You don't need me to remind you that the St. Louis Rams defense struggled against play action passes and other fakes last year. The Rams first unit defense reminded us all of those troubles last week against the Titans. Football Outsiders reminded us again today, but they did it with their fancy numbers.
Providing a quick summary of every NFL team for Deadspin today, from the Outsiders' 2011 Almanac (something we'll be doing much more with in the days ahead, including some insight from the authors themselves), here's what they had to say about the Rams' soft underbelly on defense last year:
It wasn't quite as bad as previous years, but once again the Rams defense seriously struggled to stop play-action passing. The Rams had a reasonable 4.9% defensive DVOA on pass plays without a play-fake, but a terrible 41.1% DVOA on pass plays with a fake.
You don't need to be a statistician to appreciate the difference in DVOA between a regular old passing play and those with a play fake. All season and throughout the offseason we simply filed those tendencies into the general category of "outside linebacker" needs. And for good reason. Defending against those kind of play demands linebackers and safeties who stick to their assignments and can cleary see the play unfolding around them.
We brokedown two such instances of the Rams defense working against a play fake from last week's game against the Titans.
In one instance, the weakside linebacker got caught in no man's land while the safety missed the tackle. On that play, the fullback caught the ball for a first down on the one-yard line.
On the second play, a very similar one in which the QB threw to his tight end, the weakside linebacker stayed back in his assignment, saw the play unfolding and moved over to cover the tight end. The WLB would likely have made the tackle, except pressure forced the QB to overthrow the ball, right into the hands of the safety who was back in his spot, watching the play unfold and moving up to make a play on the ball or stop the TE had he caught it.
The first team outside linebackers this week are Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga, who did much better in these circumstances than the OLBs they replace.