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Judging the pass defense

Football Outsiders is a great addition the world of football analysis. Delivering the analytical perspective of the game to the masses is no easy task after decades of being forced-fed a steady diet of punditry more closely resembling US Weekly and talk radio.

Now, with my extra cash in hand (kidding), I must say they're awfully hard on the Rams. At 3-12, though, can you blame them? Part of the beauty in their rational approach is that illustrious winning teams like ours don't get shunned like they do elsewhere on the national level. In attempting to evaluate the performance of defensive backs, the FO team charted passes to determine success rate and yards per pass for each back. Surprisingly to some, Fakir Brown's name showed up among the league leaders in success rate at 65% and Tye Hill ranked among the best so far in terms of yards per pass with a 5.8 mark. Needless to say, the analysts were shocked.

At first I wasn't shocked, recalling some fine performances from the Rams starting corners in coverage this season. But memory's a tricky thing, as we tend to recall certain plays and games above others for various reasons - such as TV blackouts imposed by the league. And if you look at the numbers at FO or the more traditional YPG, etc., the Rams pass defense doesn't rank among the league's best.

Hill and Brown started only the six games together from Week 7 against the Seahawks to Week 13 against the Falcons, where Hill suffered his season-ending hand injury. (Hill played in a more limited role in nickel packages in week 6) Through those 6 games the Rams allowed an average of 240 yards, well above the team's overall average of 220 yards per game, and yielded 10 of the 22 passing TDs allowed by the Rams.

Obviously, there are a number of other factors at play in the overall performance of the Rams passing defense. Brown and Hill's play has been solid in man-to-man coverage, as the FO numbers suggest. Consistency in their overall game has eluded them more than we should be comfortable with, and that's something that the FO charting wouldn't necessarily pick up given that it's based on sampling. Missed tackles have also been a problem at times. I still wouldn't pin the Rams pass defense problems wholly on the starting corners. Notice this sentence in the FO piece, under the Best Yards Per Pass header:

The safeties are listed with terrible numbers so I do need to check if the Rams stuff is getting marked accurately, or if we're mistakenly penalizing the deep help when the man corner gets burned.

The Rams safeties have been a liability, and I'll look forward to what forthcoming FO analysis has to say about this. O. J. Atogwe has elite free safety talent, and the numbers to confirm that. Corey Chavous, through week 14, led the team in broken tackles and had the team's worst tackling percentage at 89%. The ten year veteran has dealt with a torn pectoral muscle, which undoubtedly hurt his ability to wrap up ball carriers. Behind Chavous and Atogwe, safeties Todd Johnson and Hank Milligan haven't exactly provide the Rams with much in the way of depth. Johnson's kind of a disappointment, especially considering he was signed more as a special teams player, a unit that excels at missing tackles. Parting ways with Chavous, who just won the team's Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game award for his leadership, might prove difficult, but as he heads into the third year of a five year deal, it's worth trying to get a better deal worked out to free up the cash to bring in his replacement and moving him into a less prominent role. Might be less of a risk than hoping for a rebound next season.

The Rams have a lot of work to do this offseason.

Congrats to Will Witherspoon on winning the team's MVP award and Adam Carriker for earning the Rookie of the Year nod.