Given some time to reflect after the season, Jeff Fisher didn't like what he saw from the St. Louis Rams defense in 2013.
A fearsome defensive line bookended by a pair of blue chip pass rushers, the Rams bullied their way into the league's best stop units in 2012. That same group was hardly recognizable last season, regularly getting gouged on big plays and giving up easy points that would have never made it into the box score the year before.
"In probably mid-January, several weeks after the season was over, what we do as assistant coaches, front office personnel and head coaches is you start the evaluation process," Fisher said Thursday. "I started that. I gave a lot of thought to the future and the direction of our defense and I have to say I was a little bit uncomfortable."
The Rams defense allowed an average of exactly one more point in 2013 than it did in 2012, from 21.8 to 22.8. But it's a stat that doesn't tell the whole story.
According to Football Outsiders DVOA efficiency metric, the Rams slipped from -9.1 percent to -5.2 percent, a four point drop in their overall effectiveness in limiting opposing offenses from moving the ball productively. The difference was most stark against the pass, going from a -6.2 percent DVOA (eighth best) to a 4.8 percent DVOA (15th best).
Opponents had a total of 62 passing plays of 20 yards or more against the Rams last season, after having just 43 in 2012.
The numbers don't paint a stark difference, but that may have something to do with rumors of Fisher taking a more hands-on role in the defense midway through the season.
Worse still, the defense seemed to lack its aggressive identity. They had all the penalties, but not the performances to back it up.
So Fisher made a call to his old friend Gregg Williams, the man he originally hired in 2012 to run his defense. A suspension for his role in the Saints bounty scandal and a penchant for saying too much in his PowerPoints earned Williams a year off to reflect ... and grow a goatee, apparently.
"I made the difficult decision to let Coach [Tim] Walton go," Fisher said. "Obviously, the timing was not ideal for Coach Walton, who did a very good job for us. But, I felt, in the best interest of this organization, that Gregg was the guy for the job."
It's been all business since, and Williams has made a natural transition back into the fold.
"There's no better place for me to live than right now in St. Louis," Williams said. "I'm blessed to be here and I'm ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work. I know this week as we've started meeting as a staff, that they're probably great and they're enjoying the fact there's a little bit of a break in the staff meetings downstairs and I'm here with you instead of with them because we have a lot of work to do. We started early this week and we'll be working hard and doing that knowing that you all want a winner."
Williams offered a few more platitudes, talked up the reunion with his old friend and mentioned that he still managed to come and watch the Rams play during the 2012 season.
After knocking away a round of slow pitch softballs from the flip phone newspaper guys and the team's corporate radio partners, Williams finally got the chance to talk about the Rams defense, his defense, and what's in store for the year ahead. Kind of.
"I've had a chance. I've watched every single game and I've taken reports and listened to our reports, and those things are good to familiarize yourself with," Williams said. "But, as opposed to what other people do, you need to be good at what you do, and what we're getting ready to go about doing. So, we'll spend more time on what we're getting ready to do as opposed to what's already been done in the past, but we will take that for recollection and we will take that for knowledge to improve - we'll use that."
His coach speak game was in mid-season form already.
Nevertheless, Williams was clearly focused on the task at hand.
"We've got to get ready to play the opponents that we're going to hit here right now," he said. "We've got to be able to adapt the defensive style and fit the players here that we bring in here to get ready to go. But, there will be carryover and we're looking to try to make an impact with every team we get a chance to coach."
In the end, Williams didn't offer many details about what he intends to do with the Rams defense -- blitz more? man coverage? It doesn't matter. Linebacker James Laurinaitis, on hand at Rams Park on Thursday, made the expectation clear.
"There is no excuse for us not to be a top five defense," he said.
A fan base hungry for the Rams' first winning season in more than a decade agrees, and won't be offering any excuses for the defense not being among the NFL's five best either in 2014.