The past two years, the best defense in pro football has resided in the NFC West. That will be true again in 2015, only this time it won’t be the Seahawks’ D. It will be the team that beat the Seahawks in the Edwards Jones Dome last season.
That's the lede for Andy Benoit's Rams season preview over at Sports Illustrated's theMMQB, and it should be the mantra for every Rams fan riding the annual optimism tidal wave into 2015.
Here's the thing. It's a projection you can buy...if everything goes right. The chances of that are, well, less than 100%.
Remember how things started last year. Chris Long's injury. One sack in the first five games, the fewest in NFL history for a season's first five. The miscues from the secondary.
The real key is how you go from that to "the best defense in the NFL," or least something approaching it. The personnel hasn't changed much; adding DT Nick Fairley and OLB Akeem Ayers to the returning starting 11 shouldn't disrupt much. Mark Barron will get his first preseason with the Rams to flesh out his role more fully. And a second preparation period for the secondary overall with Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams can only help things.
But is all of that going to fall in line?
We assume consistent production from the defensive line. What happens when teams run quick passing concepts to negate any opportunity for a pass rush? What if the growth of guys like DT Aaron Donald, OLB Alec Ogletree, CB Janoris Jenkins and S T.J. McDonald slows...or stops altogether? And of course all of this avoids the looming dread of injuries that hovers over every team from the first practice through the final play of the season.
We want to buy into this as fans. We want to see everything come together. I get that. But Benoit's stretching this one faaaaaaaaaaar.
St. Louis’s defense may not finish first in yards or points allowed this season—though it’s sure to be much higher than near the middle, where it finished a year ago. But in terms of creating team-wide success that contributes directly to victories, it will surpass Seattle as the league’s best D. The Rams’ foundation is built on big plays, and there will be enough of them to put this team in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.