Rams' defensive struggles put spotlight on rookie DC Tim Walton

Jamie Squire

A former third down specialist, the Rams new defensive coordinator is under fire for his unit's poor play on third down ... and second down ... and first down. But are the problems bigger than Walton?

Three weeks, 86 points, 1,179 yards and two losses. Those aren't the numbers most people had in mind when they were making predictions for the St. Louis Rams defense. Last year's group led the league in sacks and stole a few wins during a surprising 7-8-1 campaign. And they didn't even a defensive coordinator.

Enter Tim Walton.

A former college coordinator and, more recently, the Detroit Lions secondary coach, Walton's presence was billed as another link in making this group one of the league's best.

"He fit in very well with the staff," Jeff Fisher said about his new hire in February. "Our staff, considering the circumstances last year, did an outstanding job and we feel like Tim is going to do nothing but help us to improve defensively."

Walton was a known commodity, having worked with Fisher's former coaches Jim Schwartz, Gunther Cunningham and current Rams assistant secondary coach Brandon Fisher.

"As far as the terminology and all those kinds of things are concerned, it's very similar. Now we did change a little bit this year, but we feel like we can take the best of both worlds now ... the Rams' defense is going to be special because of it."

In addition to Walton's familiarity by association with Fisher's style and his role as the secondary coach in Detroit, he had another title attached to his business cards with the Lions: third-down package responsibilities.

That's notable because Fisher has been clear about the Rams defensive struggles on third down. Dallas was five-for-11 on third downs against the Rams defense this week.

"Really the key is third down," Fisher said Monday. "When you're playing a good offensive team like we faced yesterday, where our offense is struggling, the defense is going to have to get turnovers or get the ball back and we didn't do that. That really, to me, is the difference in the game. They did an outstanding job on third down - a couple areas that we must improve on if we're going to win football games and a short time to do it."

In actuality, the Rams have struggled on second down as well. For instance, Tony Romo completed 10-of-12 passes on second down last week, with 129 yards and one touchdown. He turned seven of those 12 second downs into a new set of downs.

But let's stick with third down for now.

The Rams defense is allowing a 50 percent conversion rate on third downs so far this season. The league average is 38.5 percent. Last year, the Rams defense allowed a 37.5 percent conversion rate on third downs, and that was without a third down specialist at defensive coordinator.

As the Lions secondary coach and third down man in 2012, Walton's defense allowed a respectable 36.5 percent conversion rate, and this was with a number of injuries in the secondary.

So what happened?

That's harder to answer. Sure, the Rams could do a lot better than being the league's worst third-down defense. But if they don't improve on first and second downs, it really won't matter much.

Right now, as Will from Rams Herd points out, the Rams are on pace for the worst pass defense in franchise history. And regardless of how much input the other, veteran coaches have, Walton's the one whose name plate reads "defensive coordinator." People are starting to question him.

Walton's not the only coordinator struggling. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is coming under plenty of fire for his unit's work too. Don't forget the poor play on special teams.

All three units playing poorly, well below expectations, despite a more talented group of players than the year before ... forget about the coordinators, that puts Fisher on the spot.

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