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St. Louis Rams Defense: Progress

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The St. Louis Rams, in their first year under Jeff Fisher, looked different than they did in 2011. Even with the [still] vacant Defensive Coordinator position, an upgraded Rams roster enabled them to leap from two wins to seven. The defense certainly played it’s part in keeping games competitive, but just how much better were they than the woeful 2011 Rams defense?

USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure how often I said it during the regular season, but as players walked to the locker room at halftime, I regularly thought to myself "The Defense is keeping us in this game." Rightfully so. Even with a five win swing in the final standings, the Rams offense is certainly no juggernaut, and limiting the damage on the scoreboard was the most likely way of making a game winnable.

The free agency acquisition of former Pro-Bowler Cortland Finnegan was just the first piece to improving 2011’s 22nd ranked defense. Outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar was a pleasant - Gregg Williams induced - surprise, and Kendall Langford was brought in from Miami to shore up a defensive front that already had Chris Long and Robert Quinn as bookends.

Add in immediate impact players like 2012’s 14th overall selection Michael Brockers, and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate [at least as far as I’m concerned] Janoris Jenkins, and you’re looking at a very respectable defensive unit.

So how do the 2011 and 2012 defensive units compare? Clearly, a team that mustered seven wins would dominate in most categories…right? Take a gander:

2012
2011
Total Number of Plays
1,041 [22nd]
1,033 [19th]
Opp’s Time of Possession
31:19 [26th]
31:56 [29th]
YPG Allowed
342.6 [14th]
358.4 [22nd]
Points per Game Allowed
21.8 [14th]
25.4 [26th]
TD’s Allowed
34
38
Penalties
90 [T-8th]
111 [25th]
Penalty Yards
758 [T-8th]
951 [26th]
Sacks
52 [T-1st]
39 [15th]
Interceptions
17 [T-11th]
12 [23rd]
Forced Fumbles
12 [T-23rd]
16 [10th]
Defensive Touchdowns
5 [T-4th]
1 [T-31st]
Opp’s 1st Downs/Game
20.4 [22nd]
19.6 [18th]
Opp’s 3rd Down Conv./G
5.0 [13th]
5.2 [22nd]
Opp’s 3rd Down Conv. %
37.56% [13th]
38.60% [19th]
Opp’s Punts per Game
4.6 [12th]
5.1 [T-14th]

It’s clear that the aforementioned players - and a serious boost in the coaching department - played a large part in the successes realized defensively in 2012. Being able to make such strides in categories like INT’s, sacks, and defensive TD’s should [and did] yield success. Perhaps more important than those three metrics is Penalties/Penalty Yards. Putting your opponents in a position to score is less-than-advised in the NFL, and the Rams defense went from being one of the worst in 2011 to one of the best in 2012.

Whether you buy into the adage "The best offense is a good defense" is your prerogative, but in this case a little bit of help from the offense could further improve the defense's chances at becoming a Top-10 unit in the NFL. The Rams deficiencies on offense keep the defense on the field longer than they'd like to be. At 28:40 [26th] seconds per game, the Rams Offensive Time of Possession was only slightly improved from 28:03 in 2011. Putting together a few more time-consuming drives would allow the defense time to rest. The defensive unit, though improved, were forced to play eight more downs in 2012 than the year prior.

The 2013 off season has begun, and soon enough we’ll all enjoy the excitement of the Free Agency signings, and NFL Draft. The Rams are still searching for potential Def. Coordinator candidates, even though the position coaches proved more than capable last season. Finding another solid outside linebacker, and answering a few question at both safety positions, could just make this defense elite.

One thing is for certain, and it’s that the Rams - as a team - are headed in the right direction. A bit of continuity, a few personnel changes, and some clear direction from an experienced Defensive Coordinator should make the Rams defense one of the best in the NFL. The NFC West is now known for having top-tier defenses; the Rams can't be excluded from the conversation.


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