Some data out today reveals something interesting about the St. Louis Rams' safety situation. Pro Football Focus ran down the league's 20 best and 20 worst safeties when it comes to missed tackles. Why that presents an issue for safeties should be fairly obvious. Both of the Rams starting safeties were found on the lists, but their decision about which one to keep this season doesn't quite jive the way you might expect it to.
There among the 20 best is Oshiomogho Atogwe, with 5 missed tackles on the season and an average of one miss per 16.2 attempts. On the other list is SS Craig Dahl, who had 14 missed tackles and a miss per 6.79 attempts.
Missed tackles lead to big plays. This data feeds into the easily identifiable problem the Rams defense had in shutting down those plays in that area of the field that simply got lumped under the "need a better weakside linebacker" label or problems.
And that linebacker need is reflected in this data. Without adequate OLB help with the speed to chase down running backs and the ability to matchup with receivers staked out between 5-15 yards down the field, Dahl was playing more in coverage than he should have been, picking up plays that should have been stopped by the linebackers. Or, plays that should have never happened had the Rams front four been better able to close pockets and cut off plays to the outside. Remember, Spagnuolo's defensive model all stems from the front four being able to generate consistent pressure. It's how he can skimp on outside linebackers (to some extent) and safeties, because their role is less prominent with consistently disruptive presence up front.
The front four should be a much better unit this year thanks in large part to the addition of Robert Quinn. If the Rams can pluck a steady defensive tackle like Barry Cofield during the offseason, whenever that takes place, the front four will be a much different group. That will improve the back seven by reducing the pressure on them to some extent.
However, there are still big holes at weakside linebacker and safety. With Atogwe gone, the Rams could potentially see some of those 20-yard plays (11th most allowed vs the pass; 9th most allowed vs the run) turn into 40-yard plays (2nd fewest allowed vs the pass, just one allowed vs the run).
The good news here is that the Rams don't really need to hand out the big ticket free agent money to improve those positions. But they're going to need free agency to happen, badly. And given how shortened the official offseason training programs will be, players with experience under Spagnuolo or Flajole will probably get even higher priority than usual, if that's possible.