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Putting the attack back in the Rams defense

There's been plenty of talk about the change in approach on the offensive side of the ball, as you might expect for a team where offense became the brand for awhile. However, the Rams are set for a real sea change on defense, where a new philosophy and a new playbook are being installed. The Rams new head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, made a name for himself as an aggressive defensive coordinator. Now, as head coach he's hired former Panthers LB coach Ken Flajole to reshape the Rams defense. 

The fundamental change we're going to see is the role of the defensive front. Rather than moving side-to-side or relying on a few set plays and reacting to the offense, the system being implemented by Spags and Flajole calls for players in the front to move forward and attack. We'll get into the actual Xs and Os in a future post, but for now, one thing we can assume - based largely on what we've been told straight from the horse's mouth - is that the Rams will be attacking the QB more. 

The chart below looks at the Rams sack totals and sack rate (as described at Football Outsiders) since 2000. You can see the drop off since '04. The last time the Rams had a season above .500 was '03. Of course, injuries factor into this as well, but you can see the steady decline that's coincided with the team's slide.

Year 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Sacks 51 47 38 42 36 41 34 31 30
Rate 8.4% (5) 7.6% (7) 8% (6) 7.2% (5) 6.7% (16) 7.2% (14) 5.7% (18) 6.2% (17) 6.2% (16)


Under Spags, the Giants defense of the last two years ranked among the league's best in sacks and sack rate (2007: 53 sacks, 8.8% sack rate (1st); 2008: 43 sacks, 7.3% sack rate (6th)). More impressive is the fact that in 2008 they did that without Strahan and Umenyiora, though they still had an impressive array of talent filling their defensive front. Sp what can we expect to see with the Rams? Expecting top five sack totals may be too much, but the unit should be much improved with the new system, the continued development of Chris Long, wiser use of Leonard Little in the rotation, and what we hope will be better play in the middle.