field and ate up the Rams defense. I questioned if we even had linebackers anymore. I expect more of the same down the stretch unless Laurnaitis suddenly returns to form.
Ryan Van Bibber
C: What stands out to me about this group is how much better they are at diagnosing plays, especially misdirection plays. Unbalanced lines and running backs going around the outside used to kill this group. It's not a perfect group, and they struggle with coverage. Laurinaitis has taken some heat this season, but I'm quite sure why. He had a terrible game against the Patriots, like everyone else, which I don't quite understand. He hasn't played at that same high level fans have gotten used to. It looks to me like he's grappling with a much different role the MLB plays in a Cover-2 defense.