"Don’t open your mouth about the best or I’m going to shut it for you real quick. "LOB!" – Richard Sherman.
Well, he does sort of have a point.
In three seasons, Pete Carroll has transformed Seattle’s defense from perennial powder puff to NFL powerhouse. More specifically, the 2010 Seahawks ranked 27th in yards allowed, and 25th in points allowed, per game. Three short seasons later, they topped the league in both categories, surrendering a paltry 273.6 yards and 14.4 points, per game.
Naturally, for a fan base starving for similar results, one has to wonder if the Rams are capable of comparable success. While finishing 2013 middling at 15th in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed per game, St. Louis doesn’t appear primed to challenge Seattle’s supremacy. However when broken down by unit, the Rams may be closer to the number 1 defense than many think. Let’s take a look, unit by unit.
Starting up front, it’s obvious that the Rams have a clear edge. Not only is St. Louis’ D-line more talented, as dictated by average draft position, but posted results that bested Seattle’s D-line in almost every major category. In 2013, St. Louis’s frontline rotation had 9 more tackles, 15 more sacks, 1 more forced fumble, 1 more interception, and 1 more pass defended than Seattle’s. Importantly, the Rams’ D-line achieved these results despite having only 3.5 years of average experience in the NFL, versus Seattle’s almost 6 years of average NFL experience. Advantage, St. Louis Rams.
For those that follow football, Bobby Wagner is a household name. There’s a reason for that. Wagner is very good. He finished 2013 with 120 tackles, 5 of which were sacks. Bobby Wagner is so good, that in addition to being a leader in sacks for 4-3 LBs, he also defended 9 passes and had 2 interceptions proving he can hit AND cover. The Rams' linebackers are better. James Laurinitis and Alec Ogletree delivered 116 and 117 tackles in 2013, respectively. They combined for 5 sacks, and dominated Seattle’s LB corps with 6 forced fumbles by Ogletree, and 11 passes defended apiece. The next closest linebacker on either team is Seattle’s K.J. Wright with 80 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Obviously, the presence of two very good LBs compared to one very good LB gives the Rams the personnel edge over Seattle at the linebacker position.
Well, two outta three ain’t bad! Teams, units, and players don’t get nicknames for no reason. GSOT stood on its own merits, and so does the Legion of Boom. Seattle’s secondary is dominant, and yet an enigma. The group’s 2013 stat line is quite impressive with an exceptional 21 interceptions, 71 passes defended, and 6 forced fumbles all of which was achieved with only 1 first round talent in Earl Thomas. Therein lies the enigma; no one else on Seattle’s secondary was drafted before round 4! In comparison the supposedly more talented Rams’ secondary that features a slew of 2nd and 3rd rounders finished 2013 with only 8 interceptions, 46 passes defended, and 4 forced fumbles. The secondary advantage clearly goes to Seattle.
So what gives? Out of three defensive units, the Rams’ front two are superior, yet overall St. Louis gives up more points, more yards, more completed passes, more yards per carry, and more 3rd down conversions than Seattle, by a long shot.
|Pts/G||Rush TD||Rec TD||Rec. Yds/G||Comp. Pct.||Avg. Rec.||Avg. Run||Rush Yds/G||3rd Down %|
Our typical knee jerk reaction is to point to the Rams' youth. However heading into 2013, St. Louis' D-line was much younger than Seattle’s, by almost 2.5 seasons of average experience, while both teams’ secondary’s averaged just over two years of experience, thus neutering the youth argument. Plus, while the Rams defense may be younger, overall the Rams have drafted more talented players, who should be more NFL ready out of college. Just for the sake of comparison, Seattle’s defense contains two first round players, Earl Thomas and Bruce Irvin, while St. Louis’s defense features four first rounders. It appears that the Rams have the personnel to be the top defense in the league. So it must be the play calling, right? Well, sort of.
As I’m typing this post my SportCenter app has alerted me that the Rams have dumped defensive coordinator Tim Walton and are hiring Gregg Williams. Obviously, tactical play calling was a major factor in subduing the Rams’ efforts to be the top defense in the NFL. More specifically, soft coverage allowed for a lot of short completed passes, and 3rd down conversions. But does obviously bad play-calling deserve all the blame? While I agree that we have a really talented core of defenders, do we really have enough of the right personnel to be the top defense in the NFL? In comparison to what the Seahawks did in 2013, I would argue NO for two reasons.
One, the Seahawks have carefully selected personnel to match their innovative schemes. Two, the Seahawks actually utilize original, cutting-edge schemes that are a product of having tailored personnel and perhaps more important, an innovative head coach. As seen in several articles on Field Gulls, Carroll’s defensive schemes feature the use of the LEO position, as well as 3-4 looks from a 4-3 base defense, which have clearly netted the best results in the league. Seattle has crafted cutting edge defensive schemes, and on-field positioning to confuse and over-power opposing offenses, and has carefully selected exactly the right players to execute Carroll’s creative vision.
So how can the Rams defense be just as good, if not better than Seattle’s? Rams fandom received a gift today. St. Louis now has a legitimate defensive coordinator with proven NFL bona fides at the helm of its defense. That alone should bear fruit in 2014. The second ingredient will be filling out their defensive personnel to enable innovative scheming and play calling. To that end…here is a two round mock….muwhahaha…you thought this was an article about defense? Hell no, this was an elaborately disguised mock draft! I kid. I’m just going to highlight a couple of players that I believe can give the Rams the personnel to field the number 1 defense in the league.
1a. Jadaveon Clowney.
He is a prototypical Jeff Fisher player. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s explosive, and he’s versatile. Think Chris Clemmons on steroids and crack. Clowney, who is 6’7" and 272 lbs. easily has the speed to play the LEO position, without sacrificing size, like Seattle has done with speedy Chris Clemmons who is 6’-3" and 254 lbs. Clowney is also large and powerful enough to be mixed in at 3-technique, especially given a one-on-one match up with opposing guards. Plus he’s fast enough to slip into coverage. This once in a lifetime player gives Fisher and Williams an incredible chance to execute some very exotic schemes that have the potential to confuse…and scare the hell out of opposing QBs. No one in the NFL will be able to craft the type of defense that the Rams would be able to create, should the Rams select Clowney. No one.
1b. If possible, the Rams should trade this pick for a later first and potentially an extra 2nd rounder. Somewhere in the next 3 picks, they should select the best free safety and corner available. This pool of players could include safteys Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Dion Bailey, or Kenny Ladler and corners Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, and Lamarcus Joyner. The safety needs to be able to dominate center-field allowing McDonald to provide run support a la Kam Chancellor, and the corner needs to be physical, a la Sherman and Browner.
The Seahawks defense is devastating and fun to watch, when they aren’t playing the Golden Horns. Hopefully, the Rams make the right moves this off-season, and have the intellectual horsepower to reset the cutting edge of defensive innovation, en route to creating a defense that sits atop the NFL. I have a feeling hiring Gregg Williams is a major step in the right direction.